Exclusive Cover Reveal of “Loose of Earth” by Kathleen Dorothy Blackburn

We spoke to the designer and the author about the design process for the book

Electric Literature is pleased to reveal the cover for the memoir Loose of Earth by Kathleen Dorothy Blackburn, which will be published by University of Texas Press on April 16, 2024. Preorder the book here.

Kathleen Dorothy Blackburn was the oldest of five children, a twelve-year-old from Lubbock, Texas, whose evangelical family eschewed public education for homeschooling, and science for literal interpretations of the bible. Then her father, a former air force pilot, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of thirty-eight, and, “it was like throwing gasoline on the Holy Spirit.” Stirred by her mother, the family committed to an extreme diet and sought deliverance from equally extreme sources: a traveling tent preacher, a Malaysian holy man, a local faith-healer who led services called “Miracles on 34th Street.”

What they didn’t know at the time was that their lives were entangled with a larger, less visible environmental catastrophe. Fire-fighting foams containing carcinogenic compounds had contaminated the drinking water of every military site where her father worked. Commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” the presence of PFAs in West Texas besieged a landscape already burdened with vanishing water, taking up residence in wells and in the bloodstreams of people who lived there. An arresting portrait of the pernicious creep of decline, and a powerful cry for environmental justice, Loose of Earth captures the desperate futility and unbending religious faith that devastated a family, leaving them waiting for a miracle that would never come.

Here is the cover, designed by Sarah Schulte, art by Jack Spencer.

Sarah Schulte: “Loose of Earth conjures strong images and conflicting themes—desolation, vastness, but beauty, too. Kathleen’s landscapes are equally gorgeous and gritty, and there’s an interesting tension at the core of the story between love, loss, faith, grief, and revisitation that matches the complexities of the place in which that story unfolds. 

Capturing this powerful sense of place became a goal for the cover early on, and the challenge was to figure out the best way to evoke this landscape. Initially, I explored a range of illustration directions, but something was missing. While the results hinted at the innocence and wonder within the memoir, they did not fully convey the more painful emotions of loss and grief felt throughout the book. We turned to the portfolio of fine art photographer Jack Spencer, who has travelled Texas and photographed much of its majesty. We came across the image of the road that is now on the cover, and it was perfect. The photo had it all: the emptiness, the grit, the beauty, and a unique kind of depth that simultaneously seems to suspend time, while also bridging the past to the present.”

Kathleen Dorothy Blackburn: “Most artists tend to focus on the vast West Texas sky, but Jack Spencer’s photograph gives equal attention to the land, and I love how Sarah Schulte engaged with the surrealism. When I saw her design for the first time, it felt like an encounter with a memory or an image from a dream. This road, are we returning to it or about to begin? The plains in West Texas are among the flattest in the U.S., but where is the steady ground? The place is destabilized, vibrating, unsettled. Words emerge in the longhand quality of Sarah’s script, taking their cues from the lines of the telephone poles and the horizon. The cover hit me between the ribs. It echoed back the story in new registers.” 

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