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Making Our Own Space and the Philly Feminist Zine Fest / by Cynthia Ann Schemmer

Here is something I used to say: I found zines and feminism through the punk community in New York.

But that’s a lie. There’s really more to it and if I were to just leave it at that I would be doing a disservice to my more formative years.

What I actually meant was this: The punk community and the zines they produced helped me to stoke the flame, but in no way started the fire.

Folks involved with punk music, or any subculture for that matter, all know, or at least should know, that while unendingly important in the lives of those involved, there’s a much bigger and complicated world out there. “Punk rock, don’t stop,” and don’t get me wrong, we should never stop, but we also need to keep going until we find ourselves far, far away once in a while.

Here is where it actually began: the first feminist zine I ever read was given to me by a young woman on the 6 train in ‘97.  I was 13 and had just seen Ani Difranco play for free in Central Park, so I was riding high on feelings of poetry and feminism (and weed). I was heading back home to Long Island when the young woman, undoubtedly also at the concert, approached me with a smile and handed me a homemade pog. She was small, with tiny teeth and long mousey brown hair; I could fit her into a teaspoon. “What is it?” my friend asked as the girl walked away, twirling around the subway poles like only a 13-year-old girl will do - without intent - and moving away from me into the next car.  My friend and I both looked and there was an AOL email address and the name of a zine cut and pasted onto the pog. Neither of us knew what a zine was so I put the pog in my pocket and held it between my fingers until I was back in my bedroom where the computer would dial and greet me.

Her name was Chelsea and we immediately hit it off in a way that I had yet to experience. We exchanged addresses, wrote letters, and she sent me a package of her zines. As a young writer, I found these self-published booklets inspiring. She wrote about feminism, abuse, sexual assault, and other issues no one was teaching me about in high school. I wrote her letters about terrible feelings and wanting to get away. She told me to read Doris by Cindy Crabb and to listen closely. I told her we only knew each other through letters but I loved her anyway (and she said the same). I found myself enamored with her, wanting to cultivate the productivity she exerted. I didn’t yet have the comprehension to express or name those feelings; I only knew that what I was feeling was so much more authentic than what I had felt for the boys at school who only made me feel like total shit. She made me feel strong, empowered and vivacious. In fact, I believe this was the first time I was both emotionally and romantically attracted to another person.

But we both began to change and our correspondence dissipated after about a year; I found punk and she found herself some place else. We turned fourteen and lived fifty miles away from each other. I traded in Ani Difranco’s Not a Pretty Girl for Submission Hold’s Waiting for Another Monkey to Throw the Brick. I started reading other zines: more of Doris as well as Emergency! and Brain Scan. I wrote my own zines and I played in bands. Somewhere else, now almost fifteen years later, she is much older. And I am too.

* Two years ago I left New York to move to Philadelphia. I needed to regain control over my life, to have more time to write and grow. But before doing so, I tabled with For the Birds Collective, a NYC-based feminist collective, at the Brooklyn Zine Fest. It was there that I met Sarah Sawyers-Lovett, an organizer of the Philly Feminist Zine Fest. We talked for some time and when I told her I’d be moving to Philadelphia in a few months, she told me about the upcoming fest that was inspired by the NYC Feminist Zine Fest. I was beyond psyched to see such events occurring in other cities. New Yorkers, by and large, forget that there are worthwhile things happening outside of the five boroughs.

Fast forward two years to now. I am living in Philadelphia and it’s amazing how it feels infinitely good, but not surprising, to see such productiveness and creativity in a new place with new people both inside and outside of punk. Sarah Sawyers-Lovett, along with Jamie Morgan, Jen King, Jenna Brager, Sari, and April DJ are the folks behind Philly Feminist Zine Fest 2014. They’ve work diligently over the past few months to organize the event, which will take place over two days: exhibitors on Saturday, June 28th, and panels, workshops, and discussions throughout Philadelphia on Sunday, June 29th. Some exhibitors include Hoax Zine, Black Lesbians @ Lesbian Herstory Archives, the Transgender Oral History Project, Deafula Zine, Ramsey Beyer, Annie Mok, The Media, and also myself.  I am really excited about the workshops this year, which include zine making for both adults and children, a group discussion on being a mother in a radical community, using zines to heal from trauma, and others that will surely inspire. There will also be a slew of raffle prizes and a safer space policy. PFZF also serves as a benefit for Project Safe, an all-volunteer grassroots organization providing advocacy and support for women working in street prostitution.

Feminist zines fests always return me to that day I met Chelsea; I am older now but the general feeling remains the same. To walk into a room of inspiring women and their work is amazing. I will be completely honest and tell you that this doesn’t happen for me at standard zine fests. I enjoy them but there is too much to wade through and too many problems similar to punk and plain living. I like that things have been narrowed down to my main interests: women, writing, and art in a room where I can feel safe and motivated.

And so, it doesn’t end in New York just how it doesn’t end with punk; we branch off because we need room to grow and we need our own space. Coming across such motivation and camaraderie with women in new parts of life and in other corners of the world creates a glow in the chest, a glimmer of hope. It’s the same feeling I had all those years ago, the one that started on the downtown 6 train in New York. The glow of embers resurges and I know exactly where the fire began.

The Philly Feminist Zine Fest will be held on Saturday, June 28th from 1 – 5 at the neighborhood House CCNH in Philadelphia (20 N American St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106) and on Sunday, June 29th at various radical organizations and spaces in Philadelphia. You can find out more about PFZF on their website:

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