Print company history—Charleston, Illinois

I have been on a great quest for family knowledge after recently learning that there is indeed ink in my veins.

My Grandfather’s brother W. Shirley Tremble owned Prairie Press books in Charleston, and I have been on a mission to find more information about his company, his equipment, and the man himself. Prairie Press mostly operated in the1960’s and 70’s. Through some heavy research I have found that in the 1980’s his equipment was sold to someone named Jeannette Shannon, who ran his former shop as Shannon Bookbindery and Printing.

Has anyone heard of either of these forgotten companies? Any information would be wonderful.

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Hello, I am also doing a new research project on my old friend, W. Shirley Tremble of Charleston, IL (Prairie Press). As an art student in the 60s at EIU, I and my first husband (and many other people) were great friends with “Shirley.” I can tell you more about his publishing house and can probably fill in a few blanks for you. He was an amazing man. His company published mostly poetry and art books.

I collect books published by Carroll Coleman’s Prairie Press of Muscatine and later Iowa City, Iowa, and have run onto quite a few titles published by Tremble at Prairie Press Books at Charleston, Il in my searches.

From what I can gather, the business was only active from about 1965 to 1972 under that imprint. At least those are the dates I see listed in books offered for sale. There may have been some earlier or later that I do not know about.

I also had wondered over the years why someone with an interest in publishing poetry at that time would have chosen a press name so close to that of one of the most respected small presses in the Midwest. I’m sure it has caused some confusion with librarians over the years.

John Henry
Mason City, Iowa

Hello, John,
Tremble was probably totally unaware of the other Prairie Presses. By 1965, he was already in his 60s…and, without going to a library and doing exhaustive searching (no Google, etc.), Shirley (he went by his middle name) would have had little or no access to such details.

The poetry books he published were largely a service to his wife, poetess Stella Craft Tremble and her poet friends throughout the US. I, as a student at EIU, would go and help collate the pages (in exchange for awful coffee and great conversation with a true artist and philosopher).

Shirley ran poetry contests (with application fees) and then published those his editor (friends associated with the university) judged to be the best. Also, his publications were often a way to share his own line drawings and the art work of other friends.

Shirley made so little money with his publishing house that I’d be surprised if there was ever a profit.

But it was his hobby and his way to share and support his wife’s and his friend’s interests.

I note that your enquiry about Shirley Tremble was made in 2011, and here it is 2014. So perhaps answering this is no longer relevant. But here goes.

I met Shirley in the late 1960s when I was a new Asst. Professor at Eastern Illinois Univ. there in Charleston. I was looking for a book binder, had seen his print shop, and stepped in to ask. I had forgotten the name of Jeanette Sullivan, but Shirley introduced me to her. She worked in back, and as I recall she worked independently, but Shirley allowed her to share his space.

The shop was on the “other side of the tracks,” literally — the poor northside of town. I remember the walls of the place were covered with drawings, prints, and paintings of Shirley’s work. I commented on them, and he just beamed. He asked if I did art, and I explained that as part of my research as a paleontologist I had to compose reconstructions of what I thought my fossil animals might have looked like. The binding I wanted done consisted of some reprints of my own papers. I showed him my drawings, and he was quite taken with them. Thus, began our friendship. After my reprints were bond, I would stop in from time to time just to chat. I cannot recall how or why, but eventually Shirley invited me to come along on a drive through the Coles Co. country side, which began another of our activities together. At first we just would go draw the same scene in front of us. Then we took to taking some paints along and doing water colors. Shirley taught me to relax, let go, and just let the paint flow - not worry about accurately copying the scene before us.

After a year or so of this, my wife and I went looking to buy a house in 1973. We saw a darling Victorian place on 7th St., looked at it, and loved it. We had seen it in the evening, and wanted to take one more look in daylight. The agent arranged another viewing on a Saturday. We went in with our agent and to our surprise there sat Stella Kraft Tremble, a rather imposing harridan all in pink. I am sure Stella did not quite approve of us. After we walked through the house, we stood in one of the sitting rooms making pleasant talk as we were about to depart. Suddenly the front door opened and in walked Shirley. He turned to the real estate agent and said, “Jasper, why didn’t you tell me you were selling our house to a friend of mine.” At that, stern and formal Stella just melted. We closed the deal.

Shirley and I continued our painting expeditions for some years. His health suffered; he had a mild heart attack. The print business still went on, but a lot of it, especially the binding and the office of the American Poets Fellowship Society was carried out from the basement of the home they had moved to over on 10th or 11th Street. Whenever Stella a book of poems, she would give us a signed copy. Most of the poems were not very good, except for love poems to Shirley.

We left Charleston in 1978, and both Shirley and Stella were still alive, and publishing poetry books.

I’ve often thought of them. I think Shirley died not long afterward. Stella was the Poetess Laureate of Charleston. Every holiday, T-day, Xmas, Easter, etc., she would compose a poem for the occasion and it was published on the front page of the Charleston Times-Courier.