The Edible Book Festival is an international phenomenon. Meet the person helping the UC Berkeley Library bring it to life.

Jen Osgood
Jen Osgood is a member of the team planning the 2020 Edible Book Festival, taking place in Morrison Library on March 16. (Photo by Violet Carter for the UC Berkeley Library)

On a quiet amble into Morrison Library, you might spot her: Jennifer Osgood, bookworm and artist extraordinaire, bustling about the library, arranging the books on its tables into a perfect puzzle. She makes a mosaic of book covers, leaving just enough space for the titles to breathe.

“People ask me, ‘What do you mean, books need space to breathe?’” Osgood says. “And I’m like, ‘Everything needs space to breathe.’”

Osgood is the technical processing lead for the Library’s Arts & Humanities Division, handling the day-to-day tasks of maintaining the division’s physical book collection. A dedicated crafter — of cards, poems, miniature houses, and most everything else — Osgood helps the creative side of the Library flourish. She helps run the Graphic Arts Loan Collection, a unique art-lending program for the UC Berkeley community, and designs posters and buttons for various Library events.

These days, she’s busy planning the Library’s fourth-annual Edible Book Festival — a fun-filled feast for the imagination and the gut. Celebrated around the world, the festival asks guests to answer the question: How do you transform a beloved text into an edible delight?

Morrison Library will transform for the event, which is open to the public. We recently sat down for a chat with Osgood to learn more about the festival and the golden thread between books and art.


Edible Book Festival

​​​​​Where: Morrison Library (101 Doe Library)

When: This event had been postponed

Deadline to registerMarch 9


When did your love for art begin?

I was always known as the art kid. When I was in high school I did art club, I worked on the literary magazine, I wrote for the school newspaper. Anything that was creatively focused, I was involved with.

I went to college at UC Santa Barbara, in the College of Creative Studies, which was sort of a hippie dream. I took a book arts class, where we learned letterpress printing. That’s where I met Jonathan, my husband. He would bring tangerines to class — it was kind of the best thing ever.

I printed my very first broadside (a large one-sided sheet) in college. I used a poem I had written about Icarus, and I carved feathers in linoleum to print along the side. The poem was about, basically, Icarus coming back and haunting his former love. It’s written from her perspective, about a boy who fell and burned. He’s not able to move on, and she says, “Do you mind blowing out the candles? The wax reminds me terribly of you.” Because that’s what failed and why he fell. My mom has it framed in her living room.

What are some of your favorite art forms or mediums?

Definitely letterpress printing. Jonathan works as a letterpress printer and book designer, so I have the fortune of having access to a full print shop (Bay Area artist Peter Koch’s studio, in Berkeley) with paper and presses and lead type that you can’t believe. I’m allowed to think and design and dream in lead type and wood type and beautiful paper with lovely texture. Most design is all done by computer now. But I like the restriction of using old type. It makes me think harder. I like sitting in front of huge type cases and giving myself that limit and saying, “OK, what can I do?”

I think everyone needs a creative outlet. It doesn’t matter what it is. It can be golfing — it can be surfing. It can be reading or gardening or sunbathing. But you need that something.

Lead type and cards by Jen Osgood
Lead type, above, set by hand for printing the pumpkin card, at right, along with more of Osgood's creations. (Photos by Jen Osgood, left, and Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library)

How have you been able to carve outlets for creativity into your role at the Library?

I’ve let it be known that I love book arts, and so people have pulled me into their own projects. David Eifler (head of the Environmental Design Library, or ENVI) pulled me in for the Hands On Artists’ Books events in the library, which makes artists’ books more accessible for an evening. So many times, artists’ books are behind a glass case. Most book artists create their art in a book form because they want it to be touched — because the way someone goes through a book is a progression through time. There’s something inherent to how a person goes through a book object that is important to the story being told. And if it’s behind a glass case, you don’t get that experience.

So I got involved in the Hands On events. Then, Susan Powell (geographic information systems and map librarian) had the idea of this off-the-wall thing that other libraries do: these Edible Book Festivals, which is, again, interpreting a book in a different way. She knew what we were doing with Hands On and invited myself and Molly Rose (circulation supervisor and reserves coordinator at ENVI) to join the committee.

I’m curious: Why do you think book art falls into the mission or scope of a library?

Because it’s a book. And I’m not saying that to be glib. It’s literally a book. In the same way that museums collect 2-D art, why can’t libraries be like MoMAs? Like I said, artists pick the book form because of the way books tell stories. So I think if we’re going to try to preserve knowledge, tied into that is, you have to preserve the art form, too.

What is your favorite part about the Edible Book Festival and the premise behind it?

The entries — and the humor. I love a good pun. I like making people laugh. The idea is you take a book, and you think outside the box, and do something new with it. How much more fun could it be? Food is a strange medium, but it’s still a medium. You’re using almost all parts of your brain: the creative side to come up with the concept and the analytical side to make it happen. I love seeing what people come up with, using unusual materials inspired by their favorite book or author or sentence or word, and then just going with it, running as far as they can.

The entries in the past have been so witty and imaginative. What is some advice you have for a prospective participant?

You don’t need a ton of money to make something really good. It’s not so much the execution, while good execution helps. It’s like, was your idea brilliant? You can look online to get a sense of the scope of what you can submit. At another festival, I really enjoyed an entry for Catch-22 — it was just 22 Swedish Fish candies on a little clothesline. You don’t need to be an artist. You don’t need to paint me a cake with fondant or spend $50 at Whole Foods. If the idea is good, everything else will follow.

What is the planning committee’s hope for the Edible Book Festival, now in its fourth year?

We’d like more participation, especially for students. We time it for around spring break, because everyone needs a good midsemester break to do something fun. That’s why we’re moving it to Morrison (in Doe Library), because we’d like to have it open to the public.

Planning the event is another creative outlet. Instead of a piece of paper and a pen, you are shaping a space and people within the space to make the event function and flow. It’s another way of being creative.

It feels like your whole life is just art — like you see all that you do through a creative lens.

I definitely try to see the creative side of everything. People think creatively or do creative things, and they don’t even realize they’re doing it. In the Library, whenever someone comes up with a reference question that you don’t know the answer to, you have to start thinking creatively about how to find the answer. Every time you solve a problem, you’re thinking creatively. That’s what we do in the Library.