Lindsay Lusby, Assistant Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College, exuded positive enthusiasm from the first instant I met with her to talk about the Type-In she hosted at Evergrain on December 7th. Her bio on the Lit House website describes her as “a poet, letterpress printer, bookbinder, typewriter-enthusiast, small press advocate, and avid tea-drinker.” I didn’t see her drink any tea during our conversation, but everything else was confirmed.
Lusby developed the idea of the Type-In with her friend Annie Woodall, whom she describes as “passionate about letter writing.” Woodall runs her own letter-writing blog, Scribbling Glue.
Lindsay readily admitted that “this wasn’t the first type-in ever. We didn’t invent it. I did study a few different type-ins that have happened around the country. Obviously, they’re not taking the country by storm or anything. It’s just little indie events.”
Lusby and Woodall didn’t make any money from the event, nor did they intend to. In fact, they had to spend on supplies like paper and ink ribbons.
“It’s about spreading the love of typewriters and letter-writing,” she said.
Citing her previous job at the Kent County Public Library, where Annie Woodall also worked, Lindsay said, “Annie and I both really like community and bringing people together, just to learn something new or discover something you didn’t know that you had in common with someone else.”
Apparently, Lindsay “already had three typewriters at home,” and figured that would be a good place to start. Of course, I had to ask why she had three typewriters.
“I’m a writer. I’ve always been crazy about anything to do with books, with writing. When I was in college — I’m actually an alum of Washington College here — I took the letterpress printing workshops with Mike Kaylor. He really got me hooked on it. I actually have my own small press at home now. I learned about letterpress printing and bookbinding. I didn’t get my press until a couple of years ago. It doesn’t really seem feasible to go out and buy a printing press when you’ve just graduated from college. Plus, if you’re working all the time, there’s not much time to actually use it.”
Lindsay seems to trace her attraction to typewriters to their aesthetic as well as the augmented attention that one pays to the creative process due to the mechanics of the device. She found a book of letters between poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, and found the look of their letters to be inherently romantic. For Lindsay, progressing from a fascination with letterpress printing to typewriting “seemed like a natural step.”
Good fortune with thrift stores and Kent Freecycle led to a collection of typewriters, each of which Lusby names. The typewriter in her office is named Hildegaard.
“I am a frequenter of thrift stores and every now and then I would come across one and think “fifteen dollars? I can’t leave that here.” It was kind of by accident that I started collecting them, but it felt kind of natural to me.”
Lusby and Woodall invited friends of theirs who owned typewriters and advertised that others should bring their own if they were willing to let other people use them as well. They managed to gather nine total for the event.
They chose Evergrain as the venue because Lindsay used to work there.
“We knew it would be a perfect place. Their atmosphere is very embracing. They like to have different kinds of events hosted there and I know the people really well and I knew that they would be excited about this idea, and they have this really long gorgeous table there that would be perfect for just setting up rows of typewriters on. We love that table.”
“The details just fell into place,” Lindsay said. They hosted the Type-In during the First Friday of December because they knew there would be more people around.
“We created a Facebook event and then finally we sent out the actual invitations, which took us a long time to make because the invitations were really a coming-together of all of it. We typed them on the stationary using the typewriters, and we also made them into mail art. We thought we could do it in an evening and it ended up taking about twelve hours to get the invitations done.”
The hard work paid off, however, because a “guesstimated” seventy people attended the Type-In throughout the evening. “It got pretty packed at one point,” Lindsay said.
“The people that participated really seemed to have a lot of fun.” When I asked if anybody didn’t, she said that “there was one person that was particularly cranky. He found a problem with every single one that he stopped at, but I think it was just him.”
Annie had set up a letter-writing and mail art table, as well. People could take their letters over to the mail art table after typing them and “really jazz them up.”
“Mail art’s really a lot of fun. It’s more like a collage art. You use a lot of different kinds of ephemera, used stamps and stuff like that. It can really be a lot of fun once you get into it,” Lindsay said.
Lusby recalls that there were quite a few things that she didn’t anticipate during her careful planning.
“I ran out of ink ribbon a lot faster than I thought. When I’m typing at home, I’m not constantly typing for two hours. So I didn’t realize that that’s how fast you can get to the end of a ribbon. Luckily there is still a lot of ink left on a ribbon once it’s completely unwound. You can wind them back. I ended up doing that quite a lot. It was three hours, from five to eight, and they were going the whole time.”
“There were some basics, where they would assume that something’s not working right, but they didn’t know how to use it properly. Sometimes if I’m coming in after they’ve already created the problem, I can’t diagnose whether they’ve done something wrong or the machine is broken. It was really busy,” — laughs — “but I ended up figuring it out.”
An Underwood typewriter from the early 1900s was the most novel machine at the event. Lindsay said that “People seemed really fascinated with that,” largely because it was iron, not plastic.
“I wasn’t actually sure that it would work when I brought it in because when I tested it out at home it seemed to be sticking. In carrying it over, it seemed to jog something loose and it worked perfectly when I got there,” she laughed.
Lindsay deferred to the experts when I asked her whether she repairs typewriters. She laughed and replied, “Um, not well. I tinker with them. I try not to do anything extreme like take them apart. Once you take one apart it’s almost impossible to get it back together… I am an amateur, not a repair woman at all.”
She added that most basic repairs are easier to fix than one might think, “unless it looks like someone stepped on it or threw it across the room.” Ink ribbons can, somewhat unsurprisingly, be found on Amazon.
People’s reaction to the typewriters “was mostly a mix of fascination and warmth. It’s nostalgic for some people who actually grew up using typewriters. For younger people it was a novelty. It was something new, something fascinating.”
Regarding the one curmudgeon in the bunch, “he seemed particularly happy with word processing,” Lindsay laughed.
Tilly Pelczar, one of the participants at the Type-In, said, “the room was packed. I just wanted to keep typing, tap tap tap tap tap. I didn’t have anything to say. I just wanted to type so much because it was so much fun. [Lindsay] had so many different typewriters and they were all different ages and some of them kept breaking, and she was talking to twenty people at one time. She’s insane because she was giving away stamps from her stamp collection. I thought “what? I would just hoard these, and you’re giving them to people.” There was a table with stickers and stamps and all these little doodads for your letters. There were so many people. I hogged a typewriter because it was so much fun.”
The next local Type-In will be at the Chestertown Book Festival. Owen Bailey, who also works at the Literary House, has asked if she would host a mini-type-in or just bring typewriters for people to use as part of the exhibit.
Lusby and Woodall have tentative plans to take the show on the road. Lindsay told me that “we haven’t planned anything, but Annie’s sister lives in Frederick, and she talked it up quite a bit out there, and there seems to be some interest, so maybe we’ll travel and go out there to do it.”
Lindsay Lusby also runs a blog where she writes about her various interests.
by Jack Elliott