Get pumped, everyone – two weeks until Zine Fest! We’re so excited Victoria Law – author of Resistance Behind Bars, co-editor of Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind, and editor of Tenacious zine – will be tabling! Here’s what she has to say:
1. Kindly give us a short description of yourself and the work you do.
I’m a freelance writer, mother, zinester & analog photographer. I write about prisoner justice issues, primarily focusing on women prisoners–both the injustices they face and the ways that they resist, challenge and try to change these injustices.
In late 2002, I was asked by several women incarcerated in Oregon if I would do a regular zine of art & writings by women in prison. They weren’t seeing themselves or their experiences represented in the media–mainstream, independent or prisoner zines–and wanted to change that. But, being in prison, they don’t have access to copying machines, postage, computers, the ability to send mail out unread by prison mailrooms…so they were looking for someone on the outside to take on this project.
How could I say no? And so, Tenacious: Art & Writings by Women in Prison was born.
Nearly a dozen years later, most of the women who came up with the idea have since been released, but I recently put out issue #30 with writings from women incarcerated in several parts of the country. Tenacious is free to women in prison (both cisgender and trans women) and I’m noticing, from the letters & submissions that I get, that women often pass it around to others in that prison. For many of the women, it’s a chance not only to share their experiences in print, but also to be heard and to be validated. So many times, women in prison are told that their lives, experiences and voices don’t matter, that nothing that they do matter. To see their words in print contradicts that. It shows them that their lives *do* matter.
I also sometimes do one-off photo zines. I also used to make travel zines using the postcards I sent to CookiePuss, the cat at ABC No Rio. (Sadly, CookiePuss passed away in September 2013 just before her 17th birthday)
2. How did you get introduced to zines? Were you influenced by anyone?
I actually don’t remember how I was introduced to zines. I was in high school at the time. I was living in Queens, but started coming to the Lower East Side and East Village on weekends. I probably picked up a zine at a poetry reading or independent bookstore. Maybe someone gave me one when I went to ABC No Rio? I really can’t remember.
3. What does it mean to do “feminist zine-making”? Does feminism appear in your work (explicitly or implicitly)?
I think that producing a zine that highlights the voices (both verbal and visual) of women behind bars is definitely an act of feminist zine-making. Focusing specifically on women’s prison issues when the conversation about mass incarceration is so dominated by men’s issues is also an act of feminism.
4. What is your favorite zine or piece of mail art? Do you like any specific style/part of a zine?
I really like zines with some kind of personal touch. My fellow mama zinester China Martens used to hand-color the covers of her zine The Future Generation and I always loved how she made them look like old hand-colored photographs (back before color photography existed). Unfortunately, I can’t handcolor zines that I send into prisons because many prison mailrooms would either send them right back or toss them in the garbage, claiming that this somehow violates mailroom regulations and threatens the safety and security of the institution. (If only colored pencils could bring down prison walls!)
As for mail art: I was involved with Books Through Bars–NYC (a group that sent free books & other reading material to people in prison) for many years. I used to love seeing all the envelope art that incarcerated artists would send us when they wrote to request books. The bulk of envelope art came from Texas, but around 2003, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice banned envelope art.
5. If you could sum up your zinester life in a kitchen appliance, what appliance would it be?
Hmmm, I was originally going to say a hot plate because, for the first 13 years of my adult life, I only had a hot plate to make my meals. And it wasn’t a very good strong hot plate, which meant that I could only do very little with it.
But I think my zinester life is actually more like my fridge–sometimes empty, sometimes full of good things, sometimes half-filled with leftovers, occasionally housing things I’ve forgotten and are now growing scary things inside them.