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In Memoriam, Susan G. Swartzburg

Second Annual New Jersey Book Arts Symposium
Book Arts and Education, or, Preaching What We Practice

In Memoriam, Susan G. Swartzburg


Susan G. Swartzburg touched many lives in an astonishingly brief period of time. Author, teacher, librarian, her disinterested love of knowledge and discovery ignored the conventional boundaries of age, language, wealth and geography, and found a like love in the hearts and minds of kindred spirits everywhere. Once Susan found she could talk to you--even if only through a translator--you were soon amalgamated into her ongoing, onrushing, international opera. If you had something to say to Susan, why, you then became a featured performer, and, although you may never get to meet--you would never get to meet--many of the other featured performers (they lived in places as diverse as Portugal, Vietnam, Hungary, Russia, The Czech Republic, Cuba, China), you knew who they were, rightly enough. And they knew you, you knew. They were as real to you, and as ingratiating, as the characters in Balzac or Gogol, or Tati, and probably more real than the ladies in the elevator, or the kid with the buzzing Walkman or the man reading over your shoulder on the subway.

If we performers were bound together by any common, unifying, motif, it was Susan's love of The Book. To a large extent, it was how she derived herself and how she derived us. A lesser motif--a leitmotiv, perhaps--was Susan's affection for New Jersey, its rich history, gracious climate and topography, and, most of all, its many artists and artisans. It was they, after all, who produced those marvelous and pleasurable objects, the paper and illustrations and bindings and books that bodied forth her beloved The Book.

Looking away from the many beautiful artists' books, handmade and marbled papers, and designer bindings--some of them her own possessions--on display at the exhibition that accompanied the first NJ Book Arts Symposium, Susan said, with characteristically operatic exhuberance, "I've been waiting my whole career for this exhibition!" What could have been nicer for her! It seemed, for a moment, to be more the culmination of a dream than of a career: The book arts in New Jersey.

On October 13, 1996, exactly a year after the first NJ Book Arts Symposium, which she co-founded, Susan died of complications resulting from pneumonia. Those of us who worked with her on it, and savor the rare spirit it preserves, gratefully and proudly dedicate this, the second NJ Book Arts Symposium, to her memory.