An American Adaptation
By Ann Tyler
Chicago, Illinois: Ann Tyler, 2007. Edition of 50.
11 x 15.25"; 22 leaves. Set in Caslon and letterpress printed in red ink on Cranes Lettra acid-free paper. Clothbound. Images of tools hand-sewn at top to page so that it can be lifted to reveal the text. Source material documented at colophon.
One of Tyler's three books about lynching, each with a uniquely indirect approach to the subject.
Billy Rabbit is a recasting of an English children's story. In her "American adaptation," Tyler offers a tale of doomed innocence, helpless in the face of mob mentality. On some pages, the text is covered by images of old, well-used tools — saws, a hammer, knives of various sorts. The reader must lift the image and become symbolically complicit in the story.
Ann Tyler: "... constructed from public sources – images and text that exist in the public sphere. The narratives I create with these elements tell a new story while elucidating an old one. In writing the narrative for Billy Rabbit, I fused and rewrote elements from a cautionary, children’s tale and original newspaper accounts of lynchings. (Lynchings functioned on multiple levels including as cautionary tales 'written' to the black community.) The narrative is written to follow the actual narrative arc and ritualized structure of many lynchings."
The colophon documents the seven lynchings used as the basis for the text: "Because of the ritualized aspects of lynching, the same acts of torture described here were perpetrated on many lynching victims. These descriptions should, therefore, not be seen as limited to the individuals listed."