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John Charles Kemmerer was a poet and printer who worked in an engineering firm to support himself and his family. Born on a farm in Guthrie County, Iowa in 1901, he developed a devotion to writing poetry and to the art and craft of printing during his teenage years. He attended Grinnell College from 1919-1923, starting in the engineering course, but getting his degree in English and History. During his college years he worked at a Grinnell newspaper printing office, had poetry published in student publications, served on the staffs of the Malteaser and the 1923 Cyclone, and was the class poet.
After graduation he received his master’s degree from Harvard and during the rest of the 1920s studied at Columbia University and wrote short stories, plays, a novel, and poetry. In 1929 he married Ruth Chamberlain (class of 1922) and the following year began working for the firm of consulting engineers in New York City at which he was to spend his entire career. But it was poetry and printing that was most important in his life.
In the early 1930s he studied typography in night courses at New York University, built his own hand press, and began publishing his own books, the first in 1933 while at NYU. In 1950 he purchased a weather-beaten farmhouse in rural Connecticut and moved his presses there. From 1967-81 he published sixteen books of poetry in limited editions of less than one hundred copies, one autobiographical sketch, and had one book of poetry, Wild plum tree, published by Carroll Coleman at the Prairie Press in Iowa City.
The following selection from his, A biographical note, may best describe his life: "1972-73. By this winter his published work had received several hundred friendly responses; from veteran critics of the Twenties; from generations in theirprime; from pretty girls, and young men with beards. Thus in a Dark Age the poems, author, and printers had lively company. And the books were in greatlibraries in New York, Iowa, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut; and in the homes of collectors, whose books may go anywhere."