Archives For hybrid genres

/dəˈfəNGkt/

no longer living, existing, or functioning

Defunct: A Resurrection is a book of my paintings and mini-essays about all things defunct, from my vintage Polaroid camera to my Ellis Island ancestors. It is being letterpress printed and hand bound in a limited run of 60 copies by the Book Arts Collaborative in Muncie, Indiana. It will be released this Friday, April 12, 2019 as part of their Interrobang festival!

The prototype of the book with the awesome “word Coptic” binding. Rachel reported spending 2.5 hours making this binding!

Who remembers typing on a typewriter? Watching filmstrips in school? Dialing a rotary phone?

There are objects that become such a part of our daily lives that they are embedded into our memories through sensory experience long after they’ve been replaced with the latest technology. And seeing, touching, or hearing the object again seems to transport us back in time.

Printing presses are a link to our past. When I was invited to give a reading at Ball State University in fall 2017, one of my first questions was, “Can I visit the Book Arts Collaborative while I’m there?” I’d read about it online and, having taken a letterpress workshop in NYC, was eager to see this makers’ space for book arts and letterpress printing. I was smitten from the start. A few months later when Prof. Rai Peterson asked if the students could make a book of my writing and paintings, I could barely contain my excitement.

I wasn’t originally sure what the focus of the book would be, but when I looked back at my daily paintings, I realized how often I returned to a particular subject: the vintage objects I keep in my home. My 1940s phone, 1950s camera, 1960s pencil sharpener, 1970s globe. These once-functional items don’t serve much of a purpose anymore; they are defunct. But they are alive to me. They carry messages from the past: reminders that things can be beautifully designed and well made; warnings that we are making and consuming too rapidly.

And what better mode of publication for a book celebrating defunct people, places, and things than letterpress?

The title page and epigraph after they were printed and before the students “killed the chase” (returned the letters to the cases).

In both content and form, this book is a meditation on materiality and ephemerality; on the objects we love and the stories we tell. It is a celebration of the handmade, the skilled trade, the human touch.

Book Arts Collaborative and Rob and Kim at Tribune Showprint Posters have resurrected defunct letterpress machines, salvaged them, and made them functional again.

One of the greatest aspects of this whole experience is that I feel like an honorary member of Book Arts Collaborative! I have loved spending time with Rai and the students, and witnessing the students’ excitement and pride as they learn new skills and old techniques, make amazing books and journals by hand, and work together to run a business.

They have all devoted hours and hours to this book, and have given my paintings and words the most beautiful home I could imagine. I can’t wait to celebrate with them at Interrobang this week!

Here are the students working on a Saturday! They’re almost finished!
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Last week I got to teach a 3-day Sprint Workshop on hybrid genres and literary collage to students in Miami University’s (OHIO!) MFA program. On the first day I said, “Here’s some paper, a bone folder, an awl, and some string. Make a mini-book!”

On the second day, they wrote poems and postcards, they cut and pasted:

That night, I put my game face on and gave a reading from The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová.

On the third day, they typed on a typewriter, arranged an accordion, glued pictures of corpses and houses and ice sculptures, and made pockets and postcards and silhouettes. They finished their books as I channeled Tim Gunn and counted down the final minutes saying, “Make it work, designers, make it work!”

That night we shared and celebrated:

Thanks so much to Jody Bates, Margaret Luongo, Cathy Wagner, and especially the MFA students for an awesome week!

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All signs point to SAW

First, to get this out of the way: I don’t like comics. Or at least I didn’t think I did. I definitely don’t like the cartoony aesthetic or formulaic narratives that I thought defined comics.

Then again: when I was a kid I loved the Sunday comics. I had a page-a-day Far Side calendar that never ceased to amuse me. In high school, after a particularly traumatic loss to the cross-town rival soccer team (I was the goalie and took it hard when I got scored upon), I stayed up drawing copies of comic characters late into the night: Charlie Brown, Garfield, Calvin, Hobbes.

Fast-forward a few decades, and this summer I was awarded a grant to work on a graphic narrative. How did I get here?

There are probably all sorts of grad-school, elitist, even gendered reasons why I decided I wouldn’t like graphic narratives, but I’m in the midst of discovering a form that has both been here along and that is also coming into its own, and it’s pretty exciting. I would say my gateway artist was Maira Kalman, an illustrator with a quirky style and a witty, beautiful voice that emerges in the short commentaries she pairs with her images. Here are a couple pages from her awesome Principles of Uncertainty:

Her work inspired me to create short graphic narratives from painted pages in my journal, and in my book, The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová, I created art and images to pair with the text.

More recently I discovered Poetry Comics, especially the strange and wonderful work of Bianca Stone:

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Then I came across the dreamy work of Aiden Koch:

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And it was as I tried to find out more about her work that I first found the Sequential Artists Workshop, known as SAW, where she had recently given a workshop. SAW was conceived, created, and is now fearlessly led by the amazing Tom Hart (author of Rosalie Lightning, which I’ll discuss in my next post). SAW is a small, unassuming space with a fully stocked library and terrific artistic energy. In the video below, Tom (on the left) calls it “bare bones” and a “work in progress,” but that’s exactly what makes it such an exciting and inspiring space. You can get a great sense of it in just the first few minutes of this online open house (which is good because you can get seasick from the live cam!):

SAW has a year-long workshop, but once or twice a year they do a low-res, week-long workshop, which is what I did in May of this year. I had never been to Gainesville, and I sort of fell in love with it. All the UF students were gone, and the town had great restaurants and outdoor seating, all within walking distance of SAW. There were just a handful of students in the workshop, so it was intimate and focused. There are three main faculty that teach, and each of them took a day or part of day for artist talks and instruction:

  • Tom Hart gave an engrossing thematic overview of his work over the years and led us in some exercises including a scavenger hunt of images and texts from his library that we copy-and-pasted into our own mini-comic books.
  • Justine Andersen gave us some real-talk about the life of an artist, shared her amazing portfolio, and gave instruction in inking (how to hold a brush, how to use the ink, how to make lines, even how to clean brushes).
  • Jess Ruliffson shared her comic journalism projects and gave a lesson in working with gouache.

There was also time to work on our own projects, and I managed to finish the art on something I’d been thinking about and had roughly drafted: a story about an aquarium fish I had that would not die and that lived through several of my major life changes.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been delving deeper by enrolling in a couple of SAW’s online workshops: Comics for Writers, Nonfiction Comics, Creating Your Graphic Memoir, etc. The online classes are organized well and offer short videos that walk you through excellent examples of whatever is being taught in each lesson. Every time I watch a video lesson, I add new books to my reading list.

Because the cost of the low-res workshop was so reasonable (<$400 for the week), we could afford to rent a great AirBnB house and were surrounded by Spanish Moss and a lake full of gators.

Thanks for reading. My next posts will be about the graphic memoirs I’m reading (and loving) and, if I’m feeling brave, about the graphic memoir I’m trying to create from scratch this summer.

The AWP gods are against me. Last year none of my panels was accepted; this year all three were accepted so I had to drop one. And the two panels I’m on are in the first and last slots of the conference!

In between panels, I’ll be at the Rose Metal Press table (#629) to sign and hopefully sell a few copies of The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová. Because the second half of the book is my memoir-in-postcards, the first 20 people to buy a copy of the book will get their choice of a Prague-themed postcard hand-painted by me. They are made on watercolor postcard paper and have all the postcard markings on the reverse to be sent in the mail.

If you’ve ever been to Prague, you have seen these posters around town:

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And here is the Golem as seen on a Prague sidewalk, a hearty glass of pivo, and Kafka’s head based on a new statue in Prague:

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And here is Kafka’s tiny house at No. 22 Golden Lane on the grounds of the Prague Castle:

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I still have a few more to make this weekend. What should I paint? Accepting ideas in the comments!

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– Here are my events –
Hope to see you! Say hello!

Feb. 8-11, 2017 – AWP in Washington, DC
Thurs. Feb 9, 2017 at 9:00-10:15am
PANEL: “The Long from the Short: Turning Flash Pieces into a Novel, Novella, or Memoir”
Abigail Beckel, Lex Williford, Kelcey Parker Ervick,  Tyrese Coleman, Tara Laskowski
[Rm 206, Washington Convention Ctr, Level Two]

Thurs. Feb 9, 2017 at 10:30-11:30am

Table 629: BOOK SIGNING AT ROSE METAL PRESS TABLE with Lex Williford

Fri., Feb 10, 2017 at 12:00-12:30

Table 629: BOOK SIGNING AT ROSE METAL PRESS TABLE

Fri. Feb 10, 2017 at 6:30-9:30pm

OFF-SITE READING with authors from Rose Metal, Cupboard, and Soho Press

at BABY WALE DC

1124 9th St. NW

Sat. Feb. 11, 2017 at 4:30-5:45pm

PANEL: “Attempting the Impossible: Strategies for Writing Creative Biography”
Kathleen Rooney, Sarah Domet, Anthony Michael Morena, Kelcey Parker Ervick, Sarah Blake

[Rm 101, Washington Convention Ctr, Level One]

The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová by Kelcey Parker Ervick
is one of the least bitter, most loving books I have read in a long time,
and it’s beautifully made.

– Kate Bernheimer
author of How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales

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Still Life with Books and Beer

 

Today is publication day for The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová! My journeys in the Czech Republic and Slovakia took me to this book, and this book has taken me on its own journey. It’s my first book-length work of nonfiction, and it includes a series of postcards I wrote to Němcová about my travels, my Czech language class, my Slovakian family, and, well, my failing marriage. I quote from my favorite Prague-based letter-writers: Franz Kafka’s Letters to Milena, Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, Bohumil Hrabal’s Letters to Dubenka, and Vaclav Havel’s Letters to Olga.

What I am probably most amazed about is that this book also includes collages and paintings I made, published in beautiful full color. The first two here are images from my travels to Česká Skalice, where Božena Němcová grew up. I was lost, and these were the not very helpful signs. The third image is of a photo on a bulletin board at Shakespeare and Sons in Prague that addresses anxieties one might feel about publishing a strange hybrid beast of a book such as mine.

But you can help make the book a bestseller! It is now available for purchase from Rose Metal Press, Small Press Distribution (SPD, where it is a Handpicked selection, 20% off in November), Amazon (ugh, this will update soon!), Amazon’s Kindle (live and ready!), etc. It costs $17.95, which is pretty amazing considering the color images.

If you read and like it, please consider posting a review on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. If you’re even thinking of reading it, you can mark it as “want-to-read” on Goodreads. All this helps libraries and other potential readers know about the book, and make it an even-better-seller.

I want to end with a major thanks to Abby Beckel and Kathleen Rooney at Rose Metal Press. I’ll say more in a future post, but they did SO MUCH GOOD WORK  make this book the beautiful object that it is. And thanks to Heather Butterfield for her stunning design work.

First, I tried to get someone else to make my book trailer.

When that didn’t work, I got other people to HELP me make my book trailer. As I writer, I don’t often get to collaborate on creative projects, and it turned out to be a blast.

But you should watch it first:

Now that you have seen the trailer and know that The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová is about a Czech fairy tale writer, you will understand why it is important that I happened to be in Prague this summer taking students on a study abroad trip. I was accompanied by my gentleman friend, whom I dragged around the city with a camera, and he helped me film moving shots of still statues (check out the opening pan up), and still shots of moving statues (Kafka’s swiveling head at minute 1:05!). We got footage on trams and of trams, on bridges and of them. We got a lot of footage.

Next, I wrote a script. Then rewrote it a few more times.

In the meantime, I contacted the Indiana University South Bend Instructional Media team and asked, “Can somebody please help me make a book trailer?” And they were like, “Sure, we can do it.”

Joel laid the ground rules. Joe would record the voices. Sky went to work on sorting through the video footage.

But we still didn’t have any background music to set the tone.

One night my gentleman friend and I watched a weird German movie, The Strange Little Cat, and we loved the music. So I did what you do: I googled the band and emailed the record company asking permission to use the music in my trailer. No answer. I wrote again. This time I got a response from Kim at Monotreme Records: “Yes, that should work!”

A few more email exchanges, a small fee, and the next thing I knew I had the rights to that hauntingly awesome music that plays throughout: “Pulchritude” by Thee More Shallows.

Meanwhile, we recorded the voices, which include my daughter (the first and last voice), my gentleman friend, and me. Sky was making great progress on the video editing, and the next thing I knew it was almost done. We just needed some audio for the credits.

Luckily, back in Prague, when I filmed Božena’s grave at the National Cemetery, I recorded the church bells as they rang and rang throughout the cemetery.

Did you watch all the way to the end? The bells are so beautiful.


The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová is now available for pre-order at Rose Metal Press. Free shipping!


 

 

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It’s about time the U.S. is thinking of putting a woman on paper currency. Lots of countries, including the Czech Republic, are waaaay ahead of us.

Božena Nemcová – the subject of my next book – is on the Czech 500 Crown note (the rough equivalent of our $20 bill). I never know what’s more surprising: that they have a woman on their money – or that they have a writer. (Part of my love of the Czech Republic is its love for its writers. They have a National Cemetery devoted to writers and artists. They even voted one in as President. Ah, Vaclav Havel.)

In my essay, “In Search of Božena Nemcová,” published last year at The Common, I write about how I discovered Nemcová when I purchased a book of her fairy tales at the Prague Castle  – and then noticed the same name on my Czech currency.

Maybe as a result of this Women on 20s campaign, people will find out more about women such as the finalists: Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller.

Maybe one day we’ll even have a writer on our currency!