What if strangers could become co-authors, connect through their words, and together create a book? That was the vision of Hampus Elfstrom, a copywriter from Sweden who is currently a student at Miami Ad School and an intern at Grey New York.
While briefly living in San Francisco, Elfstrom ventured out every weekend for two months to ask strangers if they would each write something on the page of a notebook that was related to the previous page. As each person jotted down a few words, Elfstrom took a photograph of their hand while writing.
“I asked if they wanted to participate in a book that’s completed by strangers. At first, people weren’t that open—when you approach them with a book and camera, they think you’re trying to sell them something,” Elfstrom says. “After people realized what project was about, they were more open and thought it was cool.”
The approaches to penning a page varied with each contributor. “Some people took five or 10 minutes because they wanted it to be consistent and relatable; some people wrote off the top of their mind. That’s what I like about it – it’s interesting in its imperfectness,” Elfstrom says.
With 100 journal entries, Elfstrom tapped designer and Miami Ad School colleague Sarah Wasley for the cover art. The result is The Book by Strangers, the musings of 100 authors on pages form an unorthodox narrative including teasers like, “I’m sitting next to a beautiful girl overlooking the city skyline!”
“The project ended up getting way bigger than I could’ve ever imagined with recognition, positive reactions and international press features in the U.S., Japan, France and Sweden,” says Elfstrom, who also won Miami Ad School’s “Top Dog” award for the project.
After requests from followers, Elfstrom is considering a printed version of The Book by Strangers. “It could be something people like to have on their coffee table as a weird, interesting read,” he says. Other ideas on tap: Starting a second book in New York, or partnering with a contact in Japan who is pursuing her own version.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves. It’s just a simple idea, but it’s proof that it’s a good idea when people start making their own versions of it,” Elfstrom says.
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