Sunday, February 7, 2010
Writing is a solitary art. Except when it’s not. Much as I revere Michael Ventura’s essay “The Talent of the Room,” I also know that writing is at times – sometimes at the best of times – a collaboration.
Iris Graville’s book, Hands at Work, is the perfect collaborative project. She paired with photographer Summer Moon Scriver to create 24 portraits and profiles of people who work with their hands. In it you’ll find stunning photos of a sculptor, a weaver, a car mechanic, a sign-language interpreter, a midwife, and more.
But that’s not the only collaboration at work. Iris Graville’s written profiles of the workers are thorough, respectful, understated and engaging. Why? Because in a real sense, Graville also collaborates with her subjects. On the page, she gives plenty of space to direct quotes – to the workers telling their stories in their own words – but she melds these quotes seamlessly with her own (craftily “I”-less) observation of the work. The prose is clean and tight and verb-driven, with precise attention to the objects (limestone, lug nuts, reef nets, bread dough) required to do work with your hands. She occasionally weaves in anecdotes from the subject’s past, and she focuses always on the work itself and what it means to the person doing it.
The book is flat out gorgeous, a great gift for anyone who has ever worked with her hands or admires those who do, which is pretty much all of us. And it’s won several major awards including the Pacific Northwest Bookseller Association’s “Buzz Book” of 2009 and the Independent Publishers Award 2009 for Outstanding Book – Most Life Changing.
The book is inspiring. So is Iris. As a first time self-publisher she’s already mastered the art. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak on the subject of creating your own book and taking it out into the world, it’s well worth your time. In the meantime, the book speaks for itself.