Birth of a Chapbook

By Meaghan Menzel

Copy Editor

On Oct. 6, Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and Associate Professor of English Dr. Jehanne Dubrow, who is also the series editor for the Literary House Press, introduced the Literary House’s newest chapbook, “Worth our Breath” by James Magruder.

Magruder read the first few pages of his short story at the Literary House in honor of the event.

The Literary House Press is the publishing arm of the Literary House and “Its purpose is to connect Washington College to the larger literary community by publishing handmade books featuring writers who not only have national reputations but who also have strong ties to the state of Maryland,” said Dr. Dubrow.

The chapbook is part of the Literary House Press’ revitalized Letterpress Chapbook Series.

Magruder is a “Baltimore-based fiction writer, playwright, and translator” according to the WC website. He is also the author of “Sugarless” and “Let Me See It,” and his adaptions of works by authors such as Marivaux, Moliere, and Dickens have been produced in America, Germany, and Japan. Magruder now teaches dramaturgy at Swarthmore College.

Dr. Dubrow said that when she first contacted Magruder, he said he had a short story that might work for their project but was hesitant to send it. “What did I find when he finally agreed to send me the story? A cranky cat named Olive, a little baby girl meeting parents somewhere in China, a pair of… romances full of resentments, large and small, slights real and perceived, and the city of Baltimore itself, perhaps one of the liveliest characters in the story,” she said.

According to Magruder, “The inspiration for [the story] is it really happened. My partner and I… brought a couple together..and one of them was going to adopt this child. Without giving much away, he doesn’t go through with it. Even to this day, Steve and I still talk about it… [Steve will] say it was because the child was too old.”

The title “Worth our Breath” “just struck me,” said Magruder. “It’s sort of a philosophical [question]. ‘What is worth our breath?’”

The process of creating the chapbook took about two years and required many talented hands. One of these was Stuart Cawley, a local artist who did the illustrations for the book. He said that Assistant Director of the Literary House Lindsay Lusby contacted him about the book. “I used to work with her down at Evergrain Bakery. I think I showed her some kind of Edward Gorey inspired postcards I did. I think she liked those and thought they’d be appropriate for this story.”

“I basically went into the story a couple of times just to get a good understanding of [it]…then I discussed with Lindsay and Jehanne. I made some proposals of things I thought would be good visual images… and there was some back and forth. There were a couple of images they really wanted to be in there and they agreed to a couple of mine,” Cawley said. “Then once I knew more or less what the images were, I went through the story again with a highlighter and highlighted… portions of the story that might have some bearing in how the drawings might look… Then I just started drawing.”

In addition to Cawley, “Washington College’s alum and trained printer Jim Dissette… designed and printed all the text contained in ‘Worth our Breath.’ He also designed the offset paper back of the book giving this version its own distinct look,” said Dr. Dubrow.

Lusby also helped work on the chapbook as the assistant editor.  According to Dr. Dubrow, “Lindsay’s really gifted at catching all those small mistakes that creep into a proof… She’s also well-trained in the art of letterpress herself and plays a crucial role in the production of this book.”

Dr. Dubrow said that some other members of the project include Master Printer Mike Kaylor and last semester’s Literary House Press Intern senior Nick Anstett. “It was Mike’s Vandercook Four Proof Press that was used to print the hundreds of pages of text that eventually became this book.”  Anstett put “his skills as a business and English major to great use as he brings marketing strategies, researches collectors of fine books, and helped with the complicated process of bringing the book to print.”

According to Dr. Dubrow, “In an odd number of years, the press publishes limited edition chapbooks using antique printing technology, and in an even number of years, we publish trade paperbacks.” In 2016, “we’ll be releasing our second poetry anthology ‘Still Life with Poem,’ which will feature 100 contemporary American poets writing about their own, handmade, still life images.”

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