Hi, I’m Gaby Scelfo, the production intern here at Gazing Grain! My main responsibilities are hand binding chapbooks and shipping them to readers like you. I’m a senior English major at Millsaps College, where GGP’s production editor, Liz Egan, is a professor.
One of my favorite things about this internship is that it has allowed me to use my skills as an English major to gain practical experience in the workforce. I got my job here at Gazing Grain in a kind of serendipitous way. I had a meeting with someone else who was running a little late. Liz’s office was nearby, and I overheard her talking to a career counselor about how she was having trouble finding an intern for Gazing Grain Press, because the position was new and a lot of students didn’t know about it. The job sounded interesting and there wasn’t anything to lose by just asking about it. Next thing I knew, I had the job!
Here’s a glimpse into what a Gazing Grain production intern does. Last year, we published three new chapbooks (Drift, A Woman Alone, and (This Fucking Body Is) Never Yours) and issued three reprints (We Can’t Read This, From a Book of Poems on Beauty, and Big Brown Bag). Each print run is 200 chapbooks, so that means so by the end of the semester, I had made 1,200 chapbooks, 600 of which I sewed by hand because we hand-bind all of our first-edition print runs.
Making each chapbook begins the same way. A team of Gazing Grain Press editors works together to design the book—what the cover will look like, how the text will be laid out, etc.—and they work pretty closely with the chapbook author to get things just right. When Liz gets the final proof, she prints the interior and cover pages and gives them to me. This is the first place where I can catch a mistake. A big part of my job is quality control. So if a page didn’t print correctly or the page order is wrong, or if the text looks funny, it’s up to me to catch it. Once the proof looks good, we print all the interior and cover pages, and the next part of my job starts, which is folding and assembling all the books.
If the book is a reprint, we use a special stapler to bind the books. For a first-edition print run, though, we use binding thread to hand-sew the books together, and that’s when the hard work begins. First, I use an awl to punch holes in the book so that I can sew the pages together. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve stuck myself with the awl many times. When I started working at Gazing Grain Press, sewing was the one part of the job that I was most nervous about doing. At that point, the only thing that I’d sewn was a pillow in first grade, and it did not go well. My first day, Liz gave me some practice books to work on before I officially started assembling the chapbooks. The good thing for both the customers and myself is that I learned how to sew the chapbooks quickly. At first, it would take about 30 minutes to sew one book, but by the end of my first month I could sew a book in less than ten minutes.
Even though my speed has improved, sewing is still where I encounter the most production challenges. For example, the thread will fray or get tangled. One of the threads we used was really waxy so I would have to clean the eye of the needle or else the buildup would split the thread. Luckily, these problems are also pretty easy to fix. After the books are sewn together, they go into a storage box. Then when someone places an order, I grab the chapbooks and head to the post office to mail them to our Gazing Grain readers all across the country!
As a college student, so much of the stuff I create doesn’t go beyond Millsaps, but I appreciate that these books go all around the country for people to enjoy. I like knowing that I’ve been able to make the authors’ chapbooks into a reality because I know they worked hard to write them. Even though I literally bleed for these books sometimes, this internship has been one of my favorite parts of my college experience. It also doesn’t hurt that saying you hand-make books is a great icebreaker.
Gaby Scelfo is a Production Intern at Gazing Grain Press and a senior English major at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. Her internship is hosted through the English Department and the Center for Career Education at Millsaps College.