Rutgers publishing program trains writers and designers together

M.F.A. creative writing student Doreen Fera (center) works with graphic-design majors Robert Miyamoto, 21, of Moorestown and Gabriella Termine, 20, of Cherry Hill on her childrens book, "Rodney Robin's Fabulous Adventure." TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
M.F.A. creative writing student Doreen Fera (center) works with graphic-design majors Robert Miyamoto, 21, of Moorestown and Gabriella Termine, 20, of Cherry Hill on her childrens book, "Rodney Robin's Fabulous Adventure." TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Posted: April 23, 2013

Digital publishing was barely on the horizon when Lauren Grodstein earned a master of fine arts degree from Columbia University a decade ago.

But the publishing world has transformed so rapidly, said Grodstein, director of the M.F.A. program at Rutgers University's Camden campus, that she was beginning to feel uncomfortable offering only traditional writing and literature classes.

Now, a new Rutgers program that merges disciplines for an innovative academic collaboration has eight M.F.A. students working with 13 undergraduate designers to publish e-books and other projects.

"I'm a novelist. I have no skills, no digital skills, whatsoever." Grodstein said Wednesday. "I know that I need to change the DNA a little bit of the writers coming out now, because those tools are indispensable. I mean, I finished graduate school 11 years ago, it's not that long. But in that time, everything's transformed, and it would be negligent of me to send writers out into the world without having these kinds of skills."

So Grodstein found the students who had manuscripts they hoped to publish - a children's book on in-vitro fertilization, a collection of poems, a novel involving a father's death - and brought them to art professor Allan Espiritu. Then, crossing disciplines and generations, they became the "clients" for the students in Espiritu's Graphic Design II class, most of whom are college juniors.

Doreen Fera stopped by the class on a recent morning to go over the illustrations as the final deadlines, just a few weeks off, began to weigh on the design students.

"I know you haven't gotten to the monster part yet, but do you know how you want the colors to work? I completely trust you," said Fera, a 49-year-old mother who wrote Rodney Robin's Fabulous Adventure for her son, now 8. "Is there anything else you need from me?"

Junior graphic design student Rob Miyamoto, 21, of Moorestown, responded without hesitation: "Just your support," he said softly.

As Fera laughed, the third student on the team agreed.

"Your support," said 20-year-old Gabriella Termine, a junior from Cherry Hill, and, "A shoulder to cry on."

Fera met the two students only this semester when the project began; they have met in person just a few times since. But their in-boxes are filled with sketches and storyboards.

"I knew from the moment I saw it," Fera said of choosing a sketch for her book's hero. The image of Rodney Robin wasn't set in Fera's mind, she said, in part because she chose a robin simply for alliteration.

"The shape of his beak, how big his head is in relation to the rest of his body, these are things that an artist brings to the table that can kind of articulate what I as a writer thought that this character embodied," Fera said, pointing to different sketches on the screen. "As a writer, it's difficult to get your vision articulated sometimes."

Developing that sort of communication is one of the project's goals, Grodstein and Espiritu said. And while the M.F.A. students learn to speak the language of graphic design and digital publishing, the professors said, the graphic design students get real-world design experience without leaving the classroom.

"Students always want to stay within their comfort zones. Once you push them out, it's like, 'I don't know how to do it!' But there's no excuse. There's no excuse; you have the Web in front you. That teaches them everything, more than I can ever teach them," Espiritu said.

The students will largely be graded on how well they stick to the deadlines they set with the clients, Espiritu said, because deadlines are a critical part of life for professional designers.

And then he will turn to the clients and ask them to fill out a questionnaire.

"Design is very subjective," he said.

"I can play art director, but if the client loves what they get at the end of it," he said, "what counts is the client."


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @elaijuh.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|