Wesley McNair and Robert Brinkerhoff, the cover illustrator of The Unfastening, conducted a brief but revealing email exchange about how to convey the book’s meaning through art. Along the way, Brinkerhoff submitted a short series of alternative possibilities from which McNair chose the final version. All the while, both tried to make the cover match the book’s intentions.

The email exchange follows. Here are some questions to keep in mind as you read it.

  1. Why does McNair reject the alternative covers Brinkerhoff proposes and choose the one that now appears on the book?
  2. What images does the final cover borrow from the book’s poems?
  3. How does the email exchange about the title poem contribute to the final cover?
  4. What does the composition of the final illustration – the leaning figure in the foreground, the barn that leans in the opposite direction, and the straight telephone poles at the center – contribute to the book’s meaning?
  5. Discuss the meaning of light in the background, and the possibility that the snowflakes in the foreground are transformed into dawn stars.