Chapbooks are small, inexpensive books that carry an air of singularity and significance. They contain poems, stories, or essays, and illustrations, photographs, or artwork. Their distinction comes from having a tightly focused topic, and as such they are intended to make a point.
Chapbooks are in fact both a literary form and an art form, and often these two things combine to present an argument, take a stand, stage a protest, reveal a discovery, or carry out a celebration. So it makes sense that they're small. Tuck one inside your bag or backpack. Anytime, anywhere, pull out a chapbook. Read a poem. Look at photography. Be inspired. See something differently than you did before. Share it with the person sitting next to you. Then fold it or roll it and stuff it back in your bag.
Where does the word “chapbook” come from? In Old England, a “chapman” was someone who traveled the countryside peddling cheap books and pamphlets. “Chap”—now a slang word for “man”—referred to the customer, the one with whom to bargain. Chapmen provided printed material to lower-class people who could not afford books. Covering a wide variety of topics and formats—including ballads, nursery rhymes, poetry, news, and political and religious articles and propaganda—the number of chapbooks produced from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries was extraordinary. Chapbooks had an enormous influence on the less educated members of society and, in fact, contributed to rising literacy. Chapbooks largely disappeared by the mid-nineteenth century when newspapers made their appearance, only to be revived around the middle of the twentieth century when it became easy for anyone to make copies of printed material for distribution. Now, with the availability of desktop publishing and design applications, anyone can produce a chapbook, often striving to produce beautifully crafted pieces, while keeping the price low.
Perhaps you have an idea for a chapbook? We'd love to hear about it. Please take a look at our submission guidelines.