Long Ago Told (Huh-kew Ah-Kah)
Legends of the Tohono O'odham
Long Ago Told is a 1929 collection of legends of the Tohono O'odham – the People of the Desert.
The Tohono O'odham are the Indigenous people whose homelands are in what is now southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. Today, the tribe has approximately 30,000 members and continues to occupy a portion of their Sonoran Desert home on the Tohono O'odham Nation.
Prior to starting Ampersand Book Studio, Tristan Reader worked for twenty years at a community-based non-profit organization on the Tohono O'odham Nation. Tristan created the Ampersand edition of Long Ago Told in 2020 as a gift for the Tohono O'odham storytellers, elders, farmers, community organizers, and educators with whom he has worked for years and often decades.
Currently, the limited edition of Long Ago Told is part of a number of new projects, including a community-based initiative led by tribal storytellers. What began as a passion project during the early quarantine days of Covid-19 has grown into a part of 21st century efforts to increase both cultural sovereignty and collaborative bookmaking.
Tristan is a faculty member in the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona. After reading Long Ago Told, he wanted to help make the out-of-print book more easily and locally available. Many of the stories in Long Ago Told are still part of the tribe’s contemporary storytelling tradition, but about a third of the stories in the book had been lost over the past century.
What appealed to Tristan about Long Ago Told was how the stories came to print. Tribal members were not merely consulted after-the-fact, but were active collaborators in the development of the manuscript. Unlike so many publications about native peoples from the early 20th (and 21st) century, this collection was produced with the permission and active participation of members of the tribe. As part of a decades-long collaboration, Tohono O'odham elders were involved in telling, translating, reviewing, and correcting the manuscript. Discussions of what should (and should not) belong in the published edition informed the final work, making Long Ago Told a rare historical example of what Tristan in his classes, calls a "participatory" or "community-driven" research methodology.
Today, Tristan is working with members of the community to develop a new edition of the book for future publication. This new edition will feature commentary – reflections, illustrations, critique, memories, and stories – as contemporary members of the tribe reflect on the content of the nearly 100-year-old collection of the tribe's legends.
Creating a New Edition
The goal was to create an edition which would be both beautiful and sturdy. It should be able to be enjoyed by reading individuals as well as be shared around campfires at winter storytelling events.
Some young children could be read to, so the ochre cover and the printed endpapers needed to convey how much the Tohono O’odham cherish telling stories and passing along desert traditions, and books of both, down through the generations.
The colors - ochre and purple, with browns and golds, were chosen to reflect the beauty of the Sonoran Desert and how the Tohono O’odham have portrayed their arid home. The Tohono O’odham Nation’s flag is primarily purple and yellow.
Originally collected by Katherine Kitt over decades, the stories in Long Ago Told were brought to print with the editorial involvement of tribal members through the advocacy and editing of Harrold Bell Wright. Though virtually unknown today, Wright was the best-selling novelist of his time. Indeed, he was the first American novelist to sell one million copies of a book.
In 1914, Wright moved to Tucson where he met Mrs. Katherine Kitt who had lived there for decades. Over thirty years, Kitt had written down stories told by Tohono O’odham tribal members she had come to know. When Harold Bell Wright expressed interest in working toward a book, she let him use her notebooks and introduced him to tribal members. He consulted the elders for corrections and more stories, and she drew the illustrations for the 1929 book.
\Copies of the original 1929 printing of Long Ago Told are quite scarce and expensive. Making it available for community use was a priority in the decision to create the Ampersand Book Studio edition.
Since it had been out of print for nearly a century, the text of the original book had to be completely re-typed and proofread. For the limited edition, the text was electronically typset at the UA Book Art and Letterpress Lab using the Mrs. Eaves families of type. Designed by Zuzana Licko in 1996, it was styled after Baskerville, the famous transitional serif typeface designed in 1757 by John Baskerville of Birmingham, England. Mrs. Eaves was the name of Baskervillle’s housekeeper and later wife, Sarah Eaves.
The text of the special edition was printed on Arjowiggins Conqueror 118gsm paper, produced in Scotland.
The original black-and-white images were created by Katherine Kitt, who had trained as an artist in both the U.S. and Europe and who established the Department of Art at the University of Arizona in 1925.
For this new edition, Kitt's original images were selectively colored by Tristan Reader, using image editing software, to highlight key themes in the stories.
Top left: Original image as appeared in 1929 edition.
Top right: Color-augmented image.
Left: Image as it appear in the limited edition.
Endpapers & Labels
The endpapers were co-designed and printed by Tristan Reader of Ampersand Book Studio and Professor Karen Zimmerman of the University of Arizona School of Art at the UA Book Art and Letterpress Lab. The endpapers and box feature traditional Tohono O'odham basketry designs. Baskets traditionally carry the desert foods that provide that basis for many Tohono O’odham legends.
The Binding & The Box
The binding was hand-bound using a modified 19th century library binding, also known as a “split board” binding. It incorporates linen threads and tapes from Ireland. The bookcloth is from Cotlin (Italy) and Iris (Germany).
A special keepsake box was produced to house the Special Edition of Long Ago Told.