Each participant in the inaugural Literary Hybrid/Book Arts class was asked to write twenty-five first lines in advance of the Kenyon Review’s intensive Writers Workshop, held June 15-22 in Gambier, Ohio. Having taken a semester-long book arts class with visual artist and instructor Ellen Sheffield, I thought I knew what to expect from this prompt. I was wrong.
Ellen and co-instructor Gretchen Henderson (a cross-genre writer) had surprises in store at every turn, constantly twisting the thread that held the workshop together. We moved seamlessly from hybrid writing into nonfiction, from nonfiction into fiction, and finally from fiction into poetry, making books every step of the way. We cut and reassembled our words, juxtaposed hybrid writing against image, created flag books of collective memories, and used textual erasure as a jumping-off point into trifold books. A 1937 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary became the inspiration for the major project: accordion books folded from handmade paper. During the final class we bound examples of everyone’s work into an anthology. The Writers Workshop is intended to be a generative space. And generate we did: each participant left with a library of nine new books.
We came for different reasons. For the artists, to experience text. For the writers, to try their hands at art. And for some, like me, to reconcile a love of both. We filled our commonplace books with our words and the studio with our voices. We gifted lines and shared ideas; each piece grew from the seed of another.
I will be the first to admit that I am a perfectionist. An over-thinker. But here at the Writers Workshop there is time only to do. To put pen or paint or needle to paper and create—in the company of friends.