Philly Feminist Zine Fest & Interview

This past May I left New York for Philadelphia. Before officially moving, I tabled with For the Birds distro at the Brooklyn Zine Fest in April. It was there that I met Sarah Rose of Once Upon a Distro and organizer of the Philly Feminist Zine Fest. We talked for some time. I told her I’d be moving to Philadelphia, and she told me about the upcoming feminist zine fest. To say hearing this was a comfort would be an understatement; for me, feminist organizing is not an amenity, but a necessity.

Being in Philly now, it’s amazing how it feels infinitely good, but not surprising, to see such productiveness and creativity in a new place with new people. New Yorkers, by and large, forget that there are worthwhile things happening outside of the five boroughs. But still. Coming across such motivation and camaraderie in other corners of the world creates a glow in the chest, a glimmer of hope.

Sarah Rose, along with Taryn Hipp, Jen King and Kristen Asher are the ladies behind the Philly Feminist Zine Fest. They’ve work diligently over the past few months to organize the event, and I was given the chance to interview Taryn and Sarah  to gain some insight into their inspiration and process. The fest will be held on Sunday, August 26th from 12 – 5 at the William Way Community Center (1315 Spruce Street). Tablers at the fest include Amy Leigh of TwelveOhTwo distro, Ramsay Beyer, Riot Grrrl Philly, Jenna Freedman of the Barnard Zine Library, and our own distro here at For the Birds, among many more. Workshops include “Decriminalizing Sex” by Project SAFE, “Soapbox Alternative Zine Structure” by the Soapbox, “How to be an Ally to Sex Workers” by members of SWOP and PERSIST Health Project, and “Putting the Pain to Paper: Writing about the Tough Stuff,” presented by myself and Kathleen McIntyre! There will also be a slew of raffle prizes, and much more! PFZF will also serve as a fundraiser for Project SAFE, a Philadelphia-based organization dedicated to providing health, safety and survival services to sex workers. You can find out more about PFZF here.

Be sure to come say hi at the For the Birds distro table and take part in our workshop, “Putting the Pain to Paper: Writing about the Tough Stuff” from 3 PM to 4PM! We will explore writing as a tool for processing painful experiences such as grief, illness, loss, and trauma. We will discuss the psychological impact of writing and self-publishing on both individuals and communities and explore why and how it can help us heal. Together we will do a writing exercise and provide ideas to help you engage with your own writing process. We’ll also highlight the specific zines and books that we think exhibit a good job of tackling the “tuff stuff” as inspiration.

First, introductions! Tell me your names, a brief background, and what zine or distros (if any) you write and/or curate.

SR: I’m Sarah Rose. I write a zine called Tazewell’s Favorite Eccentric, and run Once Upon a Distro. I’ve been writing the same zine since I was 15 or 16, off and on, and have loved zines since I was very young. I didn’t start getting involved in a more real way until I moved to Philly a couple of years ago. Now I help put together Philly Zine Fest (as well as Philly Feminist Zine Fest), buy zines for Wooden Shoe Books and spend a lot of time at home on my own distro and zine.

TH: I’m Taryn Hipp. I write the perzine Sub Rosa. I just put out a new issue which focuses on my sobriety and how I got to two years sober. I’ve been making zines for over fifteen years. For many years I wrote a zine called Girl Swirl which I started in the late 90s. Over the course of that zine’s lifetime it saw me move all over this country, fall in love, grow up, get my heart broken, witness the birth of my niece and so much more. I always felt like I would never be able to do anything better than that zine but I am really proud of Sub Rosa and the honest documentation of my life that it has become. This zine has been with me through the end of my marriage and beginning of my sobriety. That’s pretty fucking special.


How did you all get involved with zines and what were some of the earliest zines you read?

SR: I was the only queer kid I knew in my very small hometown, and started writing to this pen pal service I’d seen advertised in Rolling Stone. One of the girls who wrote to me sent me her zine, and I thought it was pretty cool, so I started sending dollars and stamps to other zines. Eventually I decided to do my own, and it made me feel less alienated from the cool riot grrrl and queercore things that were happening in the rest of the world, and made my own small life at home more tolerable. Some of the earliest zines I loved were Amusia, My Straight Faced Twin, Tennis and Violins, and Suburbia.

TH: I found out about zines after a friend gave me an issue of Cometbus and said, “You should read this”. This was also the same time I got into punk rock and riot grrrl. My dad had just signed us up for AOL and I spent a lot of time in the Riot Grrrl chat room and on the Chainsaw Records message board. I started trading zines with other girls and writing letters to girls all over the country. I was reading zines like Keep Yr Kitty Wet, Alabama Grrrl, Fist Fucked, and Demigod. It was an amazing time in my life.


What inspired you all to organize the Philly Feminist Zine Fest?

SR: I attended the Brooklyn Feminist Zine Fest and it was a really cool, transformative experience. I love zines and zine fests, but there’s an entirely different feeling in a room full of feminist folks. It’s amazing what a broad spectrum of people were there; lots of female-identified folks, queer people and feminist dudes. I haven’t been in a lot of spaces where people take such great pains to be respectful of and kind to one another in such a calm, enthusiastic way. I felt so lucky to be a part of that, and when it was over, I felt sad to have to wait a whole year for the next one.

TH: When Sarah asked me what I thought about her idea to put together a feminist zine fest I was totally for it. Then she asked if I might be interested in organizing it with her. I was excited and humbled to even been considered. Zines and feminism are my two favorite things and a chance to hang out with other people who are also stoked on them is so awesome. I really fell out of the zine loop when my marriage fell apart and my drinking got out of control. I’m in a place now where I can devote myself to zines again in a positive way.


What was the organizational process in setting up this event?

SR: I knew that I didn’t want to do it alone and that Jen and Kristen (the other two organizers as well as staffers at Wooden Shoe Books) had been involved with Project SAFE. They are really impressive and capable, in addition to being such amazing, strong women. Kristen is largely responsible for the Wooden Shoe’s guidelines on dealing with assault and abuse, and Jen once helped me oust some nazis from the store. Asking Taryn to be involved was a no-brainer. I’ve been a fan of Sub Rosa forever, and before that, Girl Swirl was really influential to me when I was younger. Aside from having a really beautiful writing style, I also knew that Taryn was really good at voicing her opinions and would tell me (really kindly) if I was fucking something up. I also knew that Taryn had booked a lot of really incredible shows for Siren Records, and that she’d probably be really good at helping keep things in perspective based on her experience as an event planner/show promoter. Basically, I asked people to be involved based on the same criteria I’d use to form a grrrl gang: folks whose opinions I valued, who I admired for their strength and ability to get stuff done, and their grace and good humor under pressure.

TH: When Sarah pitched the idea and I agreed, it was just basically a whirlwind of emails and exclamation points and a lot of work. We brainstormed ideas amongst the four of us to come up with decisions on everything. It’s actually been a pretty awesome experience. Sarah is so right, I’m opinionated and I’ve gone to enough zine fests to know what works and what doesn’t. But I have never worked successfully with a collective in organizing an event, so that part was new to me. These three ladies are really easy to work with and I think the Philly Feminist Zine Fest will be a success because of that.


What zines are you currently reading right now / what are some of your favorites?

SR: That’s always one of my favorite questions to answer. I just picked up the dating issue of Not My Small Diary, which is really good (and huge!). Prior to that, my favorite zines this year have been Doris 29, List 15, the new issue of Deafula, and Dear Shane, I Tried to Kill Myself.

TH: I am reading the Encyclopedia of Doris by Cindy Crabb, which I actually got from Sarah’s distro. Doris is my favorite zine and has been for many years. I also just finished reading Jane: Documents from Chicago’s Clandestine Abortion Service 1968-1973. My favorites right now are, All I Want is Everything by Caitlin, Alabama Grrrl by Ailecia (still after all these years!) and Carrie McNinch’s comic, You Don’t Get There From Here.


With the decline of print publication and the increase of blogs and internet writing, what do you see in the future for zines?

SR: I think there’s an increase in blogs and internet writing as people come to realize and use those as valid methods of self-publishing, but I feel like I’ve seen such a spike in the number of zines being made and enthusiasm surrounding independent publishing. I’m sure that print is rough for a lot of more mainstream, ad-based publications, but from an indie perspective, it feels like a resurgence of people coming to zines as a way of putting out writing and comics that otherwise wouldn’t be out in the world.

TH: Blogs or no blogs, zines will never die.