Gipson Schabel on Working at Book Arts Collaborative

Creative Writing minor Gipson Schabel recounts her experience working at Book Arts Collaborative, a “makerspace in downtown Muncie where community members and Ball State students learn about letterpress printing, book binding, and artist’s book design and publishing.” Book Arts Collaborative is currently fielding applications for the Fall 2017 semester; interested students should email Rai Peterson at rai@bsu.edu to apply.

It is important to first note that I earned my bachelor’s degree from Ball State University in actuarial science, with a minor in creative writing. Actuarial science is a brand of financial math specifically focused on statistics and predictive modeling. Creative writing is nearly the opposite. Half of my undergraduate years at Ball State were spent as a double major in these two subjects, which I was warned countless times was very weird. Mathematics and creative writing could not mesh, I was told. They were “left brain” and “right brain,” whatever that means. To me, it made sense. I was good at math and I enjoyed the concise correctness of it. Yet, I have been writing novels since age five. I wanted my education to reflect not only my strengths, but my passions. This is also the goal I had for my senior honors thesis: to combine mathematics and creative writing in a way that reflects not only what I have learned, but who I have become during my time at Ball State.

For my last semester of my undergraduate degree, I spent twelve hours a week working at Book Arts Collaborative, a print shop and book bindery run entirely by Ball State University students. I did not join Book Arts for credits or for a requirement. I just wanted to be a part of something that I thought was unique, cool, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We partnered with local businesses to create and sell products, participated in local events, and lead workshops to encourage our community members to get their hands dirty and create cool things.

I just wanted to be a part of something that I thought was unique, cool, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Printing and binding have become a weird, niche hobby in the twenty-first century. What first started as run-of-the-mill, blue-collar work has now been revived by a quirky arts community to celebrate doing things by hand. Locking up a chase with small pieces of metal type, large wooden blocks of furniture, and perfectly measured spacers does not come naturally to anyone. Building a casebook cover requires much more thought and consideration that you would think. There are no apprenticeships and local print shops are few and far between. Everyone who starts letterpress printing and binding starts with absolutely no prior knowledge, but a desire to just jump straight in.

I entered the book arts scene with no previous experience with printing and binding and learned everything I could from my peers and community partners. I learned the basics of letterpress printing, including how to design a print, set a chase, apply ink to a press’s ink table, run and clean a press, and estimate costs. I also studied book binding and made several books with different styles of binding. I practiced Casebook, Coptic, Secret Belgian, and Japanese Stab style bindings, of which Secret Belgian instantly became my favorite.

During my time at Book Arts, we also created and released our first artist’s book, which I had the privilege to work on. We worked with Karl Alrichs, an Indiana-based photographer, to create a set of sixty hand-bound copies of his travel photography collection, Spaces Between Places. For nearly a month, I worked on collating and sewing a dozen of these books and collaborated with my peers on one of the most ambitious projects I’ve worked on. It was important that we were precise and correct in each stitch, cut, and measurement. To top it all off, we had to be quick. We finished sixty copies of Spaces Between Places in three weeks. It is for this reason, the need to be exact, but also efficient, that I saw an opportunity to use my knowledge of mathematics.

A vast majority of the students that I worked with and nearly all the printers and binders I met during my time at the Collaborative came from either an English or art-related background. I was the only mathematics major Book Arts Collaborative has ever had. In fact, mentioning math in the shop was almost always met with a groan. However, I could not help but notice how many daily operations would be improved by a couple theorems, formulas, and concepts.

I spent most of the semester identifying problems and recognizing ways mathematics could be applied to help. I focused concepts and examples on specific problems I encountered at Book Arts Collaborative and was able to write my honors thesis on applied mathematics in book arts.

When I began my internship at Book Arts, I was expecting to put in my twelve hours of work each week, make an average thesis, and leave. I was expecting to learn about binding and printing, then graduate and never try it again. However, I am proud to say that I loved every minute of my time at Book Arts Collaborative. I worked as hard and as often as I could. I participated in every Muncie Arts Walk of the semester, a fun community event where local artists and businesses pay for snacks, activities, and open their doors to the public. I took weekends off work to help lead workshops and to work at the Book Arts Collaborative spring festival, Interrobang, which hosted printers, binders, and passionate book artists from across the Midwest. To my surprise, I have even bought my own cutting mat, bone folder, binder’s board, paper, and thread. I have stocked my apartment with all the supplies I need to bind books in my free time, proving that working at Book Arts Collaborative was not just an immersive class, but a jumping off point for my own artistic journey.

My proudest accomplishment from working at Book Arts Collaborative and from joining such an incredible and exciting art community is the step I took with my honors thesis to add to the Collaborative. I took advantage of my unique background in mathematics and creative writing to create a math book for non-math people. I found a need in the book arts community and did my best to meet it, through figures, graphs, weird examples, and formulas interpreted in laymen’s terms. I created something that I could give to the wonderful artists I had the chance to work with and something that hopefully could be of use to them in the future.

I feel that my thesis was not just a summary of my education at Ball State. It was not just an application of what I have learned or what I have spent my time here doing. It is a by-product of an exciting, bizarre, and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I stumbled upon and one that I wish I had more time to be a part of. My semester at Book Arts Collaborative was my favorite semester of my education. I learned more than I ever expected, collaborated with peers and friends on extensive projects, and followed in the footsteps of centuries of passionate, hardworking men and women. I found a place where my academic and artistic backgrounds could meet, mold together, and form something new.

Professor Aimee Taylor and her Classes Explore Ball State’s History

This semester, #bsuenglish Professor Aimee Taylor developed and organized an alternative final project for her ENG 104 class that focuses on archival research of Ball State’s history. With it, she hopes to immerse her students in scholarly research and unravel ageless inspiration. She will also be attending a conference this May where she plans to shed light on this exemplary work she is witnessing from her first-year students.

Ball State University will soon be preview-full-keepin_it_100.jpgcelebrating its 100th anniversary, but one English class is already getting a head start. They are looking into the archives from 1917, the year the university’s land was purchased, to now. The professor behind this project is Aimee Taylor, who the English Department hired this past fall. She has experience with archival research at her alma mater, Bowling Green State University, and decided to apply this technique to her ENG 104: Composing Research course. For the course’s final project, students must compile research in their selected time period and connect their findings to the central question: “How has Ball State changed?”

Many of her students were intrigued by this twist on a typical research assignment. Out of her four sections, she was met with some adversity that led to necessary accommodation for her students’ passions. While she has provided an alternative assignment in those cases, she is enthused by the fifty or so students who did choose to move forward with the history project. Professor Taylor broke up each of her four sections into one of the 25 year spans since 1917, and has already watched her students flourish within these time periods.

Professor Taylor allowed her students to first explore the Digital Media Repository, or the digitized archives, before she required them to dive into more complex research. The archives include texts, catalogs, daily news, student publications, and donated photographs and videos. Yet a lot of her students aren’t looking at institutional content, such as how Ball State spent money or how populations changed; they are looking at how Ball State has changed in ways that they can relate to. Students have been able to relate many of their finds to their majors, extracurricular activities, and personal backgrounds.

In one of the research project’s preliminary assignments, one of her students made a connection within her position at Ball State’s student-run radio station, WCRD. This student looked into the radio station’s archives and was able to use that information to advance her involvement in the project. She was able to unite her passion for the radio station and the class project and gain insight into an area for which she has a tremendous passion.

These are the experiences that Professor Taylor has sought to initiate. She motivates her students to experiment with different types of content collection while immersing them in new environments because she values these skills. Projects like these are what revise attitudes toward scholarly research and rejuvenate students to learn. It is through archival research she has certainly found a unique way to connect students to their university, history, and each other.

Hayat Bedaiwi Discusses Great Grad School Opportunities

Hayat Bedaiwi received her BA and MA in English Literature from King Saud University in 2007 and 2012, respectively. She is currently a third year PhD #bsuenglish student who aspires to specialize in Ethnic American Literature with a major focus on Arab American Literature. Here’s more info about our graduate programs. 

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When I first started my graduate studies at Ball State University, I took great courses that helped me become the scholar I am today. There are two experiences that come to my mind when I think of the courses that I have taken so far in graduate school. I turned papers I had written for two courses into conference papers. One paper was for a 657-postcolonial studies class, where I was blessed with the help and support of a great professor, Dr. Molly Ferguson. In that course, we read different postcolonial texts in the light of trauma theory. I was anxious when the course first started, but as we read and had different discussions every week, I knew what I wanted to write about for the seminar paper in that class. I wrote about Women at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi concerning the ideas of silence and bearing witness to the many traumas that filled the main character’s life.

Coincidentally, Practical Criticism Midwest was announced to take place in February that year, and I decided to submit my seminar paper for this course. I polished it to become a conference paper by revising it with Dr. Ferguson and making some visits to the Writing Center. My paper was one of the first papers to get accepted, and I had the opportunity of presenting this paper and getting feedback from different academic voices attending the conference.

I’m also presenting another paper at PCM 2017 this year which is a seminar paper for an Ethnic American Literature class entitled “Understanding the ‘Other’ in Naomi Shihab Nye’s You & Yours.” This course has helped me become more confident in my own academic voice. Dr. Emily Rutter’s approach to teaching this class was a very fascinating one. We were introduced to theories, texts and cultural material that helped us understand the texts we were reading for the class. As a class, we couldn’t stop talking about all the texts that we were reading, and all the new things we discovered everyday led us to write some interesting strong papers, which we shared together at the end of the semester. I was very hesitant to write about poetry, but Dr. Rutter helped me improve my writing about poetry and become a more confident scholar in Ethnic Studies.

My other paper was the fruitful product of my ENG 693 “Writing in the Profession” course, where I learned different ways of maintaining and creating my professional identity by revising my CV and exploring different ways of writing cover letters. Dr. Deborah Mix offered many great opportunities and great venues for us to learn the different ways of writing in our profession. We learned how to look for conferences and participate in them, how to find the journal that is of interest, how to become successful in submitting and publishing an article in that journal, and how to apply for a grant, from writing the budget narrative to crafting a proposal in a very professional way that would make us succeed in the application process.

I am the recipient of the 2016 Francis Mayhew Rippy Scholarship. I used the knowledge I learned in class about grant writing and took the opportunity to apply to this grant that was offered by the English Department. I also applied to attend a conference in New York as part of a panel with another colleague, and we both got accepted. Dr. Mix supported us and pushed us to do our best in order to become successful in all our assignments in that course, and we would have never gotten anywhere without her guidance and belief in our success.

My experience in graduate school has been a rewarding one, and as I am currently preparing for my comprehensive exams, I am very confident in my abilities, as my writing and thinking have evolved immensely over the past two and a half years because of the full support and unlimited guidance I get from the phenomenal faculty members at the English department, my colleagues, and my family.

John Maust: The Importance of Encouraging Writers

John Maust is president of Media Associates International (MAI), a publishing training agency based near Chicago, Illinois. John directs MAI’s global training programs to strengthen Christian publishing worldwide and to foster the development and publication of gifted local writers. John became president of MAI in 1998 after more than 20 years of experience as an editor, author and journalist. He graduated from Ball State University in 1975 with a B.A. in Literature, followed by an M.A. in Communications from Wheaton (IL) College Graduate School in 1978.

You have had such a varied career in publishing, including working for a newspaper and a magazine, as well as publishing three books of your own. In what ways did your English literature degree help to prepare you for these various endeavors?
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Within weeks of graduating from Ball State, I got a job as a 20-year-old editor of a small-town weekly newspaper in nearby Dunkirk, Indiana. Editorially, it was a one-person operation. So, for the first time in my life I had nightmares: would I find enough to fill the newspaper?

Fortunately, we never published any blank pages, and the work got done through long hours, hard work, a finely tooled typewriter, and more than a few prayers. I look at that experience as a time of real growth both as a person and as a communicator. They say you learn to write by writing, and that was surely the case at this newspaper.

Next came graduate school, followed by work as a magazine news editor, and then as a roving reporter and writer trainer based in Lima, Peru. There, this English major learned enough Spanish to meet and marry my beautiful wife, Elsa, of 32 years.

For the last 20 years, I’ve been helping to equip and encourage Christian publishers and writers in the Majority World as president of Media Associates International.

My English degree helped prepare me for all this simply through the act of reading—reading widely from the best authors and doing so critically. Almost unconsciously, one
begins to absorb and understand the difference between good and not-so-good writing and literature—skills needed by any editor.

Similarly, I began to learn there’s a wide chasm between the almost right word and the right word—as Mark Twain quipped, “it’s the difference between the lightning bug and lightning.” It’s hard work,  crafting words to say exactly what you mean.

Finally, I learned about the skill required for boiling down an immense amount of information and ideas into a concise piece held together by a unifying theme that could be expressed in one sentence. Readers want us to write clearly and concisely.

You are now the President of MAI, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping authors around the world to write and publish Christian literature for their local audiences and communities. Why did you move into the world of non-profit administration, and how do your writing and communication skills come into play in your current job? 

John Maust.JPGI didn’t go looking for work in non-profit administration. It came as a surprise. When
the founding president of Media Associates International began making plans to retire, he invited me to succeed him. And here I am after 19 years. It’s encouraging to look back at the bits and pieces of my life—including the years at Ball State—and to see how God put them together into what I’m doing now.

Today, instead of books and articles, I’m writing more grant proposals, Board reports and emails. Not so exciting perhaps. But I face the same need to write clearly and concisely, and maybe even more creativity is required to keep these reports from being deadly boring.

In my work, I have the privilege of interacting with gifted men and women who are creating excellent “homegrown” content for readers in places like South Sudan, Laos, Peru, Bulgaria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Helping these friends write and publish stories that would not otherwise have been told is a bit like uncovering buried treasure.

By the way, I vividly remember my Ball State course on “The Modern Continental Novel” because it exposed me for the first time to the (translated) work of international authors and the world of words outside American and British borders. 

As someone who has worked in writing and publishing for nearly 40 years, what advice would you have for current English majors who are worried about their future employment prospects? What can English majors do now to prepare for future success?

To be effective in the workplace, you need to be an effective communicator—both spoken and written. An English major is better equipped than most in this regard.

Employers in business, mass media, education, social services and other fields will value your English-major skills to think critically and creatively and to express yourself clearly.

Through reading of fiction and nonfiction, you are also developing a greater sense of empathy for others, plus a broader worldview and a sense of how ideas shape culture and history. In this way, I think that being an English major makes you a better person by giving you valuable tools both for work and for life.

If you are thinking about work in publishing or writing, there is no better major than English Literature. Both now and in the future, keep on reading, and keep on writing. It’s a corny saying but true: “To write good readin’, you need to read good writin’.”

An awful lot of people in our world live without hope. Your published and spoken words, hammered into shape with faith and hard work, can shine a ray of hope and leave a legacy for future generations.