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Zines and Education: Lit Review

Below are some thoughts about some of the articles I reviewed on using zines in the classroom. Check out my attempt at synthesizing this information to create lesson plans in support of my Elections and Protest online exhibition at Barnard.

Bott, Christie. “Zines—the Ultimate Creative Writing Project,” English Journal, 92, no. 2 (2002): 27-33.

Christie Bott’s engaging and energetic article on using zines in the classroom is unique in that Bott, unlike many of the other authors I’ve explored, is not a recovering riot grrrl or budding feminist. Bott is a veteran teacher with over 30 years classroom experience who, after discovering zines through a novel by Ellen Wittlinger, took a chance and included zines in her syllabus for the first time. Bott summarizes the steps she took to introduce zines to her students through a series of lessons, and the successes and challenges she met along the way. According to Bott, using zines to teach has been one of the “funnest’ things [she] has done,” and plans to expand her zine project to a full year endeavor in the future. This article is most valuable as an enthusiastic and persuasive story of one adventurous teacher and her work to keep the classroom interesting and engaging for her students by being open to new genres and new modes of learning.

Cruikshank, Wendy. “Fairy Tale ‘Zines.” Instructor. 111.6 (March 2002): 60-3.

This short piece on using self-published magazines as an assessment tool in the elementary classroom was one of the few resources I found which approached an actual lesson or unit plan. Cruikshank’s lesson plan is inter-disciplinary because it challenges students to demonstrate their understanding of plot and point of view as well as their prior knowledge of the conventions of magazine writing, layout and style. While Cruikshank is not concerned with the sort of zines in Barnard’s collection, her lesson plan for introducing self-publishing to very young students is an excellent model on which to build any media literacy lesson.

Daly, Brenda O. “Taking whiteness personally: Learning to teach testimonial reading and writing in the college literature classroom..” Pedagogy. 5.2 (Spring 2005): 213-246.

This comprehensive article on the teaching of race and cultural diversity in a college literature classroom is not specifically focused on zines or zine culture. Instead, Daly discusses how zines can be used an alternative form of assessment when asking students to reflect on highly personal or emotionally-charged material. The main focus of the article is on how Daly struggled to get her students to acknowledge and discuss cultural and racial bias in their own lives by assigning and discussing testimonial literature and challenging her students to write their own personal stories of their experiences. This work helped students to analyze and understand Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. At the end of their study of the novel, students were given two assessment choices; they could either write a testimonial exploring the construction of their own racial biases or they could create a zine exploring the power of media in the construction of racial bias. Twenty-two of twenty-six students chose to write the testimonial, while only four chose to create a zine. When comparing the two assessments, Daly noted that students creating zines tended to “advocate action more frequently” and “made fewer personal disclosures.” Daly’s article is a powerful discussion of a difficult teaching topic, and her work to offer assessment alternatives to her students is sensitive to the needs of different modalities of learning. It is a valuable resource for teachers of diversity, racially-charged literature, and those looking to experiment with zines as formal assessment tools.

Gongdon, Kristin G. and Doug Blandy. “Zinesters in the Classroom: Using Zines to Teach about Postmodernism and the Communication of Ideas.” Art Education. 56.3 (May 2003): 44-52

Gongdon and Blandy, professors of art at two different institutions, write about their experience using zines in college classrooms. Their work, “…found that creating and distributing zines is a successful peadagogical strategy for encouraging students to participate in postmodern discourse (44)” because reading and creating zines challenges students to take risks and express themselves intuitively. Gongdon and Blandy briefly discuss the history of zines, and then focus their discussion on the wide variety of content-area skills that can be taught using zines, including art and literature. Because zines are often created using a pastiche of materials and styles, Gongdon and Blandy believe they make an excellent primary source for approaching post-modernism and appropriation with students. They end their analysis with a summary of how one might approach critiquing and grading zines in a fair manner. Gongdon and Blandy include image scans from zines illustrating their argument. The article is persuasive if not flush with details. The reader is led to understand that zines are excellent tools for teaching, but one would need to look elsewhere for concrete instructions on how to use them in the classroom.

Wan, Amy J. “Not Just for Kids Anymore: Using Zines in the Classroom,” Radical Teacher, 55 (1999).

Wan’s article, like many of the others covered in this literature review, begins with a definition of zines and a review of their history. But Wan brings a political discussion of the power of zines to this instructive and illuminating article. Wan’s thesis is that because zines are produced outside the mainstream, they, “…[bring] the power of the media and the printed word into the hands of someone who may not be able to or may not want to work with traditional media channels.” Zines are an ideal tool for empowering students to speak their minds freely. Wan advocates strongly for their inclusion in any democratic classroom, without being specific about how to use them. She does, however, offer ideas on how to obtain zines and a bibliography of outstanding zine titles for use in the classroom.

Williamson, Judith. “Engaging Resistant Writers Through Zines in the Classroom.” The Zine and E-Zine Resource Guide. 1994. Ed. Chip Rowe. 23 Jul 2008.

In this presentation, reprinted on several websites from a talk given to the 1994 College Composition and Communication Conference Annual Convention in Nashville, TN, Judith Williamson discusses how she discovered zines through her teenaged son and decided to figure out how these engaging publications could be used in the classroom. Williamson argues that zines engage resistant readers because they are controversial, spark conversations about power and censorship, and provide an outlet for resistance and self-expression. Williamson’s talk summarizes her work investigating the power of zines through conversations and discussions with teachers and students a like. She provides a useful bibliography and encourages other educators to take a look at zines and decide for themselves how they might use them. This talk is powerful because Williamson is not a zinester; she is an older woman outside what at the time was a powerful marker of youth culture. Here she is advocating that rather than fear or oppress student creativity, teachers instead embrace the positive outcomes of teaching with zines.

Zine Web Articles

More fun with literature review! I realize this might not be the most exciting of reading, but dammit, when I was doing my research for this project I was highly frustrated by the lack of web resources and bibliographies. I hope google will make all my hard work findable to other researchers who want to know more about the literature of zines.

On today’s menu, reviews of two web articles about zines.

Clark, Hillary. “Photocopied Politics: Zines (re)Produce a New Activist Culture.” Broken Pencil #6. Ed. Lindsay Gibb. 24 Jul 2008

In this article, originally published in the Canadian zine review magazine, Broken Pencil, Hillary Clark discusses the political implications of zine making. Her thesis is that creating a zine – any zine – is an inherently political act, because through the choice to self-publish, the zinester is rejecting traditional power structures and instead choosing to express themselves outside the mainstream. A zine need not contain a “fuck capitalism” or “smash the patriarchy” collage in order to be political; even personal zines about bands or boys make a statement about the author’s attitude towards the highly commercialized publishing industry’s ability to speak for them and their peers. Although Clark’s article is in no way scholarly, it is interesting in that it is reflective of much of the enthusiasm about zines and arguments for their importance that I found in much of my research into popular attitudes towards the genre.

Wright, Fred. “The History and Characteristics of Zines.” The Zine & E-Zine Resource Guide. 1997. Ed. Chip Rowe. 24 Jul 2008.

Fred Wright’s web article, “The History and characteristics of Zines” is an excerpt from a longer scholarly work on the subject of zines and their historical and psycho-linguistic significance. Wright summarizes the impact of some oft-cited zine ancestors such as American broadsides from the Revolutionary War, Russian Samzidat pamphlets, and Beat chapbooks. He briefly discusses the shift from early sci-fi fanzines in the 30s to riot grrrl punk zines of the 90s. In Part II of his article, Wright delves into the commodification and appropriation of zine culture by the power elite, and comments on the continued significance of zines today as documentation of an era in popular history. The article is accessible yet authoritative, and offers an excellent introduction to the history of alternative media and publication.

Zines and Librarianship

For the second part of my master’s project literature review, I took a look at two articles about zine librarianship.

Dodge, Chris. “Collecting the Wretched Refuse: Lifting a Lamp to Zines, Military Newspapers and Wisconsonalia.” Library Trends. 56.3 (2008): 667-677.

Dodge, a prominent advocate for the collection of underground and alternative media in libraries, profiles the work of Wisconsin Historical Society librarian Jim Danky. Danky’s commitment to collection ephemera, zines and self-published materials serves as a model for other librarians working towards documenting the democratic history of people and places. Dodge’s thesis is that collecting self-published and small run publications is the duty of any library or historical society committed to preserving the literary history of a place or era. The zines, handbills, and military newspapers in Danky’s collection provide a glimpse into a part of history, the voices of marginalized individuals and groups that would otherwise be lost were they not collected. While profiling Danky’s work, Dodge discusses some of the scholarship being conducted with zines and makes a strong case for their inclusion in public and academic collections. For Dodge, zines, as documents of culture beyond the mainstream, are valuable research tools. If a researcher is interested in the history of a locale or group outside of New York City or other metropolitan center, zines and small-run publications will be the best source of information. Danky collects zines and other ephermeral publications because “no one else will,” clearly emphasizing Dodge’s point about the responsibility for cultural heritage institutions to preserve all histories, even those outside the mainstream, for future generations of scholars. Dodge’s message is that all librarians need to consider what value alternative press publications could add to their collections.

Freedman, Jenna. “A DIY Collection.” Library Journal. 131.11 (2006): 36-38.

Jenna Freedman, Zine Librarian at Barnard Library, has published several articles and given many interviews about her experience founding the Zine Collection, but this article is perhaps the most instructional. In it, she describes all of the considerations and challenges that go into planning and creating a zine collection in a library. She covers everything from writing a winning proposal, purchasing and selecting zines, cataloging and shelving. Freedman draws on the work of Dodge, Danky, and others to summarize why zines are useful additions to a library’s collection. Freedman’s biggest contribution to the literature here is in offering concrete advice to other librarians who might be considering a zine collection, or any other kind of non-traditional collection. Freedman’s collection, enthusiasm, and advocacy stand as a model for other professionals and institutions.

Yummy Collections

468977. New York Public Library

I first heard about the NYPL Rare Books Division’sMenu Collection this Spring in my Archives and Special Collections course. It’s collections like this one that get me all excited about librarianship, the opportunity to completely and totally geek out over some obscure corner of history and share your geekitude with others. That’s why I was so excited to see this interview with NYPL Menu librarian Rebecca Federman on a foodie blog. Rebecca might just have the coolest job at NYPL.

25 Most Modern Libraries

This list of the 25 most modern libraries in the world is fascinating! As a librarian interested in how the institution is moving forward (and worrying about the 2019 death knell for libraries tolling in the not-too-distant distance) I was excited to read about so many cutting-edge and forward thinking places.

Now if only I had the frequent flyer miles to visit each one…non-profit book proposal, anyone?

Going live

I’ve been working this summer as an intern with the Barnard Library Zine Collection. One of the major projects I’ve been working on is Barnard’s first online collection, an exhibition of selected zines related to the theme of elections and protest. The site went live today, and I’m super proud the of the work I did building this site from scratch.  Zines are great tool for teaching about underground and alternative media, and I’m excited to have been a part of improving access to their content on the web.

I would very much appreciate feedback on the site — good, bad or indifferent. This strengths and weaknesses of this site will serve as a model for future online exhibits at Barnard, and I’d like to learn as much as possible about what users really think about it.

Women Working in Panels @ Huckleberry Bar

I’ve been interested in the Desk Set, a group of young, hip librarians who meet and host events around Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn. They’ve had a number of fundraisers and talks in the past few months, but with my grad school schedule, I’ve had to miss out on them all. Now, with a month left before my move to San Francisco, I finally found the time to join in on an event, and last night’s Women Working in Panels talk at Huckleberry Bar (officially my favorite Grand Street bar, not for lack of competition) was an enlightening and inspiring introduction to the group.

The event was co-hosted by Behind the Book, a non-profit that brings books and authors to city schools. I’d never worked with them before (I was a NYC public school teacher for eight years), but I had heard of their work. They brought together some amazing women comic artists to share their experiences and inspirations with a group of good-looking, tatted-up library and educator types over free beers and pricey cocktails. Despite the sweltering heat of late July in New York, my cousin and I got to hear Fly, Lauren Weinstein, Sara Varon, Miriam Katin, Leslie Stein, and Rebecca Donner talk about their art, their process, and their influences.

I started reading graphic novels a few years ago because as an English teacher, I’m always looking for “just-right” books for some of my struggling readers. Along the way I discovered work that I loved as well – Persepolis, Daniel Clowes, Cruddy – the genre is so rich right now with affecting and gorgeously told stories. I was not familiar with any of the work of the panelists, but the artists they cited as inspiration for their work were all familiar: Lynda Barry got a lot of talk time, as did Allison Bechdel. Leslie Stein cited Foxtrot as her first favorite strip, while Lauren Weinstein and Sara Varon talked about Mad Magazine and The Far Side. Rebecca Donner talked about her first experience with comics having been Archie and Betty and Veronica. They got me thinking about how I used to grab the Detroit News out of the mailbox every Sunday morning, imagining myself a big city sophisticate as I poured through the paper and drank my from-concentrate orange juice, just like the people on TV. It didn’t matter that I was only reading the “funny papers”; it was my ritual and I loved being the only person in my house, besides my father, who looked at anything in paper besides the TV Guide.

Of all the panelists, Fly was the most memorable. Barnard’s Zine Library has several of her zines, and she’s a friend of ABC No Rio. While everyone else talked about writing personal and semi-auto-biographical stories, she spoke about politics, punk and anarchy with a sweet, funny and honest tone that endeared her to the audience. Both Fly and Katin were interesting in that they came to comics through different media, and had both come up in a generation somewhat removed from the other panelists and most of the audience. Katin was clearly a child of the 60s while Fly had a barely-reformed riotgrrrl sneer. They brought I perspective to the panel that I appreciated.

Despite generational differences, everyone on the panel seemed to agree that technology is killing comics and self-publishing. I was a bit disheartened to hear so much negativity, but not surprised. A bunch of artists speaking to a backyard-full of bibliophiles can’t help but assert the power of a physical work of art to touch and inspire. But hardly anyone (other than Lauren Weinstein, who had created web comix for gurl.com) spoke about the power of the internet to connect readers with content. As a book lover, I see the value in paper, binding, and ink. But as an educator and an activist, I don’t think we can ignore the unprecedented potential for access afforded by technology. I’d love to see more of the work of these amazing women on the web.

All in all, I’m excited by the work the Desk Set is doing to bring together professionals in the library and education profession with artists, authors, and content-producers. And where SLA or ALA events can be just as enlightening, the Desk Set’s get-togethers always include booze, young people, and energy. I’m bummed that I’m leaving NYC, but hope to find a similar community of young professionals on the West Coast. If it doesn’t exist, I might have to start it.