A maker of beautiful books—Stephanie Wolfe Murray

Date Published: 26th August 2017

Stephanie Wolfe Murray, founder of the Scotland-based publishing house—Canongate, died on 24 June 2017. She was both friend and inspiration. A memorial event was held at Edinburgh International Book Festival for which Alexander McCall Smith wrote the following poem. He shared the stage with fellow writers Tom Pow, Mairi Hedderwick and Alasdair Gray and many from the publishing world past and present.

A maker of beautiful books

In memory of Stephanie Wolfe Murray, publisher.


A maker of beautiful books

Knows exactly what it is that makes­­­

Paper, card, printer’s ink,

The raw words of the writer

Into that lovely object

We call a book; understands

The subtle work of fonts,

Of leading, of bindings,

That makes a book something

We wish to hold to ourselves,

To keep and cherish, to read

At times when the soul is in need

Of solace, of insight, and art

That can transform the quotidian

Into the transcendent.

A maker of beautiful books

Understands that text

Should whisper to us its message

Like a confiding friend,

Not in the trumpet tones

Of the strident, the polemical,

But gently, tactfully,

In private places of exchange

Where the loud and the angry

Have no wish to linger.

A maker of beautiful books

Brings people together

In civil and gracious converse,

Helps the puzzled and confused

To understand what it is

That puzzles or confuses them;

Puts an end to that ignorance

On which evil parasitically

Thrives; shows the weak

The way to strength, brings

Freedom to the most remote corners,

Reminds us of love

And it manifold works.

A maker of beautiful books

Lies in a Borders field

With all the hills as watchmen;

But the books she made

Live on, resolute upon their shelves

In a hundred far-flung places,

Their maker’s advocates, her legacy,

Her sure and beautiful touch

Upon our troubled world,

Less troubled for her presence,

Surer, for her example,

Of the possibilities of truth and beauty.