Sonia empowers her students to own their narratives through the act of making books. This teaching practice is an extension of her creative practice. As a publisher of a small independent press, Poinciana Paper Press, Sonia works with writers and artists using multiple forms of publishing to advance the diversity of narratives in Caribbean literature. In the classroom setting, her students are no different than the writers or artists she engages with as a publisher; she wants to give her students a major tool to honor their stories as valid protagonists in a region that has historically privileged the voice of the visitor in forming Caribbean identity and space.
This tool is the form of the book. A powerful object of communication, books are at once democratic tools (their mass production encouraging mass literacy) and exclusive objects (production controlled by publishers with capitalist interests) with expected linear qualities. Sonia aims to break down these barriers between writer, publisher, and reader to help her students take complete ownership of their narratives. One way in which they do this is through studying books and scholarship around the practice of making them. At the same time, they explore through the act of making via various methods of structure—using folded sheets, hand binding, perfect binding—to think about space and functionality in the act of storytelling and reading. They also practice and then challenge the foundations of book design theory and technological tools to determine the aesthetic of the page in both its static and kinetic roles. Finally, they adopt various methods of printing and imagmaking to consider the materiality of the book and how that relates to its story. Overall, these methods encourage students to move past thinking about books as inactive vessels in the storytelling process, making them active participants in shaping the reading experience of their book projects.
Through research into printing history and DIY culture, Sonia also encourages her students to consider their positionality in the act of making books, helping them to visualize a publishing model that works for their particular creative and social concerns, as well as resources. They are tasked to explore small presses throughout history that speak to their particular social and creative concerns in order to position their work in meaningful contemporary practice. Collaboration is central to this making and research process—collaboration as a creative act and books as collaborative kind of object: between maker and author, between author and reader, between maker and reader, and between press and community, all while recognizing the fluidity of these identities. Through creative assignments to complete on their own, paired with classmates, and also with others outside of the classroom, Sonia challenges her students to ask themselves: “How can I use my practice to imagine new models of storytelling and literacy to better serve my community?” Her ultimate aim, as a teacher and artist, is to encourage a publishing culture that honors the complexity of Caribbean experiences, inciting student projects that endure long after the class has ended.
Find out more about the courses Sonia has taught and workshops she has led around the world, including student samples and feedback: