A Celebration of Women’s Voices

It was when Dr. Kate presented us with the concept of using art as a form of activism that the idea of creating a literary journal first came to me. The specifics were foggy for a little while – I cycled through dozens of topics until it occurred to me that the narrower the subject, the more difficult it would be to gather submissions. So I broadened my category to one singular noun – woman. Any undergraduate student that identified as a woman was permitted to enter poetry or prose for inclusion into what I was then calling a journal or anthology.

The more I thought about it, the better the topic seemed – women in literature, and the arts in general, are so often overlooked, erased, ridiculed, and ignored, even within the UMBC community. Creating a safe space for women writers to share their work seemed like a perfect activist project for someone like me – an English major whose life revolves around the written word.

I created a submission page, passed the link around social media, and sat back, certain I would get an excellent turn out.

But the deadline came and went, and I had maybe 7 submissions. I eventually had to extend the deadline by two weeks and dedicate a lot more energy to spreading the link; in those two weeks, the link was posted across social media, on pages such as the UMBC GWST Facebook page, emailed directly to all English majors and minors, and shared at club meetings. By the time the second deadline rolled around, I had actually accumulated enough poems to create a book – though, at this point, the word “zine” was beginning to feel more appropriate than “anthology.”

My initial idea of what my final project would look like was an Amazon eBook – from what I understood, it was the easiest and cheapest way to self-publish. But that vision also included about twenty more poems than the measly fourteen I was left with after getting rid of submissions that couldn’t be included in the project for one reason or another. So, with some encouragement from Dr. Kate, I decided I would print my zine at commonvision.

There was a time in this project that I had hoped to include some artwork within this zine. Though those hopes were dashed very quickly when I realized how hard accumulating submissions was, I still needed cover art. Somehow, this simple task proved to be one of the most difficult in the process of printing the zine. The whole book was designed cover-to-cover, ready to be printed but for the empty front cover. Several people committed to providing cover art, before then retracting their offer days later. Finally, just before finals, I approached my friend Alie and asked her to create something as fast as she could. Despite some technical difficulties, she drew something for me in less than forty-eight hours.

Actually printing the zines was incredibly easy. commonvision was accommodating in every way, from helping me pick out the best paper for the cover page to allowing me preview minute formatting changes. I printed out 25 copies for just over $25 (it would have been less, but I was willing to dish out a few extra dollars to make the zines as pretty as possible), all 25 of which currently reside in the Women’s Center.

One important part of my project that I’ve failed to mention until now was the amazing collaboration I’ve had with the Women’s Center. I decided early on that I wanted any proceeds I made from these zines to go towards the Women’s Center, so I contacted them, asking if they would be interested in this collaboration. I quickly received an enthusiastic reply, and was in contact with Jess Myers of the Women’s Center throughout the process of creating this zine.

Amazingly, there isn’t much I would change about how I did this project. I would try to get more submissions – perhaps I would have an even longer submission period, to allow more students time to submit their work. I would also try to solidify things like cover art and how the zines would be sold (I had hoped to sell them at a table, but found out a few weeks before the end of the semester that this process was harder than it appeared) much earlier in the process. At the same time, there are things I certainly wouldn’t change. Both the Women’s Center and commonvision were incredible to work with, and if I did this project again, I would collaborate with either of them in a heartbeat. Though it didn’t accumulate many responses, my method of collecting submissions, Google Forms, was effective and organized. And despite my notable lack of graphic design skill, I’m extremely proud of how the zines turned out – there’s not much I would change about the final product itself.

However, this project is not over. Though the zines are made, none have been sold – the plan is to sell them at WILL events throughout next year – so at times it still feels almost as though I haven’t actually completed any activism at all. But then I remember everything I’ve already done; I’ve given women writers a space to share their voices. I’ve spread their stories, even if not far – though none have been sold yet, a few copies of the zine have been made publicly available in the Women’s Center. And I’ve completed one step in a project that will hopefully bring in some well-deserved donations to the Women’s Center, even if I haven’t quite gotten to that point in the process yet. Activism doesn’t end when the semester ends. This semester created a window in which I had to complete a project for this class, but I don’t feel as though I’ve lost anything by not reaching all of my goals within this short time limit. In fact, I look forward to picking up this project again when I come back to school next fall.

Further reading: UMBC Women’s Center, commonvision, how to make a zine (Rookie magazine), how to make a zine (Creative Bloq) (note: I didn’t personally use either of those guides).

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The back / front covers of My Name is Wisdom. Cover art by Alie Recia. Title by Sophia Haire.

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A preview of the inside of the book, featuring Aparecium by Tasha Fu and an excerpt from Dear Lily by Julia Arbutus.

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