At Food for Thought.
Last night I went to see famous Zine writers Erick Lyle and Cindy Ovenrack Crabb speak at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.
The book store is widely known throughout the Valley as the setting for the classic SCREWY video about a zombie invasion of Amherst, where the brain-eating zombies get all hungry and excited when they see a place called Food for Thought.
It is also one of the last leftist bookshops in Massachusetts. Once a staple of college communities, the left-wing bookstore has all but vanished, with even Cambridge unable to sustain one. Food for Thought is helped to survive through the sale of college textbooks which leftist professors at the area colleges order through the store. Otherwise it would have to try to survive on the sale of things like this collection of Chinese Communist propaganda posters, a book not exactly on the New York Times best seller list.
A member of the self-described "non-profit worker's collective" that runs the store introduced Lyle and Crabb.
Both Erick Lyle and Cindy Ovenrack Crabb came out at the same time and took seats in large chairs in front of the audience.
The event was very well attended with some people even forced to sit on the floor.
The first to speak and read from her work was Cindy Ovenrack Crabb, a person very unique in her appearance.
Her writing is very personal, dealing with intense subjects not usually discussed in public. I could relate to the challenge of doing that, as I sometimes write about the drama that evolves out of my homosexuality and drug addiction in ways that some would consider taboo. Crabb writes about her ambiguous sexuality, and how she has been taunted for having a mustache and by people demanding to know whether she is a boy or a girl. It's painful, gritty stuff but her attitude is a positive one. She talked about her hope for "a place where all things are possible" and transcending despair through a utopian vision. In all she came across as likable and very human.
The Zine movement came out of the word processing technology of the late 1980's. No longer did you have to rent a large press belonging to a newspaper or other publisher if you wanted to print something. Through so-called "desk top publishing" using only a personal computer and a printer you could create a master copy that would then be reproduced at cheap cost at the local copy shop. Suddenly anyone could print anything on any subject.
Erick Lyle started his influential zine SCAM in 1991, which also happens to be the year I printed the first copy of my zine The Baystate Objectivist. Like Lyle, I was trying to write about an aspect of urban experience that was otherwise not being covered. In my case it was the corrupt machine politics of my hometown of Springfield. For Lyle it was an effort to record the mostly futile struggle of those attempting to prevent the gentrification of San Francisco. Here is Lyle with his book The Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City.
Lyle is smart and funny, but his story is mostly a sad one about how even success has its dark side as urban development relentlessly squeezed out the lower and middle classes from San Francisco. From the excerpts he read aloud, his book seems very informative and entertaining, especially if you are interested in urban activism.
After the talk ended, they passed out free posters.
Most zines vanished when they morphed into websites and blogs, but neither Lyle nor Crabb seem much interested in doing that. When I told Lyle that I was going to put a review of his talk in my blog he replied. "I've never been blogged before. Does it hurt?"
Good line, but the fact is Lyle and Crabb may be the last purists of the zine scene. They are stubbornly resisting the pressure to take their act online as they still pretty much insisting on doing it the old fashioned way. Well if that's the way they want to do things, then more power to them, but I predict cyberspace is in their long term future.