We’ll be setting up a pop-up zine library and teaching people how to make mini-zines. (If you can’t make the festival, you can still download and make your own copy of the Bingham Center’s minizine! Instructions on how to fold it are included.)
The Bingham Center holds over 6,000 zines dating from the early-1990’s through the present, by women, girls, queer and trans identified people. Our collections are always open to the public, but this is a fun way to browse a few highlights while getting a chance to start your own collection with creative zines from local, national, and international writers and artists.
The popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black, based on the memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman, has brought renewed attention to the conditions inside U.S. women’s prisons. While prison reform has not been contemporarily understood as a priority of the LGBTQ and feminist communities, the special collections at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, illustrate the degree to which prison reform and anti-prison activism have, since the 19th century, operated as a cornerstone of both LGBTQ and feminist movements.
In the 19th century, charity efforts led by white middle-class feminists led to the creation of prison reform organizations such as the Women’s Prison Association (WPA) and the Gilbert Library and Prisoners’ Aid Society. These organizations advocated for separate women’s reformatories, the decriminalization of prostitution, rehabilitation programs for former inmates, and the creation and expansion of prison libraries.
These early reform efforts are reflected in the ledger and scrapbook of Linda Gilbert, the founder and president of the Gilbert Library and Prisoners’ Aid Society. The ledger details Gilbert’s fundraising efforts on behalf of the organization and the expenses it incurred from roughly 1868 to 1894, as it helped to establish libraries in institutions such as the New York House of Detention, Ludlow St. Jail, and Sing Sing Female Prison. A pamphlet included in the Linda Gilbert scrapbook speaks to the particular significance of prison libraries and literature to reformers of this period, who saw increasing literacy among prisoners and increasing access to reading material as central to their moral improvement.
The incarceration collections held in the Rubenstein Library, however, reflect the importance of circulating periodicals to prison reform efforts more generally, and the changing role of reading and writing in prison reform movements over time. In the 1960’s and 70’s, prison libraries and education programs helped to instigate an expanding prisoners’ rights movement both within and beyond prison walls. These efforts are reflected in several women’s prison newsletters and pamphlets that were published by lesbian feminist organizations in the late 20th century, including “No More Cages” and “Through the Looking Glass,” which are held in the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance Periodicals Collection and the Women’s and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Movements (LGBTQ) Periodicals Collection, respectively.
These newsletters were the collaborative projects of lesbian feminist and anti-prison activists in the late twentieth century in the context of neo-liberal economic policies, intensifying restrictions on access to welfare, and a corresponding rise in incarceration rates. The newsletters that grew out of these coalitions often aimed their critiques at increasing restrictions on access to welfare that, while initiated by the Nixon administration, were part of a larger conservative backlash against the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 that continued through the 1990’s, making women of color, in particular, vulnerable to mass incarceration.
“Break ‘de Chains of U.S. Legalized Slavery,” a joint publication between the Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists’ Prison Book Project and inmates at the North Carolina Correctional institute for women, documents a prison rebellion at the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women in 1975 that began as a work stoppage in the prison laundry. The pamphlet not only critiques healthcare and labor conditions in the prison, but contests media accounts of the rebellion itself. Additionally, the Rubenstein Library also holds a publication from Action for Forgotten Women, a feminist organization that was also active in the Triangle in the 1970’s.
Gay and lesbian publications such as Feminary, Lesbian Tide, RFD, and Gay Community News, which frequently reported on conditions inside prisons and incidents of police brutality, gave advice to gay and lesbian readers about how to protect themselves from law enforcement, and published letters from prisoners that also circulated widely both inside and outside of prisons during this period. These publications helped to galvanize support for prisoners, and encouraged readers to understand the policing and criminalization of gender and sexual non-normativity as intersecting with the policing and criminalization of people of color, immigrants, and the poor.
More recently, zines distributed by prison books programs, anti-prison zine distros, and collectively owned bookstores and activist centers have done similar work, attempting to fill a gap left by increasingly restrictive policies and funding for prison libraries and education.
Many of the most widely circulating zines are included in the Incarceration Zine Collection, part of the Human Rights Archive, which was acquired from the Chicago Anarchist Black Cross Zine Distro. The collection spans the years from 1995 to 2007, and includes 103 zines distributed inside and outside of jails and prisons, with writing by notable inmates and anti-prison activists, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli, Ashanti Alston Omowali, David Gilbert and his son, Chesa Boudin, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Dennis Kyne, Anthony Rayson, Bobby Sands, Sean Swain, and Harold H. Thompson. Zines related specifically to the concerns of women and LGBTQ people, including The Invisibility of Women Prisoners’ Resistance, Reaching through the Bars, Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison, and Queers Bash Back can be found in the Bingham Center Women’s Zine Collection.
These resources offer researchers insight into the dialogue amongst prison reformers and anti-prison activists both inside and outside of prison, and into the particular role of reading and writing in the expansion of prison reform and prisoners’ rights movements.
Submitted by – Jennifer Ansley, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow, Thompson Writing Program, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dixon wrote in an email to Bingham Center archivists:
While DJing a party last night at a professor’s house, I was told by a faculty member in the Music Dept that my zine collection was being used by a grad instructor teaching a course on punk history. I was so thrilled, as you can imagine, and it inspired me to unbox the last treasured horde of zines. I must confess I held the best in reserve in my initial donation. I have approx. 68 zines that are aesthetically, politically, and creatively rich. Hand-screened covers, some of the best zine writing ever, and incendiary politics that changed my life. I want others to be moved, too—by Mimi Nguyen’s Slander zine, by Tony Perkins’ Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars zine, by the dense tangle of punk and race and gender and a changing America of the last 2 decades.
As Dixon mentions in his note, classes frequently use zines as a resource for learning. As with any other historical manuscript or artifact, zines help illuminate specific aspects of culture through their method of creation and their content. Zine authors use the freedom of the medium to confront important cultural issues as well as to divulge their own reflections and emotions. The handmade nature of zines also allows for more artistic presentations of information, creating visually engaging objects that also serve as reading material.
While zine culture still exists in a variety of vibrant formats, the movement was at its most powerful from the late 1980’s to the mid-1990’s. During that time, Dixon snapped up a great number of these publications and eventually gifted them to the Bingham Center in 2001 with an initial donation of over a hundred zines. Including the latest addition, the Dixon collection now contains almost two hundred zines chronicling topics such as body image, depression, politics, racial inequality, history, and personal exploration.
The new addition has been added to the finding aid and is now available for research. Come take a look!
Post contributed by Rosemary K. J. Davis, Bingham Center volunteer.
Today was one of my favorite days of the year: zine workshop day at Girls Rock Camp. Amy and I spent the morning doing a zine workshop for about 45 young girls at Durham’s Girls Rock Camp. The day started with everyone standing in a circle, holding hands, and then turning to the person beside them and telling them “You rock!” What a way to start the day. We were able to talk with the girls about zines, as well as more about the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture and how they can come and look at zines in our collection. The girls were so excited to work on their own zine pages. We brought tons of markers, stickers, stamp pads, magazines, and glue sticks for them to make their own zine pages, and they did not disappoint! The zine pages they created included lots of things, such as their band names (Black Lizards, Beach Girls, 24/7, and The Flaming Moonshiners) and stickers proclaiming their love of music (and animals), and included statements like “I want to be a singer, an actress, and an architect.” I was asked how to spell words like “appreciate” and “different.” It was so great. Oh Zine Diary, every day should be like this!
Until next year. . .
Dear Zine Diary,
Kelly and I spent yesterday morning at Girls Rock Camp in Chapel Hill. I was amazed at how eager, smart, and enthusiastic the girls were to learn about women’s history and zine-making! We went around the room and introduced each other and Kelly and I found out the names of the girls’ bands. We talked about the three waves of feminism and we even did the wave! We also talked about female stereotypes and how we can fight them together. Then the girls got down to business with markers, stickers, magazines, glue sticks, and stamps. They made pages for their bands as well as individual pages, and as Rachel mentioned, their pages were creative and inspiring. I was so excited to hear the girls talk about everyday injustices and how they want to fix them. Kelly told them that since they are part of the Third Wave they are the future of feminism and will help to decide the future for women. After yesterday, I’m glad to know the future is in good hands.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Duke graduate student and member of the organizing committee for Durham’s Harm Free Zone, will talk about the Harm Free Zone process and facilitate interactive writing exercises based on some of the writings in Tenacious.
Date: Monday, 16 November, 2009 Time: 4:00 PM Location: Duke Women’s Center Lower Lounge Contact Information: Kelly Wooten, 919-660-5967 or kelly.wooten(at)duke.edu
You know those issues of Greenzine you have stacked on your bookshelf? Now you’ll finally have your chance to meet writer and illustrator Cristy Road as she visits Duke’s Women’s Center for a reading and discussion.
Road, a Cuban-American from Miami, Florida, has been illustrating ideas, people, and places ever since she learned how to hold a crayon. Blending the inevitable existence of social principles, cultural identity, sexual identity, mental inadequacies, and dirty thoughts, she testifies to the beauty of the imperfect. Today, Road has moved from zines to illustrated novels, although her visual diagram of lifestyles and beliefs remain in tune with the zine’s portrayal of living honestly and unconventionally.