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  • AUTUMN CRUZ / acruz@sacbee.com

    Mark Bell, seated, works at the Sacramento Public Library on Saturday to print his first book, "The Hobo Speaks." From left are Rick Castro, who first contacted Bell and helped facilitate the project; Maryellen Burns-Dabaghian, who is helping with editing, formatting and funding; Leo Dabaghian, also pitching in funds; and Larry Fox, who helped with formatting and graphic design.

  • AUTUMN CRUZ / acruz@sacbee.com

    Mark Bell retrieves the first proof of his book, "The Hobo Speaks," from the Espresso Book Machine at the Sacramento Public Library. Rick Castro, right, helped gather the group of local writers and artists who helped Bell prepare his manuscript for printing.

Homeless poet proud of newly printed copy of his works

Published: Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012 - 11:57 am

Mark Bell has a lot to say and has poured it into hundreds of handwritten pages of poetry, memoir and fictional anecdotes.

But he was nearly silent Saturday when he got his hands on a printed copy of his writings for the first time.

He turned it over in his hands and flipped through pages.

"I love it," he said quietly, appearing overcome.

Bell, who lives in a tent in an isolated part of the American River Parkway, was the subject of a Bee story in January.

Bell has been homeless since a roommate died about eight years ago.

He spent a lot of time with liquor before he took up writing and quit the bottle.

Bee readers responded to his poetry and his interest in publishing with the Sacramento Public Library's Espresso Book Machine.

Sande Parker, a Lincoln photographer, gave him a used laptop computer so he could type his poems when he wasn't working at Loaves & Fishes.

"She showed up Jan. 5 to give me the computer and nobody on the face of the Earth knew – that was my birthday," Bell said.

He still writes drafts with a pen, though.

"I just like the feel of having that paper under my hand," Bell said.

Another person offered to pay for printing. The library put up an upgrade in his printing package.

A group of local writers and artists volunteered to help him prepare his manuscript for printing.

He met with Larry Fox and Maryellen Burns-Dabaghian Friday to discuss formatting – size of the book, borders, order of material and size of type.

The pair work with other writers who think they have manuscripts ready for printing. Bell's work was unusually well-prepared, Burns-Dabaghian said.

She was committed to help when she first heard about Bell.

"But when I read the actual poems and essays, I was blown away," she said.

Bell, who began writing without any hopes of drawing notice, said he had no particular aims for getting the book anywhere.

"I just want to hold that first one in my hands and know it's real," he said.

Saturday morning, he did.

Burns-Dabaghian and Fox loaded Bell's files onto a flash drive.

Alison Givens, who runs the Espresso book machine for the library, loaded the text and cover design from the drive into the machine.

In minutes, Bell was holding a bound proof copy of "The Hobo Speaks."

The first proof sliced off portions of the poems, so Givens tinkered until the machine produced a proper proof.

Fox and Burns-Dabaghian will fine-tune it and hope to print a final version this week.

Bell's backers are funding an ISBN number and Library of Congress catalog number, which will make it more available.

Burns-Dabaghian also plans to help him connect with bookstores, online sales and possible funders for two additional books he has planned.

He already has a title for the follow-up to "The Hobo Speaks."

Title: "The Hobo Won't Shut Up."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Carlos Alcalá



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