Q&a -- Gregg Wilhelm

Loving The Printed Word

Loyola's unique student-staffed book publishing operation and the CityLit Project are both ways to get Baltimoreans, especially the young, `excited about the literary arts'

May 25, 2008|By Lauren Shull | Lauren Shull,Sun reporter

Gregg Wilhelm stands in front of a large metal cabinet in a classroom full of computers, proudly displaying the books that his students have published. It's an eclectic mix, ranging from poetry to wine guides to a translation of the diaries of a second-century Christian martyr.

Wilhelm makes his living off the printed word. In addition to helping run Loyola College's student-staffed educational publishing house, Apprentice House, he is founder and CEO of the CityLit Project. At Apprentice, students learn to develop projects and design and market books. CityLit, meanwhile, aims to "nurture the culture of literature" in Baltimore through programs and workshops, including an annual festival at the downtown library.

The Loyola graduate had just finished grading end-of-semester papers and took a break from his busy life -- which he says he manages with the help of a very supportive wife and lots of coffee -- to talk to The Sun about what he does for the written word. Tell me about this classroom -- what goes on in here?

Apprentice House has been around for 15 or 20 years. It was a mock company producing pretend-projects as part of one course in the communications department at Loyola College. And then the technology really caught up with the idea. [Now we can] manufacture all our books digitally [a process by which books are published in smaller numbers, based on demand]. ... So [Andrew Ciofalo, who originally taught the course] started publishing the first books, and he invited me back to teach some guest courses. He went on sabbatical, and I and another Loyola College graduate who teaches in the communications department -- Kevin Atticks -- sort of took that kernel of an idea and developed three courses that feed directly into the work of Apprentice House, which now routinely produces 10 books a year, roughly. ...

In the fall I teach intro to publishing, which is learning the whole process of how a manuscript becomes a book. Also in the fall, Kevin teaches the design course for projects that have already been accepted and have been edited. This spring I just finished the marketing class in which the students create marketing plans.

Where do you get the manuscripts?

Early on, we did the obvious stuff -- the best-of-the-campus nonfiction journal, the best-of-the-campus fiction journal. And that's all well and good, but we wanted Apprentice House to be a much more dynamic and trade-oriented operation.

Some of it is just from my network. Some of it, we just sit around and brainstorm: Like, "Wouldn't it be neat to collect the best writing of that 18-to-22-year- old crowd who are working in Baltimore's colleges?"

When you talk about Baltimore's literary scene and its heritage, it's always the Poe, Mencken, Fitzgerald kind of thing and less about who's actively working in the literary arts now. What makes Apprentice House different from other publishing houses?

Apprentice House bills itself as the country's only campus-based, student-staffed book publisher. All those words are important -- there are newspaper publishers on campuses, there are journal publishers on campuses that are student-staffed. But we're the only book publisher in the sense that we're not a university press, which are very different animals and have a very different mission. We're educators first and foremost. What happens over the summer when the staff is gone on vacation?

That is a trick, because this is the first full year that Kevin and I have been doing this. We need to meet and talk about that. What do you do when your staff turns over every 14 weeks or between semesters or goes away for a week in Easter or goes away for 2 1/2 months over the summer?

I've talked to two young people about interning here over the summer. Kevin and I sort of steer the ship so work still gets done, even in the absence of students. Tell me about your other life, with CityLit Project.

The idea dawned on me that I wanted to do more to not just promote the writers that I was publishing but to more comprehensively nurture the culture of literature, which is our tagline at CityLit. So I started the foundation, the beginnings of CityLit Project, in 2003.

In the fall of 2003, Hurricane Isabel blew through Baltimore and quite literally wiped out the Baltimore Book Festival. So after that, the literary arts community rallied and said it would be a shame if there was no celebration of the literary arts in Baltimore [that year]. So we rescheduled a scaled-down version of the festival for the spring of 2004 at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. And that's become our signature event ...

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