Guest Posts

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.

An Interview with Tiffany Austin

Tiffany Austin received her BA in English from Spelman College, her MFA in Creative Writing from Chicago State University, her JD from Northeastern University, and her PhD in English from Saint Louis University. She currently teaches rhetorical and creative writing at the College of The Bahamas. Her research and teaching field also includes African Diaspora literature—African American, Afro-Latin, Caribbean, and African literature. 

How would you describe your writing?

My writing has been described as one with a gendered blues aesthetic, but I don’t relate this descriptor to how we generally perceive the blues.  I’ve always admired blues music, not only for its melancholic tones, but for its protest-like and freeing qualities. I grasp its expressive possibilities because of its creative use of language and sound (especially its disguised protest element).  I’m most interested in the embodiment of langtiffany-austinuage—readers’ visceral responses—so my poetry is full of images and elliptical narratives.  The themes range from historical and personal memory to “tenderness” amongst tragedy-fraught events and experiences.  I find myself asking, “What do we desire from memory?”  Within those themes subsist the subjects of cultural belonging, dislocation, gender, and age.  I don’t overtly point to sexuality because I’m more invested in how we sensually engage with ourselves and one another.  Pondering the possibilities for poetry, it’s about how I treat you and you treat me—personally, socially, politically—and that’s what the blues delves into and how it relates.

What should potential audience members expect if they decide to attend? Is there a target audience in your mind?

I once toyed with the term “poetics of quietude” to relate the importance of silences and ellipses in the intersection of some Caribbean and Southern women poets’ works, so my poetry, and especially its engagement with social issues, is not necessarily loud but contemplative.  It often baffles me that there has been this historical argument about whether poetry should be political or not, when the political alludes to the people.  It’s not original for me to say, but we’re always writing politically—as people.  I’m trying to work out something in my poetry, and I like for audiences to take that journey with me.  I truly believe if we use new language, our perspectives and how we engage with problems change as well.  I do not have a target audience; I only hope for one that is willing to listen.

What are your hopes for this presentation?

I hope that audience members will connect language, poetry, and social justice with a new lens.  I remember having a conversation with a young feminist who conjectured that we should take control of the word “bitch.”  But I asked why couldn’t we create a new word that proclaimed the same kind of female power that she desired to express.  I want audience members to assert a type of power in listening to the possibilities for language and political/social action.  When I tell my students that, as primary and secondary students, “unequal education funding” does not violate the constitution (there is no constitutional right to equal education), they are taken aback.  Then, they have to question the definitions of “equal,” “right,” and “education,” and they express how these definitions are ambiguously enacted by political policies through their writing.  So, I continue to ask, what can we gather from the intersection of poetry and social justice?  Our most vulnerable sites can become our most powerful means for shifts.  That’s the conversation to be had.

What do you want people to walk away with? In other words, do you want them to think about your message, learn something new, gain the desire to act, etc.?

I want audience members to think about what role language plays in their perception of ideas, in how they engage with different people.  I seldom ask, “How are you?” because at times I am not prepared for the potential answer.  How do we deliberately engage with one another?  With our privileges?  With disengaging with the soundbites?  I often say, I’m not a multi-tasker because when I am listening to someone, I try to give that person my full attention, and the same applies to my encounter with a social/political issue.  What do I not know? I want audience members to ask questions that lead me to ask questions.

Stars to Steer By Presents Ethan Johnson: A Long Journey

Ball State University alum Ethan Johnson discusses his travels after graduation and his future aspirations as he looks to the journey ahead. He graduated from Ball State in 2013 with a BA in English Literature and Classical Cultures. 

In the spring semester of my freshman year at Ball State, I saw Avenue Q at Emens Auditorium. I laughed along with the other audience members at the opening song, wondering “What Do You Do with a BA in English?” thumbnail_ethan-headshotI was laughing at the puppets, but I was also laughing at myself: I knew in three short years I would be in that position myself.

I came into Ball State knowing I wanted to be an English major. I loved books, so why wouldn’t I major in literature? When I told people what I was studying, especially after I added my major in Classical Cultures, they would inevitably ask me, “So what do you plan on doing with that?”

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Emily Mack on Interning at the Indiana Writers Center

Ball State University junior education major Emily Mack describes her phenomenal summer internship through the Indiana Writers Center where she worked with children to help them sharpen their writing skills.

This summer I had the opportunity to intern for the Indiana Writers Center, helping to teach creative writing to 3 different groups:  a pack of brutally honest, rowdy, affectionate 1st-3rd graders and two classes of funny, guarded, intelligent, bilingual high school students. In a mere seven weeks, almost 300 student writers ages 5-18 from across Indiana produced pages upon pages of funny, thought-provoking, gut-wrenching poems and mini-memoirs.Bryson and Emily

I believe everyone has an innate desire to be known and to connect with others. Storytelling has always been about sharing a connection. In meeting these kids where they are–embracing them as the wiggly, imaginative, funny, vulnerable, intelligent kids they are–we enable them to share their stories and be known by all who will read them.  The best parts of this experience were getting out of my own bubble, being able to put what I’m learning about diversity and teaching into action, and being trusted with these stories.

One day Bryson, a 7-year-old at Saint Florian, walked into class, pointed at me, and said, “I want to write with you today!”  I promised I would and went around the classroom to greet other students and pass out sheets of paper.  He kept staring at me and patting the empty chair beside him until I sat by him.   (more…)