Over the years, I’ve been amused at how writers of different types and genres live on totally isolated islands. We all take the same alphabet and rearrange it on the page to create various effects — but as it is with every major profession, specialization creates silos.
I first noticed this when I spoke at the AWP conference a few years ago, which is an association of writing programs — basically professors and students involved with literary MFA programs. I’d been writing professionally for nearly twenty years at that time, but other than the person who invited me to speak I recognized not a soul. My life, and livelihood, had been wrapped up in writing for magazines, newspapers and websites that were pretty much aimed at a mainstream audience. The world of the academy was different, writing there is an exercise in Literary Art. I learned that describing someone’s writing as “accessible,” which is a basic necessity in commercial writing, would here be a major insult.
I’ve now infiltrated another silo, related to my writing concerns but totally different. It’s called Book Art, which is using the form of the book (and its content) to communicate an idea. The Center for Book Arts in New York City has a definition here. It involves bookbinding, letterpress, altered books, book sculptures, folded books. All kinds of lovely things that are becoming more rare as information is so easily transmitted digitally. And what becomes more rare, becomes more valuable.
I’ve been reading up on Book Arts, both with books on paper — 500 Handmade Books, Volume 2, pictured above really gives you a great idea of what this form is all about. And of course, all irony noted, there’s plenty to find online. This is where I’ve started.