The book jacket for Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs is as striking and original as the novel itself. With design credited to Barbara de Wilde, it’s printed on textured cover stock (coated on the reverse side), front lettering debossed, the sunken white letters smoothed of texture. Sturdily bound, it’s a beautiful book to hold and read. (Take that, eReaders.) The stark photo by artist Kamil Vojnar portrays a detached metal staircase sitting in an empty field. The stairs end in midair, and the uppermost steps seem to be reflecting an incendiary sunset or sunrise. Here’s Moore, from her interview in Wisconsin People & Ideas (Summer, 2009), describing how she learned about Vojnar’s work and then apparently had to convince Knopf that the staircase photo would make for a great cover:
I found myself enchanted by the cover of Sebastian Barry’s 2008 novel, The Secret Scripture. When I saw the photo credit on it, I looked up the photographer online, and, lo and behold, there was a website with an eerie, surreal photo of some stairs in a field. It seemed just about perfect. To me this was clearly destiny, God’s will, kismet, etc. But my publisher did not see it that way. They had other ideas, which I was open to, until I saw them, and then I cried out in pain and woe. And things proceeded from there.
The cover to Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture:
Given the 9/11 backdrop to A Gate at the Stairs, the cover’s abstract similarity to one of the most iconic pictures of the World Trade Center rubble is downright spooky. No doubt this subliminal connection is intended, but whether or not the staircase photo was originally shot to evoke the WTC image is an interesting question. Note the near identical angle of the skeletal stairs on the Moore cover and the bent building fragment on the left side of the frame in the WTC photo: