Art + Design

Passion Projects


There’s a word that gets thrown at our books and gift products a lot: “quirky.” It’s usually meant as a compliment, but it also feels like something you say when you’re not sure what to say (“she’s um….quirky….”).

But in an increasingly homogenized world, we’ll almost always take it. There are still books that are sufficiently hard to describe, or so counterintuitive, that even if people get it eyebrows are still raised. For example, what about a book of photographs by blind teenagers? Even for a house that has published a number of seriously successful in-betweeners, this was a challenging one to get everyone on-board for. But the story behind it is uniquely compelling, and the photographs that these students took demonstrate a lot of things about perception, imagination, and our potential to always go beyond supposed limitations.

The book’s author, Tony Deifell, took an approach that was as unique as the book itself. Tony is a social entrepreneur with several interesting ventures who knows how to bring creative, dedicated people together to maximize any effort. Tony didn’t just write a book; he amassed a team of friends and volunteers to organize activities and events around it. He also thought Chronicle was the right publisher for his book because of our motto, “We see things differently.”

Reba Drew and Merlett Lowery sign books. Photo by Leslie Keough.

The major event, dubbed the Seeing Beyond Salon and cohosted by the Craigslist Foundation, was held in San Francisco last month. Two of Tony’s former students whose work is in the book, Merlett Lowery and Reba Drew, took their first airplane trips to attend the event and sign books. There was a tactile collage, and more people took up the ongoing “blind photography” challenge. It was a broadly inclusive celebration of the book, and a way for nonprofits and other unique organizations to network.

Tactile Collage led by artist Andera Maynard. Photo by Leslie Keough.

Last week Tony had people over to his apartment as a way to say thanks for everyone’s help. The group was big, each person having contributed to the book’s effort in a significant way; some of us were meeting for the first time. Tony asked us each to introduce ourselves and talk about our “passion project”—something challenging and not with monetary reward in mind, but which you feel so strongly about you do it anyway. I thought this was the an appropriate close to the whole project, one that took him on a journey well over a decade, and for which he went far beyond what many people think of when they think “Author.” So . . . quirky? Or passionate?

Author Tony Deifell at the post-publication gathering. Photo by Nick Sholley.
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