May 2013 | Rebecca Rego Barry

The Spring (and Summer) of Audrey Niffenegger

For artist and bestselling novelist Audrey Niffenegger--and her legion of fans and collectors (myself included)--this spring and summer is quite an exciting time. With two new books, a ballet, and a museum exhibit coming up, it might be her second wave. 

Raven Girl.jpgThe first book is a visual novella, more akin to her recent The Night Bookmobile than The Time Traveler's Wife. Raven Girl (Abrams ComicArts, May 7, $19.95) is a dreamy, dark fairy tale, obviously meant for adults. In it, an English postman falls in love with a fledgling raven from East Underwhelm, Otherworld. The strange pair conceive a child--a ravel trapped in a girl's body, who becomes so distraught that she engages the services of a plastic surgeon to give her wings. 

The book itself is a pleasure to behold. The bright red binding peeks out under the gray jacket that features ornate silver lettering imposed on one of Niffenegger's eerie etchings. The endpapers show ravens in varying postures of flight, and the edges are stained with metallic black. 

Raven Girl has been turned into a ballet of the same name, to be performed by the Royal Ballet in London from May 24 to June 8 (Niffenegger wrote about it for the Guardian last week). Take a leap, Odile. 

Awake-PowerHouse.kpg.jpgThe second book, Awake in the Dream World (powerHouse Books, May 14, $29.95), is, essentially, an illustrated catalogue for a mid-career retrospective that opens on June 21 at Washington, D.C.'s National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA). Printworks Gallery in Chicago, which has represented Niffenegger for thirty years, has done several group and solo shows of her work, but the NMWA exhibition is the first major museum exhibition devoted to Niffenegger. There will be 239 of her paintings, drawings, prints, and book art on display. 

Like the forthcoming exhibit, the 120-page book is organized around three central themes: Adventures in Bookland for her artist's books and visual novels; States of Mind for twenty-two self-portraits; In Dreamland for her darker, fantastical artworks. An unjacketed hardcover with a striking cover (one of Niffenegger's self-portraits, Moths of the New World, 2005), the book also contains essays by Niffenegger, NMWA curator of book arts Krystyna Wasserman, and Art Institute of Chicago curator Mark Pascale. It's a stunning collection of Niffenegger's art, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in visual art and contemporary book art. 

Niffenegger fans might be interested to read part of an interview I did with her in 2011 when we met in Chicago.

Images: Raven Girl, courtesy of Abrams ComicArts. Awake in the Dream World by Audrey Niffenegger, published by powerHouse Books, courtesy of powerHouse Books.