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When the manuscript first arrived at Faber, the editor wrote: ‘I’d love you to read this beautiful thing (with feathers) that I’ve just acquired.’

This extraordinary debut novel by a then unknown author called for an unusual approach to a cover. We considered a photograph of two leaping boys, but the Crow loomed large, and I couldn’t help but think of the drawings by Baskin for Ted Hughes. Hughes’ Crow is integral to Porter’s novel, and the title itself is a literary reference to a poem by Emily Dickinson, so a layered visual reference seemed appropriate.

Different crow illustrations from literature

I drew any number of crows before settling on a bulky profile. I made lots of sketches – some that were more realistic, others developed from smudges. For the original hardback jacket, the crow stands on the title, its weight pressing down on the ‘GR’ of ‘grief’, its beak open, animated in its pose, as though hurling words off the page. The type itself is a reference to Faber design history, using Wolpe’s Albertus typeface.

Max Porter's Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

For the paperback edition, we wanted to revisit the crow, but in a different layout. I scaled it up and wrapped it around the cover. To accommodate the (deservedly) copious quotes that had poured in from the book’s first publication, I scratched and hand-rendered all the lettering to flow around the bulky form of the crow, as though the giant, reeking, cantankerous, talking black crow pulled letters and feathers in its wake – as though it had scrawled them itself.

Max Porter's Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

For the new Faber Members’ edition, I used another of my drawings – this time of the crow standing in a different pose, as though it is listening, or about to strike the ground with its huge, heavy beak. I positioned the type at the top – legible in its white space, but this time not interacting with the crow. Here the crow takes prominence, wrapping around the clothbound cover, with just a single feather and a hand-lettered quote on the back.

Max Porter's Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

To achieve the wonky crow-drawn lettering, I write in reverse, backwards, upside-down and sometimes with my other hand.

Sheet from Max Porter's Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

This Faber Members’ edition allowed for a printed endpaper design (they are a plain dark blue in the original hardback) and I took great delight in devising a whirl of feathers, smudges and lettering that cascaded down the page and across the central gutter – an area normally avoided for legibility reasons.

End papers from Max Porter's Grief Is the Thing with Feathers
The production team at Faber found a cloth (Toile du Marais by Winter & Company) that echoed the original grey, although with a little more warmth in the tint.

The very heavy inky black drawing, with its scuffed scratched lines and strong silhouette, printed well on the cloth, allowing for some of the texture to show through, but not at the expense of the marks of the drawing. My lettering and feather drawings also feature in the text.

I could revisit this book and cover design any number of times. This astonishing literary novel is a thing of beauty, but the cover does not remain static – for me, the crow is in perpetual motion, to be drawn on, and drawn, again and again.

Browse all of Eleanor’s references:
Crow illustrations for Max Porter's book
Different crow illustrations from literature
Emily Dickinson Hope is the thing with feathers
Max Porter's Grief Is the Thing with Feathers
Max Porter's Grief Is the Thing with Feathers
Max Porter's Grief Is the Thing with Feathers
Sheet from Max Porter's Grief Is the Thing with Feathers
End papers from Max Porter's Grief Is the Thing with Feathers
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Max Porter
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A special, signed hardcover edition of Max Porter’s first novel.

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About the Author

Max Porter’s first novel, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, won the Sunday Times/Peters, Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the Europese Literatuurprijs and the BAMB Readers’ Award, and it was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize.

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About the Author
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