On August 30th – August 31st, SF Zine Fest (SFZF) 2014 took place in the San Francisco County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park. After finishing grad school, I’ve been hungry for community/art/creative spaces, wanting to find a community of like-minded/hearted individuals, similar to the beautiful crew I ran with at CalArts. I’ve been poking my nose into a few spaces that have filled me with hope: Modern Times Bookstore Collective in the Mission, Hazel Reading Series, Under the Influence Reading Series, and now SF Zine Fest.
My interest in book-making, DIY, and alternative publishing spaces began with the mind-blowing class Tiny Press Practices with the amazing and ever-radiant Jen Hofer at CalArts. I initially took the class with very little interest in tiny presses and with very little faith in my skills as a visual artist/creator. But I had heard such amazing things about Jen Hofer as a professor that I decided to give it a go. From day 1 my literary worldview was exploded and expanded: we were constantly challenged to rethink and redefine what we understood about books, chapbooks, magazines, zines, poetry, prose.
And you see, it wasn’t just the content, it was also the people who took the class. Jen Hofer fostered a beautiful, safe, transformative, and progressive space of humans who were open, where asking questions and supporting each other weren’t mutually exclusive. The class was about poetry and prose, but it was also about the book as a physical object–the container being just as important in communicating your story as the text itself. The interconnected-ness of it all.
I’ve never considered myself a visual artist. I’m god-awful at drawing/painting/anything in which my hands try to make something pretty. And yet I learned that I can make things that are beautiful–but most importantly, I learned that I can make things at all! I made two chapbooks while in grad school, and my aesthetic was pretty clear. Color and texture and paper weight and book binding and folding started to enter the way I thought about my writing and how it could be presented.
Thus, upon my return to SF, I’ve been keeping my ear to the ground for similar spaces that look at writing and publications from a different perspective than the mainstream publication/literary industry. I’ve never been to SF’s Zine Fest before (or to any other zine fest for that matter!), and so experiencing it for the first time was pretty magical. I volunteered for four hours and during that time I was at the info desk and assisting at panels and wandering around with stars in my eyes.
I attended/”assisted” (in quotes because they didn’t require much assistance and so I basically just experienced them) with the Hellen Jo Spotlight and the Race, Gender, and the Future of Zines panel (featuring Anna Anthropy, Pendarvis Harshaw, and Nia King). It was thrilling to attend an event that would even have such panels–to focus on a woman of color who transitioned from making zines out of her apartment to working for Cartoon Network, and to discuss issues like race and gender that oftentimes are seen by the mainstream as non-issues or too complicated. And people attended these panels and were engaged! People were talking about race and gender openly and honestly and I wasn’t in grad school! No one was telling the panelists that they were “too serious” or “always bringing up race”–there was open discussion between the facilitator and the panelists, and it was so fucking beautiful and refreshing that I never wanted to leave ever ever.
But here’s the thing: SFZF is organized and put together by a group of hard-working, heart-working volunteers. These volunteers aren’t paid. SFZF 2013 canvas bags were for sale, but none for 2014 because they didn’t have enough money for swag this year. This event only goes on every year because the volunteers see this space as necessary, and so they make shit happen.
SF has changed so much since the first time I lived here from 2007 – 2011. Then again, so have I. Coming back to the city this past March opened my eyes to where we, as San Franciscans/Bay Area residents, need to work harder. Because of the influx of tech companies/jobs/workers, so many people are being displaced–artists, teachers, city workers, POC, and other underserved communities–the list goes on and on. The storefronts are becoming sleeker in the way that artisanal, shabby-chic shops can be; places and people have taken up the title of “local” while not being local at all and while not having any kind of respect or consideration for the things and humans who are local; new apartment structures are popping up on corners every day, and most of us know we could never afford to live in one of those fucking things.
In some areas we are losing ground, but there are ways in which we can fight for our small plot of land, grow roots, and then expand once more. I see SFZF as one of many opportunities for a little pushback. For supporting something that we believe in: yes, there are artists/writers who have hella streamlined posters and chapbooks and who may have access to a bit more funding, but their tables are alongside artists/writers who have xeroxed zines, chapbooks that were bound together quickly with staples, a music mix that’s on cassette tape. That there is merit and importance to this wide variety, to the lack of definition/broad definition of what a “zine” is. A friend of mine said she left SFZF still not knowing what a “zine” even was–and to me that meant that SFZF was a success! Why do we feel the need to place things in boxes, have such a clear definition of what belongs where? Wouldn’t it be great to accept the gray area, to settle into the discomfort of uncertainty and just look around a bit? To question what we see, to question ourselves, but without judgment?
There can and should be spaces for a wide spectrum of humans to live and coexist alongside each other. That this dynamic is pertinent–that it expands our ability to empathize, our humanity, and our imagination for what is possible. For a minute I was getting kind of hopeless, lost; wondering if maybe the people who really care about SF had all left. But it’s communities like SFZF that shook me: many of us are still here. Perhaps a bit worse for the wear, but we’re here, making it work, because it has to work. We are writing blogs and editing literary magazines and organizing events and reading series in between our 40+ hour/week jobs. Because we believe in something outside of us and yet deeply part of us. That the word community doesn’t just mean people you chill with: that community is a word that is active, like the word love. A community consists of people who question and support each other, who challenge each other and stand up for each other, who share the same struggles and fears and hopes and who understand there is space for all of us to work and create. People who get that big success doesn’t happen overnight and maybe may not happen at all, but failure and quitting aren’t options because sharing our stories will happen whether we’re making hella bank or whether we’re writing during our lunch breaks. Community is something we have to create and build and work hard for because it’s about making a space for things we hella believe in.