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Rethinking reading and writing

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In 2018, Sparkle Nation Book Club (SNBC), a literary arts collective founded by artists and writers Gabrielle Rucker, Precious Okoyomon and Diamond Stingily, was formed in part to “challenge academia’s notions of reading and writing” and open a dialogue “of how to ‘properly’ obtain, share and utilize knowledge.”

The Aspen Art Museum (AAM) invited SNBC to participate in its inaugural Reading Room. The room’s reading materials, selected by SNBC, include a mix of poetry, art books and short fiction books. Also available are self-published works of original art and/or text, known as zines, which are easily reproduced using photocopy machines. The pages are then stitched together in a booklet format.

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AAM Assistant Curator Simone Krug explained, “We’ve been intrigued by their work as individual artists, and their research interests as a collective for a long time.”

Rucker was a presenter at the July 31 “Midsummer Blow Out,” the kickoff event leading up to AAM’s annual ArtCrush. This contemporary art gathering has convened each summer since 2005.

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The Reading Room collection, Rucker explained, “is just books that we like a lot. Authors that we like and think people should be reading.” Many of the books are from small publishers and “you can’t usually find those books at bookstores that exist now.”

Rucker said some of the collection “is just for fun,” like “I Spy” picture books. She added, “I don’t think that kids are always doing nonsense on their phones. I’m sure they’re doing something enriching, and I can’t fathom it because I’m not a kid. But maybe this is something that is just as exciting as a telephone because I have to find this ‘I Spy’ image.”

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According to Rucker, SNBC was a DIY (do-it-yourself) art initiative that started as a book club. They would assign specific book chapters or “intentional readings” to focus on relevant issues that they thought warranted deeper exploration.

Exploring different literary genres and formats, Rucker said, can open new horizons for readers and writers alike. “People gauge the importance and relevance of books by lists, like the New York Times Best Sellers List. I think that’s really dangerous — to publishing, to authors — because it’s not the full span of book writing or reading,” she said.

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Rucker said teenagers and young people are more adventuresome in their reading choices and observes that “many adults, even more than perhaps just sticking to authors they know, stick with what people tell them to read, like NPR or on whatever website.”

At Saturday’s event, Rucker facilitated an activity encouraging event-goers to “write” in small zine-style books, using an asemic writing style. “Asemic” means having no specific meaning in language or logic.

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Do you remember the Peanuts comic strips where Woodstock’s words appeared in cartoon speech balloons as chicken scratch marks? Think of asemic writing as communicating without letters or words. “Textual art can be visual art,” said Rucker.

When experimenting with it, Rucker noted, “you will notice the motion your hand wants to go in feels good.” As a writer, she said it is a great way to relieve stress, foster creativity and overcome writer’s block.

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One of SNBC’s goals is to “challenge academia’s notions of reading and writing.” Rucker explained, “I think in academia, whether it be in elementary school or college level, you’re being told how to write, whether that be for a research paper or just learning the alphabet. There’s even a right and wrong way to hold your pencil.”

SNBC’s online radio show, “Sparkle Nation’s Silent Reading Hour,” can be found on Montez Press Radio. They’ve drawn ideas from reading group discussions and expanded them to include topics that arise from those conversations.

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The SNBC Reading Room at AAM will continue through Aug. 29. For more information about AAM and this week’s ArtCrush events, go to aspenartmuseum.org/

For more information about Sparkle Nation Book Club, go to instagram.com/sparklenationbookclub/

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