Jenny O’Grady

Last Semester in Gregg Wilhelm’s Special Topics class, we were visited by the book artist, Jenny O’Grady ( I had never heard of book art before. Jenny writes poetry and makes books that represent her words. Sometimes the words come first, sometimes the image/idea of the end product. By the end of Jenny’s presentation, my head was spinning with ideas for my own works. Jenny was extremely passionate about her art. She is the first person I’ve met in my postgraduate career that hasn’t had a great desire to be published. I’m not saying that writers who ultimately want to be published have no passion, but it was refreshing to meet someone who didn’t have that as a goal. It takes the pressure off my own writing, I can go back to my high school days when I was writing crap for myself and the only people I worried about “critiquing” it were my friends around the lunch table.


Book arts are really cool for control freaks like me who want to make every decision about the entire writing/publishing process. And going this nontraditional route can lead to really creative books. Jenny O’Grady showed us a book she had made that was in the shape of a tiny typewriter. She crafted the little typewriter with a small white piece of paper coming out the top. Her poem, “Deadline” was typed on the paper coming from the typewriter. The really cool thing was she rigged it so you could pull out the paper and then roll it back in. It’s a neat little book.

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My favorite of the books she showed us was a doll. She actually made a doll. The poem in this book was inspired by a book she had read called “The Tin Drum.” One of the characters in that book hid under another’s skirts. Jenny’s book is the second character in that scenario. The words of the poem are embroidered on the doll’s layers of skirts. You’d just lift each layer to continue reading.


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This was the point in Jenny’s presentation where I was like “I can do that. And I would enjoy it.” This doll, more than any of Jenny’s other books, really made me want to create something myself. I like to work with my hands. I do needlepoint and knit. I’ve always loved putting things together, building models. Although, the whole endeavor is a little overwhelming. As a child of the digital age, I’m impatient. I want things done now. Jenny’s projects take time to conceptualize and then to actually create. It’s much more intense than me sitting in bed typing on my laptop.


But Jenny showed me that all that effort could be fun and actually pay off in the end. I think I loved the doll so much because it is more than a book. Maybe, it’s because I’m a girl and I was raised to like dolls. But there is something special about a doll that is homemade. The words are raised on the dress, embroidered into the fabric. I’m a very tactile person. When I walk through a clothing store, I touch the shirts and dresses as I pass without really thinking about it. I just like how things feel. When I cross-stitch I run my fingers over the stitches. “The Tin Drum” doll’s embroidery gives another element to Jenny’s poem. It makes it feel more permanent than traditional ink and paper books. There is something more permanent about thread stitched into cloth than ink on paper. Maybe it’s because it’s unique. Not everyone can stitch. Everyone who’s made it through the 2nd grade can write.


The thing about book arts is I believe they are more for the creator than the reader. The writings I am most passionate about, I wrote for me. I didn’t write them to be published in magazines or in a collection of short stories (not that I’m opposed to being published), but I write mainly for me, not for any potential readers.


Jenny was my first look at book arts and she had me convinced that it’s a worthwhile endeavor if for no one else but the writer.


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