News

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.

#bsuenglish at the AWP Conference

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) is an annual conference, held this year from February 8 through February 11 in Washington, D.C. Eleven #bsuenglish students had the honor of attending this year, led by #bsuenglish Professor Jill Christman.

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs was held in the convention center located in downtown Washintgon, D.C. this year. Nearly 12,000 writers from all across America flocked to the event, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Professor Jill Christman, who has served on the AWP Board of Trustees for five years now, was eager to be the chairperson of the conference committee this year.

Jill's crown.jpg

Professor Christman displays her crown at the AWP conference.

Long before the conference even began, Professor Christman was busy planning for the event. She is also the head of the sub committee of 20 professional writers who prepare for the annual AWP conference by reading proposals for the event and deciding who will present at the conference. This year, she estimates that the committee read approximately 1,800 proposals but were only able to accept 550 of them. Professor Christman read 600 proposals alone. “It’s not all just about wearing the crown,” she says.

One of Professor Christman’s additional duties was to help choose the keynote speaker for the conference: Iranian writer Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita In Tehran and The Republic of Imagination. Choosing her to speak at the conference was “galvanizing for a lot of people,” said Professor Christman. In addition to choosing Nafisi as the keynote speaker, Professor Christman also had the honor of hosting her and welcoming her to the conference.

The conference included a book fair where presses of all shapes and sizes, including university presses, rent tables that are all displayed in a room about the size of the football field. This year was the first year that Ball State University had a table, which helped recruit for the creative writing and graduate programs. Students had the opportunity to mingle with professional writers, such as Rita Dove, Valeria Luiselli, and former #bsuenglish student Ashley C. Ford.

Senior creative writing major Lauren Cross was very excited to be there. “Attending the AWP Conference was easily the best undergraduate experience I have had. I was able to talk with people whose essays we read every day in class and they seemed almost as interested in us as we were in them. I guess what struck me the most, though, was being able to say the authors and essayists we look up to professionally are also people we can look up to personally—they are genuinely kind, empathetic people. It’s refreshing knowing we can surround ourselves with others who only wish to be their true, authentic selves,” she said.

thumbnail_awp-photo_ashley

Ashley C. Ford, who attended Ball State, visits the university’s table.

“The AWP conference sweeps you away in a rush of the sensorium: poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, comics, and so many other genres in books, essays, stories, graphic novels, and more,” says senior creative writing major, Drew Miles, who also attended AWP this year. “There are so many colors, voices, lights, rooms, microphones, words. There are tables upon tables at the book fair representing literary journals and MFA programs. There are famous authors and managing editors casually mingling around you and panels lined up like clockwork discussing social issues, pedagogy, literary elements, and how they all connect to more developed writing. It’s like a wave of shared passion lighting you on and flowing within you. It’s nothing short of spectacular.”

Next year’s AWP Conference will be held in Tampa, Florida, in March! We hope to see you there!

bsuawp.jpg

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.