Bob Blesse is the head of Black Rock Press and Special Collections at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Getchell Library. The Black Rock Press, on the second floor of the library, has just received two awards for popular cowboy poet Linda Hussa’s book of poems, Blood Sister, I Am to These Fields. Out of nearly 100 competitors, the book was chosen to receive the Western Heritage Award for Outstanding Book of Poetry for 2001 by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America. Blesse attended the Western Heritage Awards ceremony last weekend where he received the “Wrangler,” which is considered “the cowboy’s version of the Oscar.” The Wrangler, cast in bronze and weighing about 15 pounds, depicts a cowboy riding his horse.
What was it like to win the Western Heritage Award?
It was really exciting, like winning an Oscar. It was very much like the Academy Awards. There were 800 people there and a large TV screen with music. It makes you feel like you are really special, especially when you are actually holding the Wrangler award. I am very proud that UNR won this award because no one in Nevada has yet.
So did you meet celebrities?
We met Tom Selleck, who had won an award for a movie he starred in and produced for Showtime. He was very gracious, and we talked for a few minutes. We met Jack Palance and Lee Merriweather. We also met Ernest Borgnine, an Academy Award-winning actor who has been in 50 or 60 films.
Tell me about Hussa’s poetry.
In this book, the poems reflect the land, the ranchers and Indians who work on it. Hussa lives in Surprise Valley near where the Great Basin begins, and this poetry reflects the land and people of that area. It is wonderful and beautiful. Hussa has written three poetry books and a story about Lige Langston, a buckaroo that lives in her area. Also, she collaborated with two local authors to write Sharing Fencelines, a book about the land where they live. Hussa is usually a guest speaker at the annual cowboy poetry readings in Elko.
What does Black Rock Press do?
We are part of the university’s book arts program. We teach traditional printing, the kind that was done 300 years ago. Not only do we teach letterpress printing, but we can extend our resources and teach classes in history of books, English, journalism and other student groups. A lot of the community comes in because what we have here is very unique. We have 19th-century [printing] machinery.
What kind of books do you print?
We have many limited edition books. We have some books that are entirely handmade. We make the paper and do the illustrations. We [design] the covers for some of the books that are then printed commercially.
How did you get started in the book printing business?
I used to be in business in the Bay area and got a job at the library at Cal Poly. Cal Poly has a school of printing technology, and around that time, I had acquired a press of my own. In 1981, I became the head of the special collections at UNR. I was to replace Ken Carpenter, founder of the Black Rock Press. Carpenter continued to run the press for another 5 years while I studied under him. Then, in 1986, he retired entirely and I took over.