Content to Cover: The Design of Books with Prison Performing Arts

  • Spread from "Beginning for Myself," illustrated by Bowie Chen.
    Spread from "Beginning for Myself," illustrated by Bowie Chen.
  • Spread from "Beginning for Myself," illustrated by Cathy O'Malley.
    Spread from "Beginning for Myself," illustrated by Cathy O'Malley.
  • Spread from "Beginning for Myself," illustrated by Cathy O'Malley.
    Spread from "Beginning for Myself," illustrated by Cathy O'Malley.
  • Spread from "Beginning for Myself," illustrated by Ezekiel Saucedo.
    Spread from "Beginning for Myself," illustrated by Ezekiel Saucedo.

The purpose of this course, taught by professor Ken Botnick, is to participate in all aspects of the design and production of books, from the development of content as designer/author, to the design of typography and illustration, and to the production of the book itself. Students learn that the power of making books is in the way it shapes and expands how we think about our subject.

For their final project in spring 2016, students worked in partnership with members of the staff and actors company of Prison Performing Arts (PPA) in St Louis to develop an illustrated book of poetry, theater, and other work by participants. PPA engages incarcerated youth and adults in the performing arts, seeking to inspire intellectual curiosity and personal development. Through these arts programs—which include drama, poetry, and music—PPA nurtures the discipline, teamwork, and communication skills necessary for successful re-entry into society. The Alumni Theatre Company provides a constructive outlet for former inmates now living in the St. Louis area, and performs in venues including the Greater St. Louis Humanities Festival and Shakespeare Festival St. Louis' SHAKE 38.

Students worked directly with the alumni writers and actors in an attempt to understand the problems of incarceration and the importance of PPA's programs to furthering the creative lives of the actors and writers. Students attended rehearsals and meetings of the Alumni Theatre Company, which was preparing a new performance of a group of poems they had written about what happens to a person post-incarceration. Students took photographs and sketched portraits of the writers during these meetings. They also drew from photographs of past performances.

Each student was charged with designing and illustrating a chapter that adapted texts written by the incarcerated or alumni writers. The chapters were then collated into a book that was printed and bound by an on-demand service, published by PPA. Preparation of digital files for print production was the final step in the project.

"It is something of a surprise that the design process can afford such an intimate connection with these writers and actors through their words, and insights into the lives of the incarcerated and newly freed," Botnick noted.

The final book was designed and produced by the student team, with each student taking ownership of a chapter. The book is available on demand from Levellers Press (Amherst, Massachusetts) or from PPA by contacting them directly.

Participating students included:
Christine Bosch
Erica Canup
Bowie Chen
Casey Merber
Cathy O’Malley
Emma Riley
Ezekiel Saucedo
Lily Sullivan

Partners

Prison Performing Arts