Fixing Up the Fringe
Alive, Authentic, Real ... and Empty
This is the fifth and final in a series of articles by Josh Medsker as he attempts to re-establish a zine library in Austin. For the previous installments, go to austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/authors/joshmedsker.html.
What if you opened a zine library and nobody came? That's what has happened so far. I'd hoped a Chronicle reader would show up, or someone who came to the benefit, or someone who'd offered to volunteer, but I sat in the zine library from 10 to 3 on its opening day, Sunday, Aug. 10, and no one showed up. It was the same thing the next week. So far, the only people who have seen the finished library are the Rhizome people: Zach, the Tuesday night guy; Zenia, who helped with the last big push before we opened; and me. As far as I know, there weren't any visitors on Tuesday, either.
So I sat for five hours and wrote, with the little fan I bought at Home Depot blowing on me and keeping the mosquitoes at bay. I edited the third issue of my literary zine, Twenty-Four Hours, which I've had on the back burner for months, and then made up the lesson plan for the zine-making class that I'll be teaching in October for the UT Informal Classes program, all the while fighting off feelings of despondency as the hours rolled on and I sat by myself, typing away with a lone light bulb overhead.
"Our library was stored in a stack of milk crates, and no one ever checked anything out," said Greig Means, the librarian at Portland, Ore.'s Independent Publishing Resource Center, in an interview I did with him in May. "Things have just started taking off recently, and even that is a pretty modest success." Means has been running the library in Portland for three years. I guess I shouldn't have expected a huge turnout right from the start. Looking back at that interview made me feel less frustrated about the lack of immediate interest and made me excited again about why I wanted to start a zine library in the first place: to promote underappreciated writing.
Recently, I was reading an article by Don Skiles in Poets & Writers called "Obscurity: The Persistence of the Unknown Writer." In the article, Skiles talks about how without a reputation behind them, new writers constantly have to prove themselves and are faced with the ever-present desire to quit, but that in this agitated, hungry state, the new writer is "alive, authentic, [and] real." That's what zines are all about.
There are now high-profile zines like Cometbus and Dishwasher that have been around for ages and have circulations in the thousands, and deservedly so. But there are many more zines that fold after one or two issues, because the writer didn't have enough money to keep putting it out, or they just burned themselves out after a few issues. People publish zines for many different reasons. Some want to meet like-minded people and help create a community where they can thrive. Some people use zines as a way to voice their opinions. Some people see zines as a purely fun thing to do, and some people end up becoming professional writers because of their love of zines. I've been all of those. But the philosophy that ties all zinesters together, regardless of why they publish zines, or whether they've been publishing their labor of love for a few months, or 20 years, is the same: They didn't seek legitimatization from the literary world at large. They became writers the minute they put pen to paper, and became authors after they walked out of the copy shop. Some of the best writing I've ever read has been in zines. I've always marveled at the immediacy and inventiveness of zines, and at how much fun they are to read, and wondered why these unsung heroes never got the recognition they deserved. Hopefully this library will be a success, so we can do our part.
Visit www.geocities.com/theaustinzinelibrary for hours, info, or to volunteer.