“You are such a geek!”
Back in 1989, with the debut of the mesmerizing, enthralling novel that was Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, that meant something much different than it does now. It meant, well, that it was your job to bite the heads off of live chickens and . . . drink their blood. For the entertainment of others. As in, a freak show.
Of course the book was about much more than that—it was a twisted celebration of individuality, fiercely held familial loyalty, and ideas of the grotesque and beautiful that have nothing to do with appearance. On some level, I’d guess most of us think we grew up in a family of freaks, but Ms. Dunn gleefully reminded us that we had no idea.
As a young book jacket designer just two-plus years in at Alfred A. Knopf, my job was to figure out what this story was going to look like. I wanted to do it justice, it was so unexpected, the cover needed to be too.
The answer seemed to be fluorescent orange. Lots of it. Sonny Mehta, our new editor-in-chief who had made this manuscript his first major acquisition for the house, agreed. We were a little nervous about what the author would think, but we needn’t be. As she wrote me about it, years later: “The cover arrived with a note inquiring cautiously whether I thought this was too, too . . . anything. No, it’s not too, I thought. It’s visible. And you could fry eggs on it.”
Katherine Dunn’s art made us all into a new kind of geek—the nerdy, obsessed, fannish kind.
And yes: we loved her for it.