John Fowler, editor and publisher of Grist magazine, came to Lawrence, Kansas, from southern Missouri in the early 1960s. He settled with his wife, Bernice, and two young sons. He soon opened a tiny bookstore, Abington Books, just off the University of Kansas campus atop Mount Oread. His store was next to a barber shop and bookended in the neighborhood by two bars, the Gaslight and the Rockchalk, which are infamous in Lawrence mid-century lore. The bookshop soon became a meeting place for activists and literary types … academic and from the street. The store was stocked with the literature of the day … City Lights books and little magazines and alternative newspapers from across the states as well as tobacco products and various smoking accessories of the day … zigzag papers for sure.
In 1964 he published the first issue of Grist and it was Number 2. He told me later that if the mag ever became famous he would print Grist #1 and sell it for a lot of money. That never happened. He did go on to publish twelve issues as Grist 2 thru 14 (there was no 13 either) that ran from 1964 thru 1967. The first five issues (#s 2–6) were true mimeograph print with construction paper covers. A long editorial opened issue #2 (Spring 1964) and claimed, among other things: “ … this magazine will offend and we will not defend it … ” and went on with a call for public support of all art and artists. Contributors to #2 were, for the most part, friends of Fowler’s from back in Missouri or KU students.
Grist 3 (1964).
Issue #3 (October 1964) shows the influence of NYC left-wing poet David Ignatow, who was a visiting writer at KU. He brought various friends to perform in Lawrence, including the Fugs (Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg—both became regular contributors to Grist), Jackson Mac Low, and David Antin. Issue #3 contained work by Carol Bergé, Kupferberg, William Wantling, and Eric Kiviat. Issue #4 (December 1964) indicates a wider connection in the mimeo world and contributors include Barbara Holland, Douglas Blazek, Judson Crews, and Irene Schram. A back cover drawing (which would become a regular part of the mag) was an ad for something called the Fat City Food Company and was drawn by Jon Gierlich who went on to achieve some fame in the Seattle area and as a collaborator with S. Clay Wilson in later years. Issues #5 and 6 finished the mimeo run, are dated 1965, and add some more local writers, including Lee Chapman, JoAnne Wycoff , Barbara Moraff, and myself, who would all continue to be regular contributors.
Grist 7 (1966). Guest editor, Charles Plymell, assistant editor, Pam Beach. This issue is dedicated to Julius Orlovsky.
Issue #7 is the first issue guest-edited by Charley Plymell and was printed on offset. This issue was dedicated to Julius Orlovsky, the brother of Allen Ginsberg’s lover, Peter. The centerfold contained illustrations by S. Clay Wilson and were dated 1966. Plymell included his Wichita, KS–based writer and artist friends and other Beat-related authors included Roxie Powell, Robert Branaman, Claude Pélieu, Mary Beach, and Glenn Todd. Wilson also had a back cover ad for “Fat City Burgers.” Plymell and another Lawrence resident, George Kimball, would continue to contribute to and guest-edit issues of Grist. Numbers 8 and 9 were New York–centered and included work by d.a. levy, Ignatow, Robert Creeley, and Bergé. Number 9 was dedicated to Frank O’Hara and included his famous poem “Joe’s Jacket” and a eulogy by Ted Berrigan; two full-frontal nude “beefcake” photos of Gerard Malanga graced the centerfold. Number 8 contained the full version of Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra.” Number 9 contained a poem by one Ronald Silliman. Wilson continued to contribute drawings and had not yet moved to San Francisco where he would become part of the Zap Comix team. Numbers 10 and 11 included Beat writers Jeff Nutall, Ginsberg, and Burroughs. Number 11 was done in a smaller size which mirrored Zap Comix size and may have been printed in San Francisco by Plymell, who printed the first Zap.
Grist 12 (1966).
Issue 12 was edited by George Kimball from NYC and featured photos of an NYC Be-In and works by David Antin, Ted Berrigan, Paul Blackburn, and Hannah Weiner. And finally #14, which was dated 1967. The front and back covers were by Wilson. Contributors included Ishmael Reed, Diane Wakoski, Hunter S Thompson, Joanne Kyger, Bill Berkowitz, Carl Weissner, and myself. This was to be the last issue of Grist in print. I must also mention that Grist published scores of “first-time” writers and also many letters, not to mention rants and reviews … which ranged from Tiger Beat Magazine to Fuck You/ A magazine of the arts. In its life, Grist, always shaped and powered by Fowler’s intent, brought together the message of a larger community which gathered across the USA. It delivered this message of counter- or experimental culture with no holds barred. It was a message of hope and change and revolution … as it was … with all its faults and foibles.
Fowler later moved from the Midwest to NYC and was an important contributor in the early days of poetry online, publishing Grist-On-Line in the 1990s. It didn’t last long but completed a circle from mimeo to digital that few magazines achieved. Grist may have been born and raised in the hills of eastern Kansas but it made very important contributions to the so-called mimeo revolution and the colorful past of the little magazine movement in the USA.
(Thanks to the folks at Spencer Research Library, Lawrence, which houses the Grist Archive, and Rick Ivonovich, who keeps important stuff. And to John Fowler, who remained a friend and in touch until his passing not so long ago.)
— Jim McCrary, March 2017, Lawrence, Kansas