publisher: Chapter 510

type: Book? File folder? Bureaucratic panoply?

spec notes: Accordion-bound, enveloped-paged, digitally printed, hand-made, small letter-press debossed, board-cased collection of loose-leaf inserts. Did I miss anything?

This is what happens when you make high concept book-object ideas available to student work simply because the students deserve the best you can bring to them. Chapter 510 (an Oakland-based literacy and writing center for kids), wanted to honor the poetry of immigrant students in a collection devoted to the concept of the “motherland,” whatever that may mean to each of us. So Perla Yasmeen Meléndez, creative director of Ch510 at the time, designed a book format to contain individual slips as a sort of file folder, and with the design directions to make it (and I’m quoting very loosely here) “bureaucratic, full of documents, and travel-like, but also a lot of fun,” set me off to create the graphics and typography. In addition and as it sometimes happens, Anna Kingsley, who volunteers at Ch510, also runs a printing business with a letterpress that is portable enough to take to students.

The result was this amazing, form-bending album with an accordion binding that holds manila envelopes, each containing poems in English and translations into or from Spanish (depending on which language each poem was originally written in), organized by theme into separate topics. In addition to writing, each student drew their own passport photo and signed it. And all these elements had to come together in a way that alluded to travel documents, kept the organization of the loose sheets once they came out of their enveloped (all the poems with the blue R go in the envelope with the blue R), and were both clear and inviting.

All materials were printed separately—including the letterpress covers, which the students each pressed a few of—and assembled in-house by volunteers of the writing center.

It’s all so nice that I refused my free contributor’s copy and bought one instead.

(Faces of students in photo pixelated to protect their identity.)