Student books narrate the writers’ journey

A handmade book created by freshman Sadie Robertus. Photo by Juan Martos Diaz.
A handmade book created by freshman Sadie Robertus. Photo by Juan Martos Diaz.

“You are about to read into the soul of another person and the innermost thoughts of a writer,” wrote freshman Sadie Robertus in her handmade book, “Growing from Acorns to Oaks,” on display at the MSU Writing Center in Wilson Hall.

A diverse set of books sits on the display table making up the Handmade Book Exhibit, which is open until tomorrow, Feb. 15. Some are bound by ribbon, others yarn. Of the nine, one is handwritten and several contain hand-drawn images. Some covers are titled while others remain blank.

Each of the approximately 20 students in Dr. Mark Schlenz’s Introduction to Writing Studies class this past semester wrote about their own journey “as an opportunity … to look at themselves as questing writers,” Schlenz said.

Schlenz found inspiration for this writing assignment after visiting an art exhibit in which artists had created their own version of the Ten Ox Herding pictures, which depict the stages of a Buddhist’s progression toward enlightenment, resembling the hero’s journey. Schlenz liked the idea of using similar graphics to inspire writing, so his students’ books use graphics and poetry to chronicle a writer’s journey through metaphor.

Students selected ten graphics and developed prose to complement the images, ultimately creating a narrative. Topics range from ballet to mountains, though Robertus, after much consideration, settled on an oak tree as her metaphor for the writer’s quest.

“You can substitute metaphor for whatever is compelling to you,” he said, explaining why he introduced this project to his students. Originally, Schlenz used this assignment in his creative writing classes, but last fall he expanded it to his introductory class as an end-of-semester project.

Robertus said this assignment, coupled with non-fiction and technical assignments from earlier in the semester, “forced us to be flexible as writers.” In the workforce, she explained, “we are expected to be able to adapt.”

Students were challenged to develop a handmade book that could be reproduced, Schlenz said. They had to pair creative binding techniques with computer formatting tools in order to develop a refined, well-written narrative.

Schlenz suggested putting the books on display to Writing Center Tutor Coordinator Jess Carroll. She was enthusiastic about the idea, he said, adding that the display “fits with the center’s desire to be a place where writing is celebrated.”

The MSU Writing Center is located in Wilson Hall 1-114 and is open every weekday from 8 a.m – 5 p.m.