- Joe Matthew Singer — Selected Mother of Ashes Ephemera
Joe Matthew Singer (November 22, 1950 - June 25, 1993) was a writer, printer, and publisher from Powell, Wyoming. He was an active figure in the small press and independent book publishing community of the Pacific Northwest through the 1980s until his death in 1993.
Singer began publishing in 1970, buying out a literary arts zine called Grok, which he renamed The Village Idiot, which he would edit and publish for the rest of his life. Interested in radical and anarchist politics, Singer printed a number of local underground newspapers, before dropping out of college to wander the country, working various odd and low-level print jobs in California, Colorado, Missouri, and New York. In 1980, he purchased his first printing press and founded Mother of Ashes Press. In a 1992 interview with Jerome Gold, Singer recalls the origins of the imprint:
“I bought a Kelsey letterpress. A six-by-ten Kelsey. You know, these tabletop letterpresses. And that’s when I started the press. ‘Cause I finally had a press. And so I named it. […] It started out as a poem but that’s all I got written of it, was ‘Mother of Ashes.’”
In 1984, he relocated to Harrison, Idaho, where he settled down with “Darlene,” his prized Multilith model 1261 offset duplicator, on which he would carry out the bulk of his printing work for the next decade, focusing primarily on periodicals and limited edition runs of books, chapbooks, and broadsides related to poetry, stories, and local activism.
Singer had a particular fondness for the technical aspects of printing. He enjoyed talking shop, and carried on several lengthy correspondences with other printers and publishers, such as Penelope Reedy (The Redneck Review) and Fred Woodworth (The Match!). In 1987, he started another periodical called The Printer’s Devil, which he dedicated to “well-written articles on graphic arts for small presses” with an emphasis on “technical how-to pieces.”
Singer struggled with alcoholism and depression for the majority of his life. In his correspondences he often wrote about his isolation and loneliness in the very small town of Harrison. In the early summer of 1993, he was found dead in his car by self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Most of his papers were lost or destroyed after his death. This post makes available for the first time some of the surviving ephemera of the Mother of Ashes imprint to which Singer dedicated his life.