By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Assistant to the Editor
“Honoring creative and intellectual autonomy.”
These are just a few of the ways visitors at this year’s Chicago Zine Fest described “zines,” or self-published magazines, to Sarah Wenzel, bibliographer for literatures of Europe and the Americas at Regenstein Library, 1100 E. 57th St.
Wenzel is the curator of a new exhibit on zines, entitled “My Life is an Open Book: DIY Autobiography,” on display at its Special Collections Research Center Gallery through April 13.
“They sound like something I would have wanted to know about in high school,” said the Albion, Mich. native, who says she first learned about zines while working at Columbia University, from Barnard College librarian Jenna Freedman.
Wenzel, who has been employed at Regenstein Library for more than five years, says the exhibit, which features 57 zines from Regenstein’s collection of more than 400, is the first of its kind there.
The show was held to “celebrate” the zines in Regenstein’s collection and let people know the library had them, Wenzel said.
Several characteristics distinguish zines from other publications, according to a list Wenzel compiled and consulted on with others. The list, on display at the exhibit, says zines are: “self-published,” “self-distributed,” “non-commercial,”
“idiosyncratic in topic and or appearance” and “inexpensive.” It also says the publications have “primarily small print runs.”
Many of the zines on display at the Regenstein show are from Chicago and by female authors. A diversity of publications are represented: some are inspired by the punk aesthetic while others read like well-drawn graphic novels. Some were printed decades ago, others in recent years.
Although the exhibit’s earliest zine hails from the late 1980’s, according to Wenzel, also on display is “The Letters of Madame de Sévigné,” a series of 17th century correspondences from a daughter to her mother meant to be read aloud in salons. Wenzel says the exhibit’s earliest piece is also “self-publishing” in a sense.
The exhibit also features zines by men, such as Chicagoan Daniel Resner’s “L: a 15-Hour Trip Through Chicago’s Entire Elevated Train System.”
The pocket-sized zine, folded like an accordion, features photos of the author and the L, a map and time-table of his travels, and a history of the rail system alongside facts about his trip and the gear he used. Also included are 76 bullet point blurbs describing what took place during his trip. Wenzel says she met Resner at last year’s Chicago Zine Fest, an event she says she has attended yearly.
Becci Behlen, the manager of grocer Open Produce, 1635 E. 55th St., and a Hyde Park native, estimates that she owns more than 700 zines, a collection she says she inherited from a friend who graduated from the University of Chicago and left the neighborhood.
She visited the exhibit on March 14 and spoke with Wenzel the following day in a conversation recorded by the Hyde Park Herald (soon to be available at hpherald.com). While she does “value that work that is shown” at Regenstein, her collection of and taste in zines differ from those represented in the collection.
“None of them were ones that I would make,” Behlen said, adding that “they were just finished, they were very clean, and very beautiful.” Many of her zines are “printed on consumer-level Xerox machines, and on recycled paper and a little grungier,” she said.
Behlen said she likes reading about prison abolition, feminist politics and transgender issues and said she once created a zine and has a few ideas for more.
“I really like the D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) aspect of it,” she said, as well as “the idea of a literary form that gives everybody a voice.”
It is possible that Behlen’s collection, larger than Regenstein’s, is also the biggest in the neighborhood. But Behlen says she is not considering donating to the U. of C. because it is a private space and since she her politics differ what she sees as those of the university’s.
“I would like for the space that it move into to be a community run, public, open space,” Behlen said.
Regenstein Library visitors can check out “My Life is an Open Book: DIY Autobiography” on weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and on Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. while the U. of C. is in session.
Images are covers of zines in the Regenstein exhibit, courtesy of the library.