Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 24, 2014
Warren Lehrer takes on, and embodies, A Life In Books
Sedgwick summer resident Warren Lehrer will present a multimedia reading of his 2014 illuminated novel A Life In Books at George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill, Maine on July 29, 2014 at 7 p.m.
by Anne Berleant
A Life in Books, by Warren Lehrer, mixes a fictional memoir, graphic design and books-within-the-book to create an illuminated novel that he hopes will “help people understand the creative process.”
For Lehrer, a summer resident of Sedgwick for 23 years, that process includes many supine hours.
“I can put in 10 to 12 to 14 hours writing,” he said in a recent interview. “I work basically on a couch, and the computer screen floats [on a mechanical arm] over my knees. It’s like being in a dentist chair.”
A Life in Books, in brief, is the memoir of prolific author Bleu Mobley who finds himself in prison for a (very) brief stay. This prompts a recollection of his life and the 101 books he authored.
The “illuminated” part of the novel is the many book covers and excerpts, including samples of a pop-up, pull-out book for children, How bad people go bye-bye; self-help books, like Yes I Can’t, a how-not-to book and, closer to home, a collection that includes the story of a sit-in protesting the development of a Rite Aid on “the ‘Hill,’ known for its great views of the Bay and much of the peninsula.” Lehrer simultaneously designed the book covers found inside (and created the titles) while writing the main narrative. “The excerpts started telling me things about Bleu’s story,” he said.
The humor, shown in the book covers, excerpts and Mobley’s story itself, is only one facet of a narrative and graphic experience that shows how Mobley fills “the holes in his life through art….There’s a lot of humor, but also a lot of not-humor.”
He calls the novel “illuminated” rather than “illustrated” because of the way the images, “illuminate Bleu’s own story. The pictures are part of the writing, not redundant to the writing.”
Instead of creating a book trailer, he created a dozen, he said, for the books inside the book. And he is considering crowd sourcing as a way to finish the excerpts of Mobley’s books.
“It’s ironic,” Lehrer said, “because Mobley struggles with the death of the book…in this fast-paced digital world, but he, too, ends up embracing it. I’m doing that as well.”
Lehrer was introduced to the Blue Hill Peninsula by his wife Judith Sloane, who had performed at the former Left Bank Café. He “immediately fell in love with the place.” He rented “a cabin, really” on the Benjamin River and spent a sabbatical winter in Penobscot.
“There are several books of the 101 inspired by the Maine experience,” Lehrer said, like one based on a friend who, in the middle of “climbing the academic ladder,” came to Maine, built a shack and began painting houses. His idea of “what it meant to be successful” was changed by the experience, Lehrer said.
It took eight years for Lehrer to complete A Life In Books, and he isn’t quite done with Mobley. A full-length book based on one of the 101 books is now under way, to be published under the fictional author’s name. “Quite a number of them have legs,” he said.
A Life In Books is Lehrer’s 10th book and first full-length work of fiction. It won the 2014 IPPY (Independent Publisher) Outstanding Book of the Year Award, a National Indie Book Award and a Next Generation Indie Book Award, according to a press release.
Lehrer is a professor at the State University of New York College at Purchase and has taught writing at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. He has created a documentary project, “Tattletales,” with Sloane, “about the prison situation in Mississippi.”
His live readings are more like performances, he said, and include short films created from some of the 101 books written by Bleu Mobley. Lehrer brings his novel to life at George Stevens Academy on Tuesday, July 29, at 7 p.m., in a multimedia performance, as part of GSA’s Summer Speaker Series.
“The summers here are such a rich, important island of time for me,” he said. “To me, this is my second home. It’s very important for me to share this work with the community.”