Zinster Interview Series Part 2: The Editors of “Walk Write Up”
“Walk Write Up” is the infinitely quirky zine that features artists who deliver seriously innovative poetry, comics, illustrations and more. The Witty Agent had the opportunity of chatting with Editor-in-Chief Audrey Frischman and co-editors Laura Been and Philip Santos Schaffer for part two of our Zinster Interview Series. The team explained exactly what makes “Walk Write Up” tick — how they choose submissions, and the kind of safe haven they are creating for writers with a smaller distribution, but to a reader base that truly values their brand.
In our last interview with Andria Alefhi, we were given insight into a zine that is produced by one individual but takes submissions from many different writers. “Walk Write Up” is a collaboration on all fronts. From bottom to top, the trio makes editorial decisions together and enlists emerging writers and artists to share their work. “Walk Write Up” explains where they gather inspiration for zine themes, the type of community they seek to form with their zine, and how creating zines is reticent of other trends in our current culture.
TWA: What made you realize that your interests and personal aesthetic were best suited to create a zine?
Philip Santos Schaffer: I think a big part of the impetus to start this whole thing up came from wanting to share our work with our friends. As members of a community that is full of various kinds of artists, we are constantly looking for new ways to show what we are working on to one another. As opposed to more “traditional” means of publication, for me, zines focus on a more personal form of sharing my work and of reading the work of others. I carry them around and give them to people I meet. I pass them out to friends. There aren’t a lot of means of sharing that are so immediate or so personal.
Audrey Frischman: We started the zine in large part to keep ourselves creating art. Ira Glass has this great quote about, when you’re a beginner, just doing a lot of work and giving yourself a deadline to do that work. So you just keep producing work and producing work and fighting through your own beginning phase of your art into what’s finally maybe worth something. What’s exciting about doing the zine the way we have now for two years, is that we all have a much larger body of work than we did starting out and (I’d like to think) we’ve gotten stronger as individual artists. In addition to that, we get to distribute the work of other artists as well. Ideally, we are motivating people to create their art too by having this place for them to put it. It being a zine allows us more flexibility to publish what we want but still comes along with the strictness of “this is when we are publishing it so be done by this day.”
Laura Been: There’s something so beautifully nostalgic about a zine. That joy and pride that came from creating a newspaper or book; stapled pages, hand drawn images, different font sizes quite literally cut and pasted with glue; rushing to show your parents when they picked you up from school. I get that same excitement when stuffing envelopes with freshly printed zines now. Our zine has an incredibly simple aesthetic, and our context is sometimes fun, sometimes sad, but always quirky, and always with the need for it to be shared.
TWA: The latest issue features mostly poetry. Is this a conscious decision to primarily publish poetry? Has “Walk Write Up” published short fiction or memoir pieces n the past? Why or why not?
Frischman: We do end up mainly publishing poetry because it’s a lot of what we [editors] write. We also tend to only publish pieces that are one to two pages long.
Santos Schaffer: We have published non-fiction, short fiction, and memoir, but I do think that we attract more poets than anything else. A large part of this, I think, is because the three of us tend to write poetry the most. Outside of this, I think that poetry is very useful for the kind of raw/intimate/brutal/open work that we are drawn to. Not that anything else is not, of course!
TWA: What kinds of attributes would you associate with a zine? (Mixed media, illustration, editorial, etc.)?
Santos Schaffer: To me, one of the most important attributes of a zine is a certain DIY aesthetic. This is of course achieved in a huge variety of ways, and everyone’s take on what DIY means is totally different. Nonetheless, in every zine I’ve seen, the artist’s hand has, in one way or another, been very present.
Frischman: I love that zines are self-published. We have the opportunity every issue to create an entirely new art project which is really exciting. I also love the interpretations of poems as illustrations. The interaction between illustrator and poet is really cool.
Been: For us, having our zine be hard copy has been important. Our “one liner” pages have been compared to tweets, and our poetry would not lose anything from being typed and posted onto a blog, but there is something so intimate about only a hundred and fifty people having each full, curated issue. The contributors allow themselves to be more honest and giving with their work within the safe space we’ve created for it to be shared.
TWA: Do you have a standard ratio that you follow when you publish writing versus other media (comics, illustrations, stickers, etc.)?
Frischman: I think we accidentally do! We put in three to four one-liners every issue and we have a list of standard pages that we put in. One page is always Loodle’s Doodles (a cartoon) and then we always put our table of contents at the end, our credits and letter from the editor in the beginning.
TWA: How do you determine which pieces or creations will be chosen for a zine? What makes good content for a zine?
Frischman: We have a theme for every issue that we then receive submissions for. We select pieces from the submissions that speak to us and that we feel fit the aesthetic of the zine. They don’t have to fit the theme perfectly, we just have to like the piece! Good content is as honest as possible.
Been: The three of us sit down each month and discuss every submission. It may seem simplistic, but so much of what we put into each issue depends on how it fits; not with the theme, but with the flow of the issue. The goal is a mixture of sweet, funny, and sad. Every so often we end up with all heavy pieces, and those issues are a lot less fun to read. We are always looking for new writers and illustrators to submit, with the goal of a wider variety of work, but still within our specific aesthetic.
Santos Schaffer: There is a specific type of honesty and intimacy that I think attracts us all as individuals, and as such dictates a lot of what goes into the zine. Ultimately, we’re looking for what we like, and betting on our own biases. We do also curate to theme and to issue as well.
TWA: When readers subscribe on your website, the zine is sent to your address for free. Of course, “Walk Write Up” takes donations, but are there other sources of funding that helps the zine get published? How did you decide to make the zine free of charge?
Santos Schaffer: Earlier this year we did a fundraising campaign, which definitely has been the largest factor in funding the zine. I think we always intended for it to be free of charge. We have sold back issues for a small price at events such as Brooklyn Zine Fest, but, generally, I think the emphasis for us has always been to get the zine into people’s hands. We want people to read our work, and the work of the people who submit. We choose the pieces that go into each issue because we genuinely like them, and it’s exciting to share them with other people. And I think this is more important than making money.
TWA: What kind of conversation/rhetoric are you trying to initiate/contribute to by creating a zine?
Been: The theme we get the most submissions on, and that I personally write the most about, is love. That’s certainly not a new conversation. But while many of the topics we cover are common, we try to give new voice and new perspective. The more specific, personal, and honest a piece is, the more it stands out. Some of the pieces that I felt the most nervous about putting out in the world are the ones that people have said, “Oh thank god. I feel that way too.” Having someone connect personally to your writing is such an amazing feeling, and as a reader, relating to someone’s writing is amazing too. I think the conversation is less about being bold and innovative and more about creating a community where people speak out, and listen, and connect. (All without taking it too seriously.)
Santos Schaffer: We use theme as a pretty loose suggestion, so I would say that we are not looking to create a specific form of rhetoric so much as a space in which an individual is free to express themselves in a new way and have an immediate physical THING to share that expression with others. If anything, it is about being heard, but what someone says within that space is, to an extent, up to them.
Frischman: Personally, I like pieces that talk about everyday moments that the writer happens to find funny or poignant or interesting for some reason. There’s often a lot of truth in that. If a piece rings true to me, it might for someone else too. Or, even more interesting, it gives a perspective you’ve never thought of!
TWA: Are there other ways that you stay in touch with your readers between issues of “Walk Write Up”?
Frischman: We send out a bi-monthly mailchimp reminding people about our upcoming deadline for the next issue. We post poems and images from back issues on facebook and instagram.
TWA: How are zines changing the way we view the publishing industry?
Been: Zine popularity at the current moment makes so much sense. Millennials are a DIY generation. We are at the forefront of technology innovation, bu,t paralleling that, we have this need for the “throwback”, for nostalgia, as technology moves so quickly around us. We want that feeling, but we want it with the immediacy we have grown accustomed to. Zines give us the art form, but allow us to have total control of our product. I don’t think they are in competition with the publishing industry, I think they are a different way to appreciate the book art form.
Santos Schaffer: Zines are at an intersection where they have more physical tangibility than a website but more immediacy than a book. This makes them perfect for publishing short poetry and fiction; creating these lovely small booklets that are good for a subway ride or wait somewhere. Zines are also great for reacting to things in real time. There is also an artistry involved, a hands-on needed approach, that the publishing industry behemoth lacks. Zines are not, I don’t think, at all challenging the publishing industry, but they do certainly circumvent it. We work straight from our pens to your hands, and like it that way.
Frischman: Zines are saying “Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you! Do it yourself!” Of course it’s great to be published in large scale magazines and newspapers, but it’s so cool to take the power into your own hands. Zines allow you to take pride in your work; to say that your own perspective is worth sharing.
TWA: What are zines doing for emerging writers? How is the medium acting as an outlet for new writers?
Santos Schaffer: Having a monthly place to share my work has, for me, been an ideal impetus to continuously create. Sometimes pressure like that is needed! It has been a great way for me to test out new forms/styles/topics, and to share these pieces with friends, without worrying about some of the dirty logistics of traditional publication. I think people see Zines as a more approachable means of publication, and we have included at least one “first poem” in our zine. This isn’t to say that we’re amateur-specific, so much as we allow a space for new writers that major publications don’t.
Frischman: I’ll bring Ira Glass back here! Whether you’re creating work to submit to another zine or publishing your own, you are, without a doubt, accumulating a large volume of work. And as that volume grows, because of zines, you are also getting to put it out into the world. You get to hone your craft and share your work on a smaller scale while doing it. It’s safer than large publications, yes, but it’s still risky. Taking the risk of writing something at all and then turning it in for someone else to read is brave! And risk is how we grow.
TWA: Do zines get the type of recognition they deserve in the media? Is part of their charm, success even, predicated on their obscurity and sense of being an “underground” movement?
Santos Schaffer: Of course there is part of me that has daydreams of some kind of national distribution, but ultimately I think our zine, and most zines, are more focused on the relationship between author and audience. There is an intimacy in knowing that you are one of only a hundred and fifty people to hold the zine you are holding. I think it makes every reader really matter.
Frischman: It’s always fun to see zines in the media (and they do pop up every once and a while)! I do think that part of their charm is their obscurity. Yes, it would be nice to have a million people reading our zine, but that’s a lot of stamps! In all seriousness, the small scale makes it manageable on an administrative basis, which allows more time for the art–which is the whole point!
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