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Joel Weinstein, Famous Publisher

posted Friday January 30th, 2009


I was in Portland last week for a sad occasion, although I’d like to think the subject of that sad occasion — a big fan of the place himself — would have been happy to know I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in his town.

Joel Weinstein hadn’t lived in Portland for many, many years. One of my best college girlfriends, Cheryl Hartup, took care of that in the early 1990s, when she swept him off to a series of cities — Austin, Dallas, Miami and most recently, San Juan.

I made it to Austin for a visit but sadly none of the others. When Cheryl came to Phoenix last April (she’s a bigwig now in the arts world, curated a show at the Phoenix Art Museum) it had been 10 years since we’d seen each other last, at my wedding.

Cheryl was here for a week, and it was only in the final 45 minutes of our visit that she admitted Joel was sick. Very sick.

He died October 31, and the next day, the Day of the Dead, Cheryl hosted an open house (complete with an amazing shrine including Joel’s famous red Converse) for their Puerto Rico friends. There were many, not surprisingly. These two have a fan club that literally spans the nation.

Count me in. Just a year or two out of grad school, when I first met Joel in Portland (he and Cheryl were introduced by the owner of a Latin American art gallery there, where she worked — tall and blonde, she’s The Gringa of that world, fabulously)  I was in awe. He published a literary magazine called “Mississippi Mud” — an amazing, happenstance (I say that because you never knew when the next issue would appear) collection of art, fiction and poetry, featuring ads designed by Weinstein himself, pre-computer age.

(The name has no relation, by the way, to Mississippi Avenue, as far as I know. The connection was to an old jazz song about stomping your feet on the Mississippi mud.)

So cool. Weinstein — who referred to himself as a “Famous Publisher,” tongue firmly in cheek – published Katherine Dunn before she was big. Each issue is truly collectible, which is why I’m glad I was able to purchase a few at the memorial held in Joel’s honor last week by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission.

The tribute was beautiful — Cheryl spoke, and so did Dunn, among others. But better still was the more intimate trip we took that afternoon to the cemetery, Lone Fir, where Joel is buried.

As I braced my own Conversed feet against the cold (it WAS sunny, for you Portland fans) Cheryl explained that Joel had loved this place, had walked its grounds repeatedly over the years, as do other artist friends who have even commissioned projects about it. (Portland’s that kind of town; people celebrate their history in very groovy ways. That day, we also visited some of Joel’s own public art projects.)

Cheryl pointed out Joel’s favorite headstone, belonging to a guy named Shawn Lee Miller Welsh. It looks like someone bought it at a swap meet — in a good way. Joel’s now buried just a few feet away, with a terrific view of the grounds.

I like to wonder what his headstone will look like…..

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