There aren’t enough "O"s.
We are in Bow & Arrow Press on its Open Press Night this past Wednesday, April 19, before it goes into storage five days later. We are short just one “O” metal stamp to print the phrase “community-led printing for all.”
Since the press opened its doors just hours earlier, it has been jam-packed — there is hardly any space to move. With the help of regulars, we rummage through shelved projects and find the exact 72-pt. “O” we are looking for. We arrange the visual elements and wait for the right color press to open up.
This past Monday, students received official word that the press, which has been around since 1978, is closing and will not return to its location in the basement of Adams House.
All around, people are busy making what they can at the final press run. Some printers work hard to finish the last part of complicated projects, and others, including ourselves, are here for the first time, and a few are making posters for their wedding. By the time we complete our poster, there are three giant stacks of prints to make sure that everyone has something to commemorate the press by. Students use the giant silver presses to ink their selected letter blocks, cleaning up the edges by hand. We hear large clangs as papers are loaded, rolled, and removed.
As Heather Hughes, one of the studio managers, helps others, her co-manager Jonathan L. Biderman shows us the archives — which feature etched blocks made across decades — and lets us look through them to choose one to print with.
Here, in the back of the press, we also talk to Robert D. Anderson ’19., He lived in Adams House during undergrad and is now a mechanical engineer working in the Boston area and volunteers much of his free time to the press. He reminisces about the significant role the press played in his college life — which he says often featured work sessions at the press that stretched until as late as 2 a.m. — before mentioning that he had heard “rumors” of the press’ closing.
“We can’t let this happen,” Anderson says. “There’s way too much at stake to lose.”
When we exit the archives and return to the workshop, we finish making our print. Eventually, Hughes continues the conversation, saying more about her response to hearing the rumors.
“I have a responsibility to this community if nothing else,” Hughes says. “People deserve a chance to say goodbye to this space. If I can do nothing else, that is the bare minimum that I can offer.”
Maria E. “Ari” Cheriyan ’25, who regularly uses the press, attended the journal printing and large type poster printing workshops the weekend of April 14, where she typeset on a commemorative Bow & Arrow poster.
“When I saw that all the type was correct and the ink was done correctly, it just culminated,” Cheriyan says. She recalls “just seeing” the poster and “reflecting on the past year, and all the moments that I've been in the press.”
Aliénor C. Manteau ’23, who learned about the press through her creative writing workshop, says that “it’s really lovely to come together with people that don’t know each other but are all excited.” She notes that she loves seeing the work others produce, wishing more people knew about the press.
After running these workshops the entire weekend, Biderman says the most meaningful aspect was the number of people who come in and learn how to do something “new” and “incredible” that they “didn’t even think of before they came in this space.”
“We have poured so much care and attention and seen it blossom beyond our wildest dreams in many ways,” Biderman says, explaining “how hard it is to consider that the press might not have a future.”
Adams House Faculty Dean Salmaan A. Keshavjee explains that the area currently occupied by the press used to serve as a common area for students of Westmorly Court, who for the past 45 years have not had a common space to congregate.
“House Renewal is a chance to reimagine student spaces, especially community spaces for students in each part of the House,” Keshavjee wrote in an email. “So, after careful deliberation, it was decided that when Westmorly Court reopens in 2025, the space where the press is located will revert to its original usage as a common room for student use and as a gathering place for the Adams House community.”
He said he hopes that Bow & Arrow will be able to “continue its operations at another site in the Harvard community.”
But, on Open Press Night, it was clear how the press had become a community unto itself. Anderson, Biderman, and Hughes all help us make our poster. Julia K. Pastreich ’25 helps us find the correct “O,” and Henry N. Haimo ’24 assists with setting the text font and print copies.
It is this human quality of the press that Biderman loves about Bow & Arrow.
“Each person who comes here, the work that they produce is a story of its own,” Biderman says. “It’s extraordinary. It’s wonderful.”
—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.