Author: Eva Grouling Snider

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.

Tara Olivero: Teacher at Homestead High School and Writer at Book Riot

Tara Olivero is a teacher at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne and a contributing writer at Book Riot. She graduated from Ball State in 2014 with a degree in English Education. In this post, she discusses her job as a high school English teacher and how her time at #bsuenglish helped her find her passion for teaching.

How would you describe your job?

My main career will always be my teaching career – I’m in my third year of teaching in Fort Wayne at Homestead High School. As any other high school teacher knows, it’s an exhausting job but one that’s personally satisfying beyond all compare. I also have two side-gigs outside of teaching. I’m a contributor at Book Riot, which I really love because it gives me a platform for my own writing. And my “purely for fun” job is that I work at an Escape Room in Fort Wayne on the weekends; I also write blog posts for the Escape Room’s website.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

I usually try to get to school between 6 and 6:30, so I can set up all the documents I need and make copies for students who have laptop issues. That’s when I don’t oversleep, of course. I teach five classes of freshman high school English, where we do the standard reading/writing you’d expect. I also teach one class of juniors and seniors in Film Literature, Tara Oliverowhich is essentially how to write thoughtful and critical analysis of films. After school, I’m usually still there until 4 or 5, either running one of the clubs I sponsor (including the school’s Creative Writing Club) or helping the theatre department with costuming. At the end of the day, I’ll finally head home to grade papers, work on my current Book Riot pieces, or pet my cat.

How did your English major affect your career path?

I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have the teaching position I have today without an English major. One of the strengths I bring to the table in terms of serving my students IS my English content knowledge. While I’m always trying to work on improving my teaching strategies, inclusion of technology, etc., I know I never have to worry that I’m not hitting at the heart of the books we read in my classes and the structure and content of the essays my students write.

When I was student teaching, I was overwhelmed with the experience, too. I didn’t realize how stressful it would be until I was already in it, but I knew that I wanted to teach English more than anything. I was armed with so much knowledge from my English classes, and I knew how painful it was to be in non-English classes at Ball State and see that writing was something that plenty of other students desperately needed to work on. All of that made me want to teach English even more. Reading comprehension, critical analysis, and the ability to put that comprehension and analysis into words are some of the most important skills high school students need to master, so I’m honored to have a part in that now.

What skills did you pick up in your major that have proved useful in your job?

The English Department did a bang-up job helping me hone my analytical writing skills. Until I started teaching Film Lit, I didn’t realize how helpful it was that I can actually write well. I’m able to show my students examples of my own analytical writing that they can use as models for specific tasks, which is nice.

The instruction I received in my writing classes also helped me hone my style and build my confidence in my own writing. The voice present in my writing and my passion for literature, both of which grew throughout my time as an undergraduate, helped me land a spot as a Book Riot contributor. For the longest time in college, I was a “quasi” book blogger; I ran a YA book blog but didn’t interact much with the blogosphere because I was intimidated. I feel like I can run with that crowd now and not feel inadequate, which is partially because all of the Book Riot people are lovely individuals and partly because I know I’m now a decent writer when I put in the time and care about what I’m writing.

Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?

The young adult literature class impacted both the way I teach English, especially the way I run the student-chosen summer reading activities in class in the fall, and my experience writing for Book Riot as a critical reader of YA fiction. The ideas that were covered in that class – how to talk about tough subject material, how to tie in relevant current events, etc. – were more helpful than I could have anticipated. I also know that the entire education program, but specifically the English education classes, helped prepare me for how to design the best reading and writing lessons that I can.

What advice would you give current English majors?

If you’re trying to get onto a writing staff, be brave and apply when there are job openings, even if you think you won’t be good enough! You never know until you try. Write your passions and your voice will come through.

The Twittersphere is on fire right now, and Book Twitter is one of the greatest social platforms you can engage in. There is so much critical analysis happening in 140 characters, it’s madness. So find some authors, publishers, book bloggers, etc., to follow so you can get in on all of that action. It’ll also help you make connections that can further your own aspirations once you graduate.

Save all of your notes! I had to teach The Scarlet Letter my first year at Homestead, and I knew I had taken such great notes in Dr. Habich‘s class, but I tragically couldn’t ever find them.

Professor Mike Donnelly Publishes Book (And More December/January Good News)

Prof. Mike Donnelly‘s book, Freedom of Speech and the Function of Rhetoric in the United States, was released on December Donnelly book15.

Prof. Jill Christman recently had two essays published: “The Alligator and the Baby” in TriQuarterly and “This Story” in Phoebe: A Journal of Literature & Art Since 1971Prof. Christman is also chairing the conference committee for AWP this year and will be delivering a welcome address on the opening night of the conference.

Prof. Lyn Jones‘ immersive learning class explored #blacklivesmatter for Rethinking Children’s and YA Lit. Their magazine is out now! Download the BSU NOW app to read the #blacklivesmatter edition.

Prof. Pete Davis‘ fourth book of poetry, Band Names, will be published this fall.

Prof. Matt Mullins had two filmpoems (“Aubade” and “After Image”) screened at the 5th Annual International Video Poetry Festival in Athens, Greece.

Prof. Mai Kuha is serving on the steering committee of the newly formed Ecolinguistics Association.

Prof. Emily Rutter published “Contested Lineages: Fred Moten, Terrance Hayes, and the Legacy of Amiri Baraka” in the African American Review (vol. 49, no. 4).

Recent #bsuenglish graduate Lauren Birkey (December 2016) was hired at Spotted Monkey Marketing in Muncie. Go Lauren!

#bsuenglish student Elyse Lowery had three poems; “Crosshatch”, “Blood and Diamonds” and “Five Cigars;” accepted for publication by The 3288 Review. They will be published in late February 2017.

Students Brittany Mayfield, Josh Mooshian, and Julia Robben presented a project called “Mock Spanish” at the Unity Connections Conference on January 21, and they facilitated a substantial discussion on linguistic diversity and inclusion following their talk. The project was inspired by Prof. Kuha’s ENG 220 (Language and Society).

#bsuenglish MA graduate Heather Gemmen Wilson recently had two pieces, “How to Deceive Yourself” and “Divine Tantrums” published.

Hold Onto Your Passion: Advice from Audra Dittlinger

Stars to Steer By presents Audra Dittlinger, a Marketing Content Manager and Client Experience Director. Ms. Dittlinger began her journey at Ball State in 2001 and officially graduated in 2014 with a degree in English Studies.   

How would you describe your job?Audra Dittlinger

I would describe my job as fast paced, exciting, and unpredictable. It’s a mixture of editing, brainstorming, and creating some amazing content for a start-up company that is growing quicker than we ever thought possible!

What does a typical work day look like for you?

A “typical” work day depends on the day. I am able to work about 75% remotely, with the other 25% happening onsite, usually at our office headquarters. On my work-from-home days, I get up, check in with my team, and work through daily tasks. Since our company is still relatively small, all team members are able to take on multiple positions at the same time. My day may consist of mostly writing and editing, or I may find myself conducting interviews with prospective customers. It’s never the same and it’s certainly never boring. The days that I am able to spend in the office are often charged with enthusiastic co-workers and inspirational leadership. Team meetings are perfect opportunities for us to collaborate and afterwards we all leave the office feeling recharged. It’s a relief, really. A lot of times, meetings can get a bad reputation in the corporate world. In our company, we’re constantly innovating and creating so we all get jazzed about coming together for a meeting of the minds.

How did having an English major affect your career path?

My English major heavily affected my career path. I graduated as a married adult with a 2 year old toddler at home. I was not a traditional student. At the time that I graduated, I was actually going into my 9th year of being an insurance agent. I had known for years that my true love is writing and editing, and that is what I wanted in my life. I wasn’t going to stop until I found it. After multiple freelance gigs, I finally landed my “dream job,” if you will.

What skills did you pick up in your major that have proved useful in your job?

I picked up a lot of useful skills in my major, but I think the most useful was that it really honed my craft as an editor and it allowed me to be more patient than I would have otherwise been. I now have a distinct process when editing, something I could have only learned through my classes as an English major. I now slow down and I perfect my work. I am not naturally patient, but as a writer, I can block out the world and take my time.

Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?

I was in a few classes led by Dr. Rai Peterson (Rai, as most English majors know her) and she definitely had an impact on me. I took two classes with her on campus and one online course. She really boosted my confidence and I’ll never forget the first time she wrote “You’re a writer!” at the top of one of my papers. It was one of the first times in my adult life that I really felt that I was moving in the right direction.

What advice would you give current English majors?

My advice would absolutely be this: hold on to what you love. If you really love Sci-Fi lit, hold onto that. If you really love Vonnegut, keep studying him. If you really love to edit, keep finding ways to do it. I let go of something that I loved to do and I spent 10 years of my life running in place and not living up to my potential. As soon as I found my passion again, I never let myself forget that feeling. That feeling is what drove me and what really helped me land my dream job. Don’t let people tell you English majors “have to be teachers.” Prove them wrong. It’s in you.