ninja press was inaugurated in 1984 by Carolee Campbell who is its sole proprietor. While there was no specific literary agenda governing the selection of works to be published by the press at the outset, the abiding interest has been, in the main, contemporary poetry. The decision to embark on the path of bookmaking came from her extensive experience as a photographer working in the darkroom with both nineteenth and twentieth-century photographic processes. Turning photographic sequences into bound books ushered the way into bookbinding, followed by experimental book structures. Eventually, she expanded her work into letterpress printing, thereby opening the way into contemporary poetry – confronting it for the first time with a directness and penetration she had seldom experienced as a reader.
Carolee’s artistic training began at fifteen in the theatre in Los Angeles, where she was born and raised. By twenty, she had made her way to New York City to continue training and to work as an actor. She worked in theatres in many parts of the country, traveling and acting, but always returning to New York, following the passion that took root firmly from the first moment she walked on stage. It was her theatre training that laid the groundwork for her love of research and process, a discipline she practices today in her bookwork. Her work in many plays – including those by Chekhov, Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller – matured by putting into service the skills of the craft that had become firmly established through her early Los Angeles training and further honed with Uta Hagen in New York: research, discipline, and the persistent practice of process.
When she was invited to become a lifetime member of the Actors Studio in New York City in 1964, her training under Lee Strasberg added another dimension. Based on the Stanislavski system or method (later, simply known as The Method), the training exemplified a controlled balance between the rational – process and technique – and the irrational – intuition. It is this combination that Carolee brings to bear in the design and realization of each new book.
In 1976, after winning an Emmy for her starring role in a Dramatic Special on NBC and having completed her ninth year as one of the stars of the television show, “The Doctors,” playing the beloved and beleaguered nurse, Carolee Simpson Aldrich, Carolee decided to take her leave from acting. Her years on television had been made all the richer by an additional life in photography, darkroom work, and gallery showings. Summers were spent whitewater rafting, improving her skills by rowing many of the major rivers of the Southwest including a twenty-three-day trip through the entire length of the Grand Canyon. Along with her husband, actor Hector Elizondo, whom she had married in 1969, Carolee practiced the martial art of kendo, Japanese fencing, in New York and in 1976, toured Japan with their American Buddhist Academy kendo team. That period of time was a critical turning point in which, through her photographic work, she became devoted to the heightened pleasure of working alone. As a consequence, she left acting behind.
In 2004 Carolee celebrated the twentieth anniversary of Ninja Press with a retrospective exhibition, Ninja Press at Twenty. The retrospective opened at the UCLA Williams Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles and traveled to four additional venues over two years: the University of Arizona; University of California (San Diego); University of Texas, San Antonio; and the University of California (Santa Barbara).
The twenty-fifth anniversary of the press was celebrated in November, 2010 with a retrospective exhibition, Ninja Press: Twenty-Five Years & Counting at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.
All Ninja Press books, broadsides, and keepsakes are handset in metal type and printed letterpress on a Vandercook Universal I flatbed proof press by Carolee. She designs, prints, and binds each of the editions at the press.
One of the primary goals set at the inception of the press was to strive toward the highest standards of excellence in craftsmanship and quality while attempting to find new approaches to the union between word, image, and book structure. That aspiration will continue to fuel the inspiration for future edition works as well as one-of-a-kind books.
Ninja Press books are collected by many of the world’s great libraries, including The Getty Research Institute, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and The British Library.
A complete collection of Ninja Press books can be found at the following institutions:
University of California, San Diego
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Santa Barbara
California Polytechnic State University
California State University, Northridge
University of Delaware
University of IowaLafayette College
University of Pennsylvania
University of San Francisco
San Francisco Public Library
University of Utah
University of Vermont
University of Washington