By Leslie Collins
Elm Staff Writer
Emma Sovich is a master of her craft in every sense of the word. Not only does she produce elegant poetry, but she also puts together the perfect casings to display them in. With a Master of Fine Arts in both creative writing and the book arts, Sovich is able to do what she loves while teaching others as well.
Her journey began right here at Washington College as part of the Class of 2008. Sovich always knew that she wanted to be a writer and came to WC originally because she wanted to be able to present a creative writing portfolio as her senior thesis. Unfortunately, the administration took that option away the year that she started. “My year didn’t get grandfathered in but the year ahead of me did,” she said. A lot of people were unhappy. But they did have a portfolio class by the time my senior year rolled around, so I took that. It was a poetry portfolio class with Peter Campion, and it was fantastic.”
After graduating and winning the coveted Sophie Kerr Prize, Sovich got an internship at Johns Hopkins University working as an editorial assistant. She received the internship with the help of another WC alum who she had the opportunity to work with the summer before. “I was proofreading while she was in the manuscript-editing department, and then when I graduated, I applied for a job in acquisitions as an editorial assistant.”
After a year of doing that, Sovich applied to graduate school programs and went to the University of Alabama for over five years. Sovich said of her journey through the program, “I did a four-year MFA in creative writing, which paved my way because the creative writing program there is fully funded. They give you a teaching assistantship and stipend and everything’s taken care of basically. They don’t require a ton of classes, so I took classes in the book arts program, and I tacked another year on because I was already most of the way there, and that took me up from four years to five.”
Then, last semester, the director of the book arts program at the University of Alabama offered Sovich a teaching job. She was to take his place while he was away on sabbatical for the semester. She agreed and found that she greatly enjoyed teaching. After the semester was over, her old alma mater offered her another teaching job. She is now teaching at WC to fill in for another professor on sabbatical—Dr. James Hall, associate professor of English.
“That’s what brought me back here, and it was very, very convenient,” she said with a chuckle.
So what are the book arts? According to Sovich, book arts deal with the physical making of a book. “There are three components to it,” she said. “Taking the paper and binding it, folding and sewing it up into a book, and putting a case on it. It also includes printing on the paper and letterpress printing into the book.”
Sovich creates many different books herself in her free time. She enjoys creating books that showcase the styles of different time periods. For example, she has designed a thick leather-bound book and carved into it to mimic the methods of medieval times. In most cases, she does everything herself when it comes to building books. She cuts the wood, sands the boards, cuts and designs the leather, makes and decorates her own paper, prints the writings, and puts it all together on her own.
“The content is, of course, necessary to book arts,” she said. “But when you go to study it you don’t have to produce your own content necessarily. I was drawn to it as a poet because I could print my own work. That was part of the appeal for me. Some of these books are my work and some of them are my friends’ work or the work of people I admire.”
She went on to explain that putting together a book takes more than stringing together some paper and putting a cover on it. She compared it to poetry. “In poetry, craft has to do with whether or not you’re writing in form or writing in free verse or how you spread the lines,” she said. To Sovich, creating a book requires the same type of thought process. Details and placement matter.
When talking about the most interesting part of the book arts, Sovich said that it has to do with seeing it all come together. “I’ve always been drawn to book arts because I’ve always been an artist of some sort. I’ve got some paintings here that I’ve done, but I wasn’t really into art that you could just stick on the wall. I wanted art to have some sort of purpose or function. I did ceramic arts while I was at WC, and I liked that, but it was not exactly what I wanted. Books—they have a message. You can’t really handle or touch paintings, but with books, you can touch them; you can read them. I’m drawn to books of a smaller size. They’re more intimate. You have to get in there and stick your nose in them and read them and really interact with them. That’s what I’m drawn to.”