Preview Chicago’s Seventh Annual Printers’ Ball

Chicago’s seventh annual Printers’ Ball, one of the most extensive free literary showcases in the country and a celebration of all things print, kicks off Friday with the deliciously layered theme It’s Alive! The theme nicely tweaks the usual doomsayer narratives found in the publishing industry — be they the fall of Borders or the powerful, Oprah-resistant malaise in the magazine world — which should warn against corporate over-extension rather than the kind of mutually supportive, independent models that, as the Ball illustrates, can still survive and flourish. At the same time, It’s Alive! also refers to 2011’s increased focus on performance and interactivity, including a poetry reading by David Berman, live music by White Mystery, and much more. After the jump: a sneak peek with exclusive previews.

Organized by some of Chicago’s finest literary institutions — the Poetry Foundation, Columbia College’s Center for Book & Paper Arts, the Chicago Underground Library, and MAKE magazine — Printers’ Ball once again welcomes hundreds of publications and organizations to the table. This year, representatives such as The Believer, Artifice Magazine, Busy Beaver Button Co., Firecat Press, Lumpen, and Numero Group set up alongside film screenings, music, and visual art. A few standouts are below.

The Ball always embraces print’s multi-disciplinary malleability, and this year is no exception. Artists Jill Summers and Susie Kirkwood have created a stop-motion, paper-animation film for César Aira’s novel Ghosts, published by New Directions, which will premiere at the Ball. Check out this behind-the-scenes preview, film and music by Stanzi Vaubel.

Uncle Fun is one of the quirkiest little shops in Chicago, specializing in novelty toys, collectibles, vintage gag gifts, and various other standard-issue imaginarium wares. One of the store’s operators, Janice Lim, has created a large-scale diorama for Printers’ Ball which, like last year’s Build Your Own City models by Wurlington Press, should hit that crossover sweet spot in the Venn diagrams of print and visual art.

This year’s official poster, designed by Johnny Sampson, takes the It’s Alive! theme into horror-flick territory, featuring the likes of Frankenstein, the Mummy, and Chicago’s own beloved Svengoolie having a read. The first 150 people to pre-register receive a limited-edition poster — just one more piece of great swag at an event brimming with it. (See Sampson’s gig-poster work here — some of the best in a city that’s never been a slouch in that department.)

David Berman (ex-Silver Jews) released his first collection of poetry, Actual Air (Open City Books), back in 1999. Ten years later, shortly after Berman officially retired from music, Poetry magazine writer Cathy Park Hong rightfully called the former Drag City artist “a good gateway drug for that stubborn student who hates poetry.” Berman is scheduled to read Friday at 8pm.

Okay, so we admit that any link between print and White Mystery seems pretty tenuous. When Alex White is involved, who cares? The first lady of Chicago garage rock, White released a couple of memorable soul-punk albums mid-decade for In the Red. She then recruited brother Francis on drums and formed the even rougher, stripped down duo White Mystery. The pair gigs around Chicago often; but the mix of Keith Moon-style pummeling and Exene-worthy, blastoff-engine pipes (tossed around wildly as their curly red mops) only gets better with more face time. They’re scheduled to play at 9pm on Friday night.

The participants and goings-on at Printers’ Ball run deeper still. Check out the Poetry Foundation for a full list of features, contributors, and pre- and post-event happenings.