Sam Kiss ’21 spent hours on the Internet trying to find a font in Ge’ez script, the alphabet used to write Amharic and other Ethiopian languages.
Kiss, a Writing, Literature and Publishing major, was helping design the cover of a book for Rosie’s Place, the nation’s first women’s shelter, which offers free ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) instruction, among other classes. Rosie’s Place wanted the title of the book, Celebrating Ourselves, written in the native languages of the ESOL students who contributed pieces.
The exercise, while time consuming, taught Kiss a valuable lesson about how even language suffers from inequity.
“I thought it was really good how all the languages were included [on the cover] and none were privileged over another,” Kiss said.
The book was a project of Emerson’s Pub Lab, a space for students to volunteer on publishing projects outside the classroom. Students in the lab work with real-world clients to produce publications for them, under the direction of John Rodzvilla, senior electronic publisher-in-residence and graduate program director for Publishing and Writing.
Rodzvilla said projects like the Rosie’s Place book can change students’ ideas about publishing and helps them realize that the field is not just about finding and putting out what’s going to make money.
“There’s a community component to publishing that they should be aware of, that we have skills that other people need that aren’t [just] making bestsellers,” Rodzvilla said.
Rosie’s Place’s Women’s Education Center offers a writing program over the winter to help ESOL students stay on track and hone their skills, said Michele Chausse, Rosie’s Place director of communications. This is the third year Rosie’s Place has compiled their stories into a book, but the first that Emerson helped with the project.
An Emerson alumna who volunteers at Rosie’s Place contacted Professor Lisa Diercks about taking the book on. Diercks has co-taught courses that had similar objectives, such as a commemorative coffee table book for Artists for Humanity. The call came too late to turn it into another course, so Diercks handed it off to the Pub Lab.
On Monday, May 14, at a reception at Rosie’s Place, some of the students from the class will read their stories. The book includes everything from a few lines about likes and dislikes to a full-on fable, and is written by natives of more than a dozen countries, including the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guinea, China, Cape Verde, Morocco, Honduras, Somalia, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Sierra Leone.
“They’re quite excited to get the book in hand,” said Chausse. “I know in past years, the amount of pride was just touching… It’s really quite self-affirming for the [students].”
Part of the project included a tour of Rosie’s Place Boston campus for Emerson students. In addition to providing food and shelter for poor and homeless women (including transgender women), Rosie’s Place offers a range of services, including educational, legal, and medical, and outreach.
Kiss, who said she’s volunteered at a number of shelters, said the tour “helped a lot” in terms of understanding their mission.
“I was really impressed with how it’s organized and how much agency it allows its residents to have, which is really cool and really important,” Kiss said.
Ross Concillo, a first-year graduate student in Publishing and Writing, organized the women’s essays into themes. He said he really enjoyed volunteering on a project for a nonprofit, particularly one as important as Rosie’s Place.
“I definitely want to do it next year,” Concillo said. “I hope we get more projects like this.”