Finding a niche with every stitch

Mark Hammontree

Sitting in a room in the top floor of Morgan Hall, Katherine Kosich found herself debating with several other students over fonts to use in the book they would soon be stitching together by hand.

Kosich is part of the Slash Pine Press internship, an undergraduate initiative in the English department in which students taking the class produce hand-stitched books of work by writers from across the country. Kosich said she has found her niche with her fellow students who share her love of words and books.

“The University of Alabama is such a large school, and here I am sitting with 12 people that I’ve become really close with, checking out fonts and typefaces, and for something that I’m a part of,” Kosich said.

The class and internship program was developed after founders Patti White and Joseph Wood produced the first chapbook, which featured the work of Juliet Cook.

“The focus was on a handful of things: to design, print and sew two chapbooks a semester, and to put on an event that dealt with poetry – we wanted to do a reading but make it a little less traditional and a little bit more fun,” said Brian Oliu, an instructor of composition, literature and creative writing, and a partner of Slash Pine Press.

Patti White, a director for the Slash Pine Press, said the interns organize several community arts events in addition to publishing the books, including Writers Hikes and the annual Slash Pine Writers Festival. White said the students also attend conferences where they make presentations of their own work, hold book design workshops and collaborate with undergraduates from other universities.

“Slash Pine doesn’t directly feed into a specific career path, but it does prepare students for work in community arts and for advanced study in book arts, community arts planning and creative writing,” White said.

White and Oliu said Slash Pine alums have gone on to open their own printing presses, join the Peace Corps or Teach for America, and include Fulbright Scholars and Rhodes Scholarship finalists.

“Slash Pine has developed a national reputation for innovation in undergraduate education,” White said. “Faculty in several other schools are trying to start programs modeled on Slash Pine, and the books published by the press are known for their innovative and beautiful design.”

The books that the student interns produce typically consist of writings submitted by authors from around the country, that are then narrowed down by the directors and students. The students edit the text, design the book, decide on fonts, then print and hand-stitch the books.

“We had a stitching party at Patti White’s house on Sunday. We all just sort of gather there, and we’ve been working on this one book that features a poet from Florida,” Kosich said. “On Sunday, we actually folded it, punched holes into it, and hand-stitched it, and put covers on it and everything.”

White said Slash Pine differs from other book arts programs in the way students are responsible for everything the press does, from the hand-production of books to the events that have impact beyond the campus.

“[We] want to find new ways of interacting with words: like out on a trail in Sokol Park, with writers spread out along a trail, so that an audience encounters them around a bend, the words already floating in the air,” White said. “Or at the Cahaba River, where a poet might swim out into mid-river to read words back across the water. Or on a mystery tour of Tuscaloosa, with invented histories about places we thought were familiar but suddenly become strange to us.”