April 4, 7:45 a.m., fog enfolds my building, the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. the night before his assassination fifty years ago is on the radio in the room.



space pen copy

NIGHTWRITERS by Constance DeJong, a Triple Canopy digital project published March 10, 2018. With  thanks to Emmy Catedral for contributing thought and time and insights.


An insomniac traces the night through her skylight. Falling leaves turn to snow, a pen becomes the agent for astronomers Annie Jump Cannon and Caroline Herschel to visit across time and inscribe their accomplishments on the present moment.

“Through sleepless weeks with my sky companions, every night we passed the time. Midnight one o’clock two in the morning in bed a far distance from the delta waves of sleep of dreams, whatever the acclaimed balm of those frequencies, insomnia maps inward for the sleepless passenger-navigator-skipper, one person wandering the course of night.”

 May 16 Nightwriters live event at Triple Canopy, 246 Canal Street, 3W, NYC

“Nightwriters” is part of Active Recollections, a series in which artists, writers, and researchers trace histories that are obscured, partially erased, or seemingly unassimilable.


The digital project of Nightwriters germinated from my long held interest in composing screen space and meaningfully incorporating navigation…so different from composing for the printed page and page turning.

Some issues, at once broad and specific, which mattered to me became shared interests with which a team working on the project engaged, including: to produce text as an integration of language and images; to explore relationships of images and language sharing the same space, less rigidly demarcated  relationships than words in one zone/pictures in a separate zone of the page or screen; to investigate text composition without the grip of other conventions that identify and then isolate certain categories of material from a notion of the main text body,  as in the Note and the footnote. And, again, to approach text as a polyphony, as distinct from how text (in print or digital form) is inclined to privilege language, employing persistent standards that assign pictures and words and related materials to separate hierarchical realms.

How to utilize the swipe navigation of Triple Canopy’s digital platform…

I was keen to use the swipe for merging on screen the variety of materials that inform Nightwriters – historical documents, fiction text, graphs, asterisms, scientific images and images from other areas of research, including my drawings. I favored and Triple Canopy fabricated a layering that builds with each swipe and conjures multiple interactions and collaborations of picture-word-document. A narrative of image and language, of fiction and nonfiction conjoined.

And rhythm. The sequence of screens is composed in a varying rhythm as one swipes/moves through a meshing of disparate yet related materials. Very special thanks go to programmer, Triple Canopy Production Associate, Camila Mercado. Mercado became a ghost nightwriter of Nightwriters digital iteration, an accomplished and true participant in the project.

Thank you, Triple Canopy Director, Peter Russo for supporting the digital project of Nightwriters and for initiating our work in our first meeting in the kitchen on Henry Street. And for masterfully shepherding the project beginning to end, thank you Triple Canopy editors and project team members Lucy Ives and Molly Kleiman and Emily Wang.

Working with Triple Canopy was an occasion and an opportunity to investigate composing a form-specific text, an area of interest I’ve revisited over decades in print forms—books and article-essays—and twice now in digital forms; the 2018 Triple Canopy Nightwriters digital project and Fantastic Prayers, a Dia Center for the Arts project for web, 1995, and CD Rom 2000, made in collaboration with Stephen Vitiello and Tony Oursler. http://awp.diaart.org/fpcd/index.html

From here follows some thoughts to do with print forms. Notes written on the occasion of participating in a 2017 College Art Association panel on the subject: Why Print.

I am considering our subject, Why Print, from the start point of what print.

We say, I am writing a book. Yet our writing process is nearly always partitioned from our work’s eventual life in print. Said another way: our writing is a process disassociated from considerations of writing being a print form. A book.

It’s a curious contemporary habit that as writers—of scholarly or nonfiction or fiction books—we compose text as if language and thought, from the outset of their production, are subject to and adhere to rules of print and of style, accepted formats and print conventions. As if producing language and thought in writing is a process unto itself. The form is not considered.

Leaving un-investigated the form which we are producing means accepting without question institutionalized ideas and conventions that long ago determined  what is print, what is book, what is the material production of thought and ideas.  

If the printed page is only and always a post-writing enterprise given over to the publishing industry, then both author and publisher collaborate to treat the newly written text with its contemporary ideas and perspective as an artifact of an aging set of standards.

As writers, we accept entrenched conventions of print publishing without the interrogation, investigation and thoughtfulness we give to the writing of our book. In effect we accept, we embrace an archetype, a strict definition of being a writer, of what a writer does and does not do.

I realize the book as a print form, the investigation of its material, conceptual and structural aspects, has been assigned to artists, to a category of book, the artist’s book…wherein the chemistry of form and content, an enquiry of form and content is in play from start to finish of the book.

But the title and subject of our panel today—Why Print—initiates thoughts of why print is ignored by writers of books, why our work’s eventual form is exiled from the writing process, from how language and ideas are composed, organized, conveyed onto and as the page.

The division of writing and material form-making says, this is how things are done; things being established divisions of author and manufacturer, writing and print form, language and pages. I wonder about the effect of accepting that decision, its effect on how we may think, how we may read, may compose, may contribute to the world of ideas.  

In the interest of clarity: I’m not talking of writers taking on design trends of the publishing industry … bells and whistles and design for the sake of appearance only.

Our familiarity with and engagement in associative thinking and intersectionality, for example, might induce us to investigate our habits of written language and language in print — an investigation that might rescue thought from being reformatted automatically into the hierarchies and formats, layouts and taxonomies of industry and style guide standards.