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‘The Book of Treasures’ Celebrates the Transcendent Joy of Collaboration

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Whether it’s an exquisite corpse or ghost writing, a veneer of the supernatural often seems to manifest when writers collaborate. The wild and whimsical world evoked in The Book of Treasures, a new collection of poems by collaborating writers Shane Moritz and Dustin Junkert, certainly contains familiar phenomena—CDs, cineplexes, Celicas—but the atmosphere is different. 

The otherworldliness is underscored by the illustrations of David Nichols, an Australian artist whose drawings of anthropomorphized creatures populate the pages as periodic reminders that the stories filling The Book of Treasures serve as portals to somewhere else.

Of the three contributors to The Book of Treasures, only Moritz is based in Baltimore. He met Junkert while writing fiction in graduate school at Georgia College & State University where they began collaborating while studying with poetry professor Laura Newburn. 

 

Dustin Junkert and Shane Moritz at release party for The Book of Treasures at Normal’s Books & Records, 2022. Photo by Rupert Wondolowski

 

“Laura would encourage us to get together to work out some of the problems in our own work, and that really changed a lot for me as a writer,” Moritz says. “I would produce a lot of nice writing, but it was all rather extraneous. I was very much sort of a maximalist. I loved lavish descriptions. I would add detail, and he was the opposite. Poetry gave me an outlet where I could take risks. it allowed me to loosen up a lot.”

Moritz credits Newburn for helping his collaborations with Junkert, where the pair would pass drafts to each other, morphing texts into forms for which they were equally responsible. Newman christened each final project as a “shanedunk,” and the collaborative process came to be called “dunking.” 

“I would often get started with a pile of words and some imagery, knowing that there was a kernel of something interesting in there, and pass the laptop,” Moritz says. “I would wait, and then he would chuckle, and we were onto something. And I’d just think, wow, what pleasure the artistic process can bring.”

While the collaborators no longer live in laptop-passing reach—Junkert now lives in Portland, Oregon, where Moritz happened to be born—their collaborative process remains as strong as ever. 

“We have a shared sensibility of what we want and what we don’t,” says Moritz. “We want to amuse each other. But at the end, we want something that’s maybe deeper and truer to the human experience.

Dustin Junkert and Shane Moritz at release party for The Book of Treasures at Normal’s Books & Records, 2022. Photo by Rupert Wondolowski

 

Nichols is an illustrator and musician living in Melbourne—a city that Moritz called home during his formative years. Persiflage, Nichols’ graphic novel, is also available via The Visible Spectrum, the imprint that published The Book of Treasures

“When I talked to David Nichols about doing the illustrations, [his work] certainly fulfills the drollery we were so taken with,” says Moritz. “He gets our work, and his drawings—they’re beautiful.” 

The characters in Nichols’ drawings are a Dr. Moreau-meets-The Far Side humanoid menagerie, riffing on lines pulled from the text of The Book of Treasures, evoking (at least for this reader) reminiscences of the work of James Thurber. 

“It’s funny—David’s a huge Thurber fan,” Moritz says. “I remember [hearing that] when Thurber was pitching his illustrative work to E.B. White, who was his editor at the time, Thurber was like, they’re so crude, they’re not very good. And E.B. replied, ‘If they get if they get any better, you’ll be mediocre.’”

Illustration by David Nichols

A publication party for The Book of Treasures earlier this summer at Normal’s Books & Records featured performances from Linda Smith, Linda Campbell Franklin, Chris Mason, Mark Jickling, and DJ Hummingbird Feeder. This Wednesday, Moritz will read from the book at Spirits of Mt. Vernon, followed by a performance by Mole Suit Choir. Another publication party in Melbourne is slated for later this year, near Christmastime. 

Moritz, who now teaches writing at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says that after his world travels, he has found Baltimore a deeply welcoming environment. “I have a real affinity for Baltimore,” Moritz says. “There’s a sort of pride in the city that’s not arrogant. It’s humble. I find that really meaningful.”

 

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Shane Moritz will read from The Book of Treasures at 7 pm Wednesday, July 13, at Spirits of Mt. Vernon. His reading will be followed by a performance by Mole Suit Choir

 

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