This semester we’ve been reading and discussing opportunities for writers to engage in codemeshing and multivocal play within academic spaces. Some of the walls we always bump into are those of assessment and of precedent – should we encourage students to write in forms that utilize multiple languages and modal varieties when we know there are tests and standards that will not allow these forms?
One suggested solution has been to gradually replace those in power with writers who are aware of the privileges and boundaries that a future of Standard English creates, who will not only encourage but celebrate meshing languages and modes. So how do we build an affinity for those voices in curriculums predicated on assessment? The answer may be outside the academic system, in alternative writing and publishing communities like those of zines.
In his essay “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued,” A. Suresh Canagarajah describes “contact zone textualities” (601) as texts that mesh not only multiple languages, but also multiple modes of communication. He cites Walter Mignolo’s definition of “grapho-centric” texts that are only words, with no visual components, and describes how this division of image and text in Western communities enables biases against codemeshing multiple languages (600). Zines are a vibrant engagement with “contact zone textualities,” embracing a meshing of languages, images, and even physical forms.
“Zine” is short for “magazine,” and is an independently-produced piece of writing. There are no editors, copyeditors, or gateways. Zinesters write personal stories (perzines), fiction, reviews of books and bands, lists of things they like, catalogues of dog poop they pass by on the sidewalk – the scope is endless. While most zines are independent projects and are shared via snail mail, zine festivals are opportunities for zinesters to share their work and meet people from the community.
The Milwaukee Zine Festival celebrated its 10th year in April 2018. Held at the downtown public library, this free event featured over 60 zinesters sharing their work. I was lucky to snag a table to share some of the zines I’ve made over the years, and had a great time hanging out with other zine makers and buying/trading zines to take home to add to my collection.
The Milwaukee Zine Fest also had workshops on producing zines and screenprinting. Bay View Printing Company let attendees use a letterpresss to print their own zine fest poster to take home, the Milwaukee Public Library’s rare books librarian, Maria Burke, taught a workshop on bookbinding techniques, and Max Yela, head of UWM’s Special Collections led a workshop on methods for folding zines to create mini-books.
In explaining why zines are an important genre for writing, the Milwaukee Zine Festival’s website highlights both openness to content and accessibility of production, and argues: “Zines thus provide a safe, independent platform of expression for underrepresented and marginalized voices: people of color, young people, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ(+) community, persecuted religious groups, and people with limited economic resources” (“What Is a Zine?”).
Rebecca Lorimer Leonard, in her essay “Multilingual Writing as Rhetorical Attunement,” calls for a new way of viewing writing. She urges us to consider how “the conditions that foster rhetorical attunement are those in which multiplicity is a norm and difference is inevitable” (240). At the Milwaukee Zine Fest, year after year, multiplicity is the norm and differences are celebrated – stories detailing raccoon encounters are tabled next to artwork celebrating body size and tattoos, Professors and Punks blend in together, zinesters walk from table to table sharing candy and buttons. If I could bring the writing administrators of the future to only one place, I would take them here, to show them how writing in multiple languages and forms can flourish.
The next Milwaukee Zine Fest is April 6, 2019. Check out their Facebook event page for more information and to get involved!
<3 Jenni Moody