Photo depicting Chris Sabatini in a black face mask proudly holding up the poster for the Washington State Zine Contest at a booth with a table that reads "Timberland Regional Library."

Washington State Zine Contest Adds Community Voice to Library Collections

by Amanda Ong

The annual Washington State Zine Contest is open for submissions to be postmarked from Feb. 25. The contest is sponsored by the Washington Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress and a partnership of the Washington State Library and The Seattle Public Library. Zines are short-run, self-published magazine collections of writing and art. Submissions can be authored by anyone who lives in Washington and can be about any topic. 

Physical copies of the winning zines and honorable mentions will be added to the ZAPP Zine Collection at the Central Library at The Seattle Public Library, the Timberland Regional Library, and the Washington State Library. The Washington Center for the Book has been at the helm of the contest since 2019. 

“We’ve opened it up so anyone can enter as long as they live in Washington,” said Linda Johns, the comanager of the Center for Book. “There used to be the criteria [that] the zine had to be about Washington history or something about Washington.” 

Photo depicting the poster with marmots on rocks enjoying zines.
The 7th Annual Washington State Zine Contest poster with artwork by Chris Sabatini of the Olympia Timberland Library. Photo courtesy of the Washington Center for the Book.

Zines were named not after magazines, but “fanzines” that came out in the 1930s and ʼ40s. Fanzines were made by amateur writers to share their science fiction stories with each other. But zines, as we know them today, were made in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the rise of the punk movement and are heavily associated with the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s. 

“It was [a] really key way for women around the country to communicate with each other directly, about their feelings in terms of, sexuality, and gender, and feminism, within the punk scene,” says Abigail Bass, zine librarian at the Washington Center for the Book. “[Zines] really embodied that whole DIY, do-it-yourself, ethic of the punk scene as well,” Bass continued. “It’s like, we will be creating the media about our own communities and culture and subculture. And it definitely was tied into radical politics in that time period, like Black, anti-racist, anarchist movements, radical environmentalism.”

As zines are generally self-published, noncommercial print-work produced in limited quantities. This has made them particularly popular for grassroots movements to publish works and quickly disseminate information between the community. “It’s very immediate and very accessible,” Bass said. “Like, you can just walk right up to somebody and give them this thing that you’ve made, you know, there’s no intermediaries there.”

“They’re a great way to get a creative expression of voices that we might not hear or see otherwise,” Johns said. “And I think that’s an important tradition to keep alive and to enter archives.”

Amidst the pandemic, the Center for the Book has further started the Sheltered in Place: COVID-19 Zine Diaries Project that people can separately submit zines to. “[We hope] to preserve people’s thoughts and creations during the pandemic,” Johns said. “Someone could make one page and send it in and we’ll include it in an anthology [too], so it doesn’t have to be a huge commitment.”

The Center for the Book has also seen other creativity from the community arise through zines in the pandemic and has offered how-to workshops and drop-in sessions over the past two years. “We had an [11-year-old] in Seattle, who stopped by a Seattle Public Library for a drop-in session …” Johns said. “And they started on their first zine, and then submitted it.” The student went on to receive an honorable mention for their zine, I’m a Trans Girl, which is featured online and in print in the three participating libraries. 

Bass says she has seen zines about everything from Groundhog Day to disability in sex work and poetry. “I really love to see what folks of different ages are making their zines about and the kind of various styles that they use. It’s really a place where you’re going to find people expressing themselves without constraints,” Bass said. 

One of her favorite zines included in the library is a previous honorable mention of the state zine contest, Love Letter to Harry Allen, by Elijah Janka. Janka used the zine to excavate the history of a trans man, Harry Allen, who lived in the Pacific Northwest in the early 20th century. 

“It’s really, it’s just such a great example of what folks can do with a zine format,” Bass said. “It’s really a way of telling another story that’s counter to the predominant viewpoint or the prevailing narratives about folks, especially folks who are marginalized and are furthest from the centers of power …”

The low barrier to begin making zines both makes them a format that anyone can use and a reason for anyone to start making zines themselves — all you need is some paper and a writing implement.

“You can make a zine, anybody can make a zine,” Bass said. “Some of the best zines that I’ve read are ones you just kind of throw it together and put it out there. But you can really feel the urgency from reading this little pamphlet, or this little booklet. And there’s something really powerful about that.”

The potential to win the contest and have your work added to the archives of three different state libraries is also an incentive, of course. “I think the idea of having your work in a library makes a lot of sense to someone who would be interested in creating a zine and getting their work out there,” Johns said.

Making a zine is a great way to share a piece of yourself with your community. Sharing your zine with the Washington State Zine Contest is an even more wonderful way to archive your experience and hopefully share voices and perspectives that aren’t always included in mainstream media. 

“It’s about freedom of expression, and it’s about sharing your voice with the world,” Bass said. “What do you want to say, what do you want to get out there? What matters to you?”

To submit a zine, download the submission guidelines and entry form on the Washington Center for the Book website and submit by Friday, Feb. 25.

Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 02/24/2022 to clarify the deadline for zine submissions needs to be postmarked by Friday, Feb. 25, and that the Washington Center for the Book is an affiliate of the Library of Congress and a partnership of the Washington State Library and The Seattle Public Library.

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

📸 Featured Image: Chris Sabatini of the Olympia Timberland Library holds the poster he designed for this year’s zine contest. Taken at the Lil’ Olympia Zine Fest in 2021. Photo courtesy of Washington Center for the Book.

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