Carrie Chappell is a poet originally from Alabama, and the poems in this book are addressed to one of the state's most controversial icons, an actress who was known almost as much for her frank relationships to drink, drugs, sexual adventure, and saucy language, as she was for her contributions to the theater. The book explores the complicated legacy that Bankhead has bequeathed to young women coming of age in the American south with questions about gender norms and the oppression of their sexuality.
When we were looking for a visual language for this book, Carrie suggested bringing in her cousin, Lauren Patterson, an illustrator also native to Alabama. Lauren's illustrations helped us evoke the dreamlike world of the poems, in which two women weave into and out of each other's consciousness. One of the women was often depicted as faceless, leaving space for us to imagine ourselves as the speaker, or even as Tallulah, or as various interpretations of either character, which reflected the evolving ambiguities of identity and influence that were navigated in the poems. The illustrations also featured objects that appear in the text. The concept we developed around these images was the scrapbook of a relationship that takes place outside time, across generations, in a hypothetical landscape. We framed the illustrations in the ragged edges of old prints, as though they might be photographs taken within the imagination. Our goal was to bring the reader into a space where reality was in question, where a drawing and a photograph were indistinguishable, where the 30s and the 90s might both be happening at once. We laid out the images over a wallpaper background in which the repeating pattern is an echo of the cover illustration, which shows Tallulah and the faceless woman joined in an eternal dance.
For the cover, we framed this image in a pendant, which we embossed to give a dimensionality to the book's surface, On the back cover, we also embossed a broken string of pearls, which are referenced in the text. Our hope with the design was to convey that while much of what we experience as influence, or fantasy, takes place only in the mind, what does come to exist in the physical world is the lingering effect that our icons have on how we live our lives, and our continuing need to break free from pre-molded identities in order to become.
Special limited editions of the book came with a real pendant featuring the cover art, and a copy of a handwritten letter from Carrie to Tallulah.
You can order a copy of Loving Tallulah Bankhead directly from the author here.