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Small rebellions: ASU Zine Collection shines light on creative activism

March 26, 2021

Freedom is a word that comes to mind when describing the unmediated self-publishing space of zines, short for “fanzines” or “magazines,” a creative space that Rachel Leket-Mor, an associate librarian at Arizona State University, discovered for herself about a decade ago.

“I first came to know zines (pronounced ‘zeens’) through the IsraPulp Collection and figured out quickly that these materials are different,” Leket-Mor said. “Once I realized there are zines in the world, I began looking for them.”

Leket-Mor, the open stack collections curator for the ASU Library, is the creator of the ASU Zine Collection, now available at Hayden Library, where community members are invited to explore unique, unfiltered voices – many of them from Arizona – in print form.

“Zines come in many shapes and forms,” Leket-Mor said. “They may be hand-pressed or digitally born, prepared in cut-and-paste technique or hand-drawn, printed in color or produced in black and white, created by one person or put together by a group. Whatever DIY form they take, zines uphold free spirit and an ethos of anti-corporate publishing. They claim space for expressing artistic freedom, authentic personal pain or pure 'joie de vivre'.”

Rachel Leket-Mor

Pamphlet-like, zines tend to have small print runs, somewhere between one and 500 copies, and are produced often by just one individual out of a desire to share personal knowledge or experiences. 

Some titles from the ASU collection include: “Empower Yoself Before You Wreck Yoself: Native American Feminist Musings” and “Fracking Can Be Fun.”   

Arizona zines, in particular, were the focus of a 2020 research cluster supported by the Institute for Humanities Research (IHR) and co-led by Leket-Mor and Ron Broglio, a professor in the Department of English.

“Zines come from a long line of self-published protest works, dating back to pamphlet versions of Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ to fuel the American revolution against British rule and on to 1960s protest lit, and then into the counterculture punk movement of the '70s and '80s,” said Broglio, co-director of IHR and director of the Desert Humanities Initiative. “In times when the world feels beyond our control, writing and making zines provide people an outlet, a voice and solidarity through community.” 

Years in the making, the ASU Zine Collection is the result of Leket-Mor’s growing connections with a community of scholars and practitioners at ASU and beyond who are interested in zines, zine-making and the radical work of small press publications.  

These connections, and the communities they bring together, will be celebrated April 2–3 at the inaugural ASU Zine Fest, a virtual gathering of makers, collectors, students, scholars and anyone interested in zines and zine culture, hosted by the ASU Library and IHR. 

During two days of presentations, attendees are invited to explore “Making on the Margins” and “DIY Voices of the Community,” covering topics like queerness, chronic illness, punk poetry and feminism.

Video by ASU Library

Charissa Lucille, owner of Wasted Ink Zine Distro, a zine library and Phoenix storefront that serves as a kind of headquarters for Arizona zinesters, will talk about how “failing, losing, unmaking and not knowing” are the keys to finding creative freedom in the world of self-publishing. The keynote presentation, “Margins: Writing as Magic-Making, Self-Publishing as a Literary Tradition,” will be given by Ariel Gore, founding editor and publisher of “Hip Mama.” 

ASU alum Amber McCrary, local writer and founder of Abalone Mountain Press, a publishing space for Indigenous writers, will lead a presentation on Indigenous zines and zine-making.

“Zines were my foundation on discovering my voice and discovering a world of people that embraced everything that was considered too nerdy or too weird in my small town,” McCrary said. “Once I started making zines and seeing the reaction, it helped me communicate thoughts I always would think of but never felt brave enough to put onto paper.”

McCrary will co-present with Alex Soto, an assistant librarian, who leads the activities of the Labriola National American Indian Data Center at the ASU Library. Together, they regularly develop and deliver workshops on writing, creativity and zine-making for students and the ASU and greater Phoenix Indigenous community. 

“The work Amber is doing highlights how Indigenous peoples have ‘indigenized’ Western mediums in order to convey contemporary Indigneous existence,” Soto said. “As an Indigenous librarian, I feel it is crucial to share her work with the ASU community since it shows the range of our Indigeneity. The Labriola Center has partnered with Amber on multiple occasions to provide zine workshops for students. In these collaborations, we witnessed the need to further create space for zine culture within the library. Building on Rachel Leket-Mor’s efforts, the Labriola Center is working towards a zine section within our collection.”

About 50 zines are ready to explore in the collection display at Hayden Library, with many more in processing to become available soon. 

Rare primary-source materials, zines can serve as helpful tools for research and teaching, said Leket-Mor, who helped several faculty members incorporate zines into their course curriculum. Recent examples include assistant professor Heather Green's fall 2021 class "Art Zines: Self-Publishing, Protest & Change" in the School of Art and the spring 2020 class "Making Zines for Social and Environmental Issues," co-taught by Broglio and Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"Creative writing and art programs may be more receptive to zines, but thanks to their wide-ranging topics and vibrancy, especially when authored by peers, zines can inspire students in all disciplines from education to sustainability to science," Leket-Mor said. 

Zine making as a therapeutic approach is springing up in new environments as well — in health care settings and high schools — where the opportunity to express ideas and creativity with a piece of paper, scissors and glue, rather than through a technology device, is bringing about positive outcomes for zine creators.

The final presentation of Zine Fest will look at the zine-based resurrection of a radical feminist newspaper, “The Revolution,” revered in its day in 1868–1872. 

Today's editorial team of The Revolution (Relaunch) will explore why they believe social justice is a more creative pursuit than a polemical one – and why creative activism is more important than ever.

Top image: A collage of zine elements by ASU alumna Amber McCrary, zine maker and founder of Abalone Mountain Press, a publishing space for Indigenous writers.

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist , ASU Library

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The not-so-positive side of positivity

March 26, 2021

ASU’s Project Humanities hosts event on 'toxic positivity' with author and podcast host Nora McInerny

“At least the play was good,” Mrs. Lincoln never said.

“I've always wanted to visit Europe,” said no one on D-Day.

“We get to swim!” said nobody on the Titanic.

These statements, though fictional, all are examples of a newly named social dynamic — “toxic positivity,” or the belief that a positive mindset must be kept up, even if a situation is terrible or threatening. Toxic positivity puts a falsely happy, unrealistic face on tough situations, ignoring legitimately tough feelings. 

Arizona State University’s Project Humanities hosted a March 25 livestream event titled “Toxic Positivity: The Good, the Bad and the Made Pretty” featuring author and podcast host Nora McInerny, to explore this subject and have an honest conversation about the flip side of positivity.

“To imagine that difficult times can be sugared over is problematic for those experiencing difficult times. I am learning that this is a response people have when we cannot solve a complicated and bad situation, our own or someone else’s,” said Neal A. Lester, founding director of Project Humanities, during the event. “To deny lived emotional responses to negative or bad experiences puts the ‘toxic’ in positivity. This conversation with Nora McInerny – one of the leading popular voices on this topic – was enlightening, funny, and empowering for anyone and everyone wrestling with all the crappiness that life can toss at us.”

Three people on a Zoom conversation

Sarah Tracy, professor of organizational communication and qualitative methodology (top left) and Nora McInerny, author and host of the podcast, “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” on a March 25 webcast about “Toxic Positivity: The Good, the Bad and the Made Pretty” with Professor Neal Lester (bottom).

Facilitated by Sarah Tracy, professor of communication in the ASU Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, the experts had a wide-ranging 90-minute discussion on life, death, grief, sobriety and how discomfort often makes others uncomfortable.

“Toxic positivity itself is a very American thing,” said McInerny, the author of three books and host of the popular podcast “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” “Think about the ways in which American culture venerates strength: We pull ourselves by the bootstraps; we are self-made; we are rugged individuals. And if there is ever a struggle, it results in your immediate improvement or success. In reality, does that ring true with you at all? Does that ring true with your life experience? Of course it doesn’t.”

McInerny speaks from experience. In the span of six weeks in 2014, the then 31-year-old McInerny had a miscarriage, lost her father to cancer and lost her husband Aaron Purmort due to a brain tumor. Her life fell apart, and she and her toddler son, Ralph, moved in with her mother.

She worked through her grief but says it was messy. Three weeks after Aaron’s death, McInerny posted happy photos of herself on Instagram, exercising, having a drink and living her best life. The pictures intimated she was moving on with her life and signaled, “I’m fine.”

“We know through all of our social norms and through all of our cumulative experiences that our discomfort makes other people uncomfortable and the best thing we can do is to be OK or pretend to be OK,” McInerny said. “We’re not saying ‘I’m fine’ because we are; we’re saying it because we don’t want to be a burden or a bummer.”

But her Instagram photos were the opposite of her real life. When the lights went out at the end of the evening, McInerny said she reached for alcohol for consolation, binge-watched reality television and cried herself to sleep most nights. She also received a lot of unsolicited advice from family and friends, which she didn’t take kindly to, ending many of those associations.

So McInerny turned to journaling, writing about her experiences as a new widow trying to raise a toddler while exploring her grief. The result was a 2016 best-selling book, “It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool, Too)” and is considered a leading voice in the modern recovery movement. Today she is remarried and has a blended family.

She said even though she’s “moving forward” with her life, there’s still more work to do – in her life as well as others'.

“The point of the podcast and my work is to get us all more comfortable with not just our own discomfort but with the discomfort of others, which is no way limited to grief or loss,” McInerny said. “In order to heal and grow, and fix anything you have to, you have to be able to identify the ways in which its broken. And we as Americans are not very good at that.”

Near the end of the conversation, Tracy asked, “If you are a recovering ‘positivity-aholic,’ what is one next step you can take next week, tomorrow or even tonight to acknowledge the rainbow of emotion and suffering in the world?” The best answers, as McInerny pointed out, came from the audience itself. Messages in the chat thread read:

  • AJ: "I like to stress, ‘It's OK to not be OK’ in the workplace, instead of this false happiness/positivity."
  • Michelle:  "I can feel happy or content about something and at the same time, I feel grief and sorry for my loss. It's a misconception that you only feel one thing at a time."
  • Susan: "Try not to distract yourself from your feelings. Don’t use keeping busy as an excuse to ignore yourself."
  • Emily: "Being able to sit with a child through sadness or anger is crucial. I’m in favor of handling tantrums with this type of language: 'I understand you’re angry and that’s OK to be angry, but it’s not OK to (hurt other people, etc.) — let’s talk about how to handle that big feeling.'”
  • Janaya: "Learning to be OK with my own emotions without intellectualizing them has helped me a lot! I have also learned to ask my friends if they want advice, rather than just giving it."

To watch the Zoom event in its entirety, go here.

Top photo illustration courtesy of iStock/Getty Images.