the magazine of the columbia daily spectator
May 1 2013
Mmm, baby: The very best in food porn
April 27 2013
Alternatives to Butler
April 19 2013
Red Bull and relaxation
April 17 2013
Back to the kitchen: A short journey through sexist pop culture
April 12 2013
Bikinis and big booties, y’all
April 8 2013
Azealia Banks Did What?
April 5 2013
More stories from Columbia’s military veterans
April 3 2013
Sing, O Muse, of some sappy story
April 1 2013
Missed the Cliterary Open Mic? Check out the highlights here
March 29 2013
Sex & Low Beach
Thuto Durkac Somo
I carried one issue of Rollerderby around in my backpack from May to September last summer. It was overdue by the start of June. I racked up fines, swiftly and surely, until I received irritated, automated emails from the Columbia Library system telling me I had to return it or suffer the consequences. (I decided to suffer the consequences, at least for a little while.) I couldn’t bear to part with it. I came close to memorizing one interview, with some man named Khiron, who quit his high-paying scientist job, divorced his wife who had a nice singing voice, and decided on a whim to buy televisions and live in the woods. On other pages, I learned about Schrodinger’s cat, and about “How to Freshen Up at a Party.” I couldn’t help but feel that in that one issue, I had checked out the most valuable piece of literature the entire library system owned.
Rollerderby was no ordinary publication, no ordinary magazine—it was an in-your-face, FCC-inappropriate zine published by original riotgrrrl Lisa Crystal Carver. Zines aren’t what one would deem a normal publication. Zines don’t have advertisers, don’t go through formulaic editing, and, in all senses, resist convention and definition. They’re handmade and home crafted—papers usually stitched or stapled together. They’re typically made by one person, but are part of a larger diverse and radical community of zinesters.
Born out of an anarcho-punk ethos, zines became popular in the late 80s and early 90s. They offered lo-fi, underground commentary on political issues, and a means to express sentiments ignored or censored in mainstream and even alternative media. Some had instructions on how to make things, DIY style. Others just chronicled people’s day-to-day lives.
Wisdom from zines, especially the various issues of Rollerderby, at least for me, has become just as important as the concepts meted out in requisite liberal arts books. In my mind, quotes from Khiron run alongside those of Plato, and the off-kilter and often-raunchy photos of Carver and friends are ingrained in my memory the same way that Raphael’s “School of Athens” is.
This is in no small part due to the work of Jenna Freedman, the Barnard librarian with short, usually blue hair, who started the Barnard Zine Library in 2003. Today, the collection has over 1400 zines, a separate website on the Barnard server, two Barnard and Columbia student assistants, two graduate student zine interns, and its own sign and section on the second floor of the Barnard Library.
The Barnard collection focuses on zines written by women, particularly zines by women of color. As described in the Zine Library’s statement, these works “are personal and political publications on activism, anarchism, body image, third-wave feminism, gender, parenting, queer community, riot grrrl, sexual assault, and other topics.” Similar to the way they approach the topics themselves, they’re diverse in physical form. Some look more like art books, with homemade paper and hand stitched bindings; others are photocopied packets on printer paper; some look like full-fledged magazines, with a glossy color cover and large sheets. But there’s something that makes every single one of these publications far different than the Vogues and Newsweeks that sit less than twenty feet away in the Barnard Library, something that makes them far different from the other academic books that fill the rest of the library’s shelves.
Even in a school with strong Women’s Studies resources, the collection has something inherently lacking in most academic settings—real voices.“I don’t imagine we have too many other primary sources of teenagers talking openly and intimately, about things like cutting, rage, street harassment, coming out, loneliness, etc., and not as case studies, but as peers,” says Freedman.
These topics aren’t ones addressed in mainstream media—they are, quite obviously, not the stuff of Glenn Beck or Barbara Walters. But it’s also not the type of content that someone would usually encounter in formal education. Aristotle, Plato, Shakespeare, Whitman, Machiavelli, Nietzsche—almost any big name of Western education—never broaches a subject anywhere near those addressed in zines. “Zines bring underrepresented voices—those of young women—into the library, unmediated, giving them weight and authority,” says Freedman.
Sometimes it’s not even what is said that makes something radical. It’s who said it.
One of these people is Ayun Halliday—a playwright, author, and creator of the quarterly zine The East Village Inky. Halliday, in her zine and many of her books, chronicles the adventures of her family, (two kids and a husband who wrote Urinetown), in a way that makes you want to go quit your boring day job (or just school) and go hang out with them instead. The zine makes motherhood feel much more authentic, much more human, than anything vilified on reality TV or glamorized in US Weekly. It’s writing like hers that makes the zine community thrive—honest, refreshing, and unfailingly funny. Barnard, which has several issues of her zine, recently acquired her book The Zinester’s Guide To NYC.
Like Barnard’s own collection, NYC’s zine community is incredibly diverse—it encompasses different neighborhoods, different boroughs, different ages, different methods, and entirely different philosophies. “New York’s zine scene seems like much less of a scene, though the zines are no less compelling,” wrote Halliday in an e-mail interview. “They’re just less interconnected.”
This doesn’t mean that zinesters aren’t brought together, however loosely, by some common thread—it’s just a thread that is a lot more subtle than that which can be tracked in memes or viral videos. It’s a thread that is at times radical, at times poetic. It’s one driven by community and connectivity in a substantial way. “Zines appeal to a very specific segment of the populace,” Halliday said. “People who tend to treasure the handmade, the one-of-a-kind, the non-mass-produced, the small, the special, the unusual, and that which feels like a labor of love.”
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