SPZF24 Recap: Reflecting on the St. Pete Zine Fest & Symposium

SPZF24, St. Pete Zine Fest & Symposium, was held on Saturday, February 17th from 11am-3pm at the West Community Library at the St. Petersburg College-Gibbs Campus. It was a magical day celebrating zines and the traditions of underground and diy publishing, with 40 self-published zine and comic makers, authors, and small/alternative presses.

Zines, pronounced “ZEENS” and short for magazines, entered the publishing realm with Star Trek fanzines in the 1950s. In the 60’s-80’s, zines were tools of political and community organizing and resource sharing. They reached peak popularity in the 90s during the Riot GRRRL era. But everything old is new again, and zines are having a moment in pop culture and in libraries. These original, independently published booklets preserve traditions of underground publishing. From the Library of Congress to the NYPL, to the current exhibition “Copy Machine Manifestos” at the Brooklyn Museum garnering international attention, there is a blossoming community of independent makers of all ages and backgrounds who are embracing the art of self-publishing in the Tampa Bay area and beyond. 

Although self-publishing often has negative connotations in academia, its power and influence has existed since the advent of writing itself. Whitman, Austen, Proust, and Dickinson all distributed self-published works. Today, writers, illustrators, comic artists, and printmakers continue to create zines as a chosen medium. Like zines, libraries serve as connectors- for ideas, individuals, communities, histories- and are accessible and democratic by nature. Libraries are one of the few public spaces where everyone is welcome without the expectation to spend money. Similarly, the price point of most zines ranges from free to $25 at the most.

I had the idea to organize a zine fair at the library where I work after learning about DCAZ this past fall when I was at SPF, the Small Press Fair in Miami. DCAZ , or the Duval Comic And Zine fest, happens annually at the Jacksonville Public Library in conjunction with UNF faculty and zinester, Andrew Kozlowski. I have a couple colleagues who make zines, and when I pitched the idea of organizing a zine fest, they were supportive and excited to help facilitate. Building community through exchanging and sharing zines is an integral part of the zine experience, and after all, “What’s more punk rock than the public library?”. This quote is from a t-shirt by a DC Friends of the Library group that went viral among librarians all over the country and raised over $100k for the Mount Pleasant Library branch.

Although we had originally planned to have our zinesters table under the beautiful shady oak trees in the campus quad of the SPC Gibbs campus, the looming threat of rain on Saturday relocated everyone inside the library. This may have actually worked out in our favor. It may have been gloomy outside but the library was bright and bustling with people. I’m not sure I’ve seen the community show up with such enthusiasm for printed matter since St. Printersburg, another event I co-organized in 2019 and 2020 with my collaborator, Bridget Elmer, and fellow letterpress printers, Calusa Press. 

In the digital age of screens and swiping, people are drawn to tangible, homemade booklets. Outside of Tampa Bay, creatives came from Gainesville, Winter Park, and as far as NYC to share their work at SPZF24. Symposium presentations were held in one of the library conference rooms, on topics such as social poetry and fax art, zines as alternative art therapy, and even a zine show & tell. Fifth-generation Floridian, writer, educator, and fellow Emerging Artist Grantee, Tyler Gillespie, read from his upcoming book of poems from Burrow Press. Letterpress bookmarks and gel printing with leaves and natural fibers provided several opportunities for the public to get inky.

Fellow EA grantee, Antonia Lewandowski prints a bookmark on my 1950’s sign press

Those who missed it, and are surely experiencing fomo, can join us next year at SPZF25! I’m looking forward to an even bigger and better celebration to come. And in the meantime, check out your local library. I guarantee there are resources available that you don’t know about. 

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