Some things just belong together: peanut butter and jelly, Hermione and Ron, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. In celebration of our favorite pairing — a beach and a book — O.Henry has produced its summer reading issue every August for over a decade. In that span, our contributors have included Frances Mayes, Daniel Wallace, Etaf Rum, Ron Rash, Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, Bland Simpson, David Payne, Lee Zacharias, Celia Rivenbark, Michael Parker, Nan Graham, Terri Kirby Erickson, Shelby Stephenson, Fred Chappell, Anthony S. Abbott, Wiley Cash, Ruth Moose, Sam Barbee, Virginia Holman and Jill McCorkle, to name a few. This year, we added Valerie Nieman and Brendan Slocumb to our roster.
And every August, we strive to find a cover that celebrates both reading and readers. This year, we’re fortunate enough to feature the work of California artist Michael Stilkey, a “book sculpture” entitled Out of the Night That Covers Me. In a style reminiscent of German expressionism, Stilkey uses a mix of paint, lacquer, ink and pencil to capture his melancholic, whimsical characters painted on stacks of books, many of which are destined for the recycling bin. Stilkey told the L.A. Times, “Books are dying. There are so many that go to the garbage. It’s crazy. If I can paint on them, I’m giving them a second chance.” His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and around the world, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, The Philippines and China. When the curator of the Rice University Gallery randomly saw his work in a Los Angeles gallery, she flew him to Houston where he created his first large book sculpture. It went viral. “Then I went on a world tour for the next, I don’t know, 15 years,” says Stilkey. “Right place, right idea, right timing. It all aligned.”
In 2018, Stilkey was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as a cultural leader. There, he created a book installation entitled Down to Earth, consisting of nearly 8,000 books, standing 27 feet tall and 20 feet wide, and depicting people from diverse walks of life floating on the music of a pianist. In 2019 at the Starfield Library in South Korea, he created his largest piece, a three-sided sculpture made of roughly 15,000 discarded books.
If you’d like to see more of Stilkey’s artwork, visit
mikestilkey.com. For now, we hope you enjoyed our 2023 page-turners. And we really hope you’re sitting in your beach chair, toes dipped in the water. OH
— Cassie Bustamante
To see more of Stilkey’s artwork, visit his website at mikestilkey.com.