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Bookbinder Bari Zaki’s Fantastic Fanmail

Written by in Inspire

 Bari Zaki Wraps Up her First Fanmail:

A Pair of Papery Packages

Bari Zaki [] loves pencils. She is a bookbinder, box-maker, bow-tyer – and pencil-wrapper. When she received a children’s book called Little Red Writing as a gift, she instantly called the friend who had sent it to her. In the next breath, she announced her plan to also thank the book’s author, Joan Holub, and its illustrator, Melissa Sweet.


Fanmail is an enduring way to compliment, praise or encourage someone you don’t know personally. (Spell Check thinks that fanmail is two words, but we do not. Airmail. Email. Fanmail.) Implicit in fanmail is the notion that you are thanking someone for doing something that has given you pleasure. Fanmail that is really mailed or personally delivered is an intimate exchange, in that only the sender and the recipient see it – unless one of them chooses to share it. Against the Grain asked Bari to share her inspirations for sending what we learned was her first fanmail ever.


Had you ever sent fanmail before?

I don’t think so. As I was reading Little Red Writing for the first time, my reaction was instantaneous and succinct: I wanted to share pencils with the author and the illustrator. The book made me so happy.

What is it you love about it?

Everything. The story, the doodles, the fact that it’s about a pencil. It’s charmola.



What was your ‘creative process’ for thinking about what you would send Joan and Melissa?

I knew immediately what I was going to assemble for them – it just took me six months to actually do it! They’d inspired me, and I wanted to inspire them. So, I decided to send them paper and pencils – the main characters of Little Red Writing – in return. Doing it made me feel connected to these two people I didn’t know, who had touched my heart. Oh, and of course, I wrote a little missive in pencil.


Are you comfortable sharing the contents of your little missive?

Certainly. I wrote, ‘A dear friend of mine gave me Little Red Writing as a holiday gift in 2013. My heart pitter-pattered and smiled from ear to ear as I read through the pages. As someone with a pencil fetish, I felt an intense desire to share with you some of my favorite pencils. Enjoy, and heartfelt thanks for writing [or illustrating, in Melissa’s case] Little Red Writing.

Ready to Wrap

Tell us a bit about assembling the gifts.

A pad of my studio notepaper made a perfect base on which to stack the pencils. The sheets are letterpress printed on CRANE’S LETTRA® and the illustration at the top is Lady BZ, my bookbinding muse. She’s actually a portrait of me with an open book on my head, done many years ago by Audrey Niffenegger. Then a set of wooden pencils with my favorite pencil-related phrases on them, and a dozen golf pencils I’d covered in Japanese papers, and a pair of Blackwings. There’s also a loose ‘bonus’ pencil, which says If you write it down / You can look it up on two opposite sides. It’s actually the first pencil I ever ‘designed,’ whereas the covered golf pencils are the newest addition to my ever-expanding pencil line. So I liked the idea that, even though Joan and Melissa wouldn’t know it, I was sharing with them the entire history of my fetish.


So how did you deliver them?

I sent the packages to Chronicle Books, the publisher – because they cannot give out the addresses of authors, illustrators, etc. It didn’t seem respectful to try and track the addresses down online. In my box to Chronicle I included plenty of attractive postage for the packages’ journey to their final destinations.

And is that the end of the story?

No, it’s only the end of the first part! Melissa Sweet sent me a wonderful thank-you note and an inscribed copy of another book she’d illustrated, and postcards of others she’d illustrated. The book, Firefly July, couldn’t have been more apropos for me, because summer is my favorite time of year, and fireflies are so summery, and my thank-you note back to Melissa was sent in July!



How wonderful!

So gracious and charmola of Melissa. Her inscription is really an illustration, and the pencil doing the writing has ‘write on!’ on it. I love that. And of course, I wanted to send a thank-you note to Melissa, and this time it took me less than six months!



If you would like to have some of Bari’s pencils to inspire you, look here.

BZ Pencils




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  1. 09

    LOVE this soooo much–the care and tenderness and the full expression, artist to artist, is glorious. Thanks for sharing Neenah and Bari!