The Alternative Press Records, 1949-2018 (majority within 1970-1999)
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Alternative Press
- The Alternative Press was a literary and artistic small press started in Detroit in 1969 by Ken and Ann Mikolowski. The press initially focused on publishing the work of Detroit artists and later became international in scope. The collection documents the press's management and publication processes, including those for its acclaimed subscription mailings, which contained poetry, bookmarks, bumper stickers, drawings, paintings, collages, and postcards.
78.5 Linear Feet (157 manuscript boxes and 7 oversize boxes)
The printed products of the press are located in the Printed Materials series in boxes 42-43, 95, and oversize 157 and 162.
Ephemera is located throughout the collection, but is concentrated in the Ephemera series (box 38) and the Artists and Poets series (boxes 1-36 and 50-88).
- Processed by Donna Hayward, 2001. Encoded finding aid prepared by Sally Vermaaten, 2008. Collection rehoused and finding aid revised by Nora Dolliver, 2017. 1996 accretion processed by Nora Dolliver, 2019. 2018 accretion processed by Hilary Severyn and Rachael Hargrove, 2019-2021.
- Scope and Content:
The Alternative Press Records held by the University of Michigan Special Collections Library is the founders' full set of press records up until 1996. It contains items such as correspondence from poets, artists, and friends, manuscripts of poems and other writings, sketches, Christmas cards, event announcements, the press' printed products, subscription renewal requests and more. Records from all three operating locations of the press are included, although the records from business done from Grindstone City predominate.
The Alternative Press Records is divided into ten series: Artists and Poets: Correspondence, Writings and Ephemera; Business Records; Ephemera; Events and Organizations; Original Postcards; Printed Materials; Printing Process; Small Presses; 1996 accretion; and 2018 accretion. Records sorted by individual or organization (primarily Artists and Poets and Small Presses) are arranged in alphabetical order. Other series and subseries (primarily those containing correspondence, business records, artwork/writings, and event announcements) are arranged in chronological order to preserve evidence of the creative process and organizational decisionmaking.
- Biographical / Historical:
Detroit natives Ken and Ann Mikolowski married in 1961. Ken received a BA in English from Wayne State University in 1964, and Ann studied art at both the Center for Creative Studies and Wayne State. By the late 1960s, they had become part of the radical artistic community flourishing in Detroit's Cass Corridor. They purchased the letterpress of the Detroit Artists Workshop and began to experiment in the basement of their house at 4339 Avery Street.
At first, they printed 8 ½ by 11 broadsides of poetry as the Artists Workshop had before them. The broadsides featured poetry and art created by the Mikolowskis' friends and colleagues in the Cass Corridor community. Ken Mikolowski selected the poetry and typeset, while Ann Mikolowski typeset, designed and often illustrated the printed poems. They distributed the broadsides for free on the street as a way to get poetry into the hands of the people. Later, they added bookmarks, bumper stickers and postcards to their print media repertoire. Each item printed bore the signature, "a free poem by The Alternative Press."
When lack of funds threatened the Mikolowskis' printing, the couple decided to start selling subscriptions for packets of assorted printed materials from the Alternative Press. The first such "mailing," as the packets were affectionately called, was sent out in 1971, heralding the beginning of a new kind of literary and artistic journal, one composed of unique, eclectic works created by artists and poets given freedom to explore and experiment. Many of the works included in the mailings were created solely for the Alternative Press and were not published or duplicated elsewhere.
In addition to the Press' exceptional artistic content, the Alternative Press was distinguished by the look and design of its printed products, which stood out thanks to the Mikolowskis' creative decisions in typesetting and letterpress printing.
After a few successful years, the Mikolowskis used the Press's growing popularity to facilitate an ambitious artistic collaboration. They sent a total of 500 blank postcards to various artists and poets and told them to do whatever they wanted with the postcards. The recipients of the postcards worked alone and in tandem to craft hundreds of works of expressive, boundary-pushing, postcard-sized art and poetry. The completed postcards were included in subsequent Alternative Press mailings.
In 1974, the Mikolowskis moved the Press to a former general store in Grindstone City, a small town at the tip of the thumb of the state. The activities of the press continued to grow from this new location as the word spread among an ever-growing circle of artists and poets across the country.
The Alternative Press helped to define and hold together the Detroit art community by fostering collaborations between Detroit artists and writers. As the press grew, its influence spread beyond Detroit and extended to artists across the country. Contributors ranged from the leading poets of the Beat and Black Mountain schools to the gritty voices of Detroit's Cass Corridor. The Press also served as a showcase for the work of Ken and Ann themselves. A number of times each year, the packets would feature a postcard or bookmark featuring Ann's artwork or Ken's poetry.
"Art Poetry Melodrama: 20 Years of the Alternative Press," exhibit catalog. The Detroit Institute of the Arts, Ongoing Michigan Artists Program, March 4 - May 6, 1990.
"Your Artwork Here: 30 years of The Alternative Press," exhibit and symposium guide, and "History of the Alternative Press," exhibit materials. Special Collections Library, Hatcher Graduate Library, The University of Michigan, September 14 -- December 4, 1999.
Greive, Kristine, "The Alternative Press's Original Postcards," Beyond the Reading Room, UM Library. 25 April, 2019. https://apps.lib.umich.edu/blogs/beyond-reading-room/alternative-presss-original-postcards
- Acquisition Information:
- The Alternative Press Records were acquired from Ken and Ann Mikolowski in 1994. Two new accretions were acquired in 1996 and 2018.
- Processing information:
Collection processed and finding aid created by Donna L. Hayward, Kathleen Dow, 2001. Collection rehoused and finding aid updated by Nora Dolliver, 2017. 1996 accretion processed by Nora Dolliver, 2019. The bulk of the 1996 accretion was personal correspondence and mass mailings of little research value, and so was discarded; materials from artists and presses listed in the original finding aid were retained. 2018 accretion processed by Hilary Severyn in 2019 and Rachael Hargrove in 2021.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
American poetry -- 20th century
Artists -- United States -- 20th century
Artists and community -- Michigan -- Detroit -- 20th century
Poetry -- Publishing -- Michigan
Poets, American -- 20th century
Printing -- Michigan
Small presses -- Michigan
Works of art
Committee of Small Magazine Editors and Publishers
Perishable Press Limited
Andre, Carl, 1935-
Banks, Russell, 1940-
Baraka, Imamu Amiri, 1934-
Brainard, Joe, 1942-1994
Brook, Donna, 1944-
Carrigan, Andrew G., 1935-
Chatelain, James, 1947-
Ciardi, John, 1916-1986
Clark, Tom, 1941-
Codrescu, Andrei, 1946-
Cope, David, 1948-
Creeley, Robert, 1926-2005
Di Prima, Diane
Fitzsimmons, Thomas, 1926-
Ford, Charles Henri
Foye, Raymond, 1957-
Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997
Hall, Donald, 1928-
Harrison, Jim, 1937-
Hecht, Warren Jay, 1946-
Indiana, Robert, 1928-
Katz, Alex, 1927-
Leonard, Elmore, 1925-
Levertov, Denise, 1923-1997
Liebler, M. L.
Newton, Gordon, 1948-
Padgett, Ron, 1942-
Rand, Archie, 1949-
Randall, Dudley, 1914-
Reed, Ishmael, 1938-
Sinclair, John, 1941-
Snyder, Gary, 1930-
Tysh, George, 1942-
Vranich, Mick, 1946-
Waldman, Anne, 1945-
Ann Arbor (Mich.)
Cass Corridor (Detroit, Mich.)
Grindstone City (Mich.)
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s).
- PREFERRED CITATION:
The Alternative Press Records, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center)