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On the Collaboration of Words and Art

The first time I made a book, I did so with words and art. My second grade teacher asked us to illustrate a story we wrote. She taught us book arts, how to sew pages, bind by stitching, design covers. I bound mine in red checked contact paper to suggest picnic, tablecloth, summer feast. My crayoned cover featured a girl and a bowl of fruit. I think I must have known at that moment that what writers do, is put together books, and that some of the best books are illustrated.

I wrote ekphrasis fiction in fifth grade. Each week my teacher tacked a poster on a bulletin board, invited us to write a story inspired by that poster in our free time, and hand it in by Friday’s story time. On Fridays, our teacher read our stories aloud as written—typos, spelling mistakes, grammar. We giggled over the senseless sentences, teaching us in this way to spell gril correctly as girl. As we listened to try and guess the author, we also gazed at the poster—a boy in a top hat, a girl with a daisy, a bridge, a city, outer space. I still find typos funny and to see someone read or make art from my work, is breathtaking.

My grandmother was an artist. She painted and quilted, stenciled the doorways in her home. She taught me to latch-hook, to cross-stitch, to tie french knots, to string my summer nights by beads of light as I made bracelets, necklaces, earrings for silver hooks. When I spent time with her as a teen, we made art. As a teenager, I also wrote a collaborative novel with my best friend. The Etacreus focused on a girl who wore an amulet that worked as a key, giving her passage to another world. We alternated writing chapters and creating illustrations for our book, written in longhand and sketched on double-sided notebooks. I think I fell in love with the collaborative process then, the art of combining visions, themes, and artistic expression. We worked on it endlessly—writing and rewriting, showing it to our teachers, talking plot and theme on the phone. My collaborations didn’t stop there.

After Ph.D. school, I collaborated with artists to make broadsides and letterpress books. Artist Sally Deskins and I worked together to create Intimates and Fools, a collaborative book that explores women’s love/hate relationship with their bras. My newest collaboration is with artist Lauren Rinaldi, who makes gorgeous illustrations and paintings on the female body, such as her “Cheeky Sketches.” Our book The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters explores girlhood, coming-of-age, and the body in ten short stories with each story introduced by one of her paintings. The book features over fifty of her sketches. It was a book we wrote together—me revising and reworking the stories based on her art and she, creating new work for my words.

Sometimes people ask me when I learned to do this. My answer: in the second grade.


Sketches from The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters, by Laura Madeline Wiseman and artist Lauren Renaldi:


Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of twenty books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Her books are Drink (BlazeVOX, 2015), Wake (Aldrich Press, 2015), American Galactic (Martian Lit Books, 2014), Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (Lavender Ink, 2014), Queen of the Platform (Anaphora Literary Press, 2013), and Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012). Her dime novel is The Bottle Opener (Red Dashboard, 2014). Her collaborative books are The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters: Ten Tales (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2015) with artist Lauren Rinaldi and Intimates and Fools (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014) with artist Sally Deskins. Her most recent chapbook is Threnody (Porkbelly Press, 2014). She holds a doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has received an Academy of American Poets Award, a Mari Sandoz/Prairie Schooner Award, and the Wurlitzer Foundation Fellowship. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Mid-American Review, Calyx, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, and Feminist Studies. Currently, she teaches English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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