Making Writing Their Own: 8th Graders and Zines
By Corinne Manning, WITS Writer-in-Residence
Something I love about teaching for WITS is the encouragement to roll with the punches. At the beginning of a teaching residency, you might have a defined schedule, a plan with a classroom teacher, and a curriculum, built shiny, and ready to go. Anyone who has worked with youth, or who has even just worked as a teacher knows that all the careful planning can—will—change instantly. There some changes at the school I worked at this year, but the nature of the WITS program is to find innovative and creative ways to help students fall in love with writing, so I had everything I needed to embrace that change.
But sometimes, even writing super exciting and awesome stories, poems, and memoir gets old when you are at an age where you aren’t quite sure why you like something, when you haven’t had a chance to really define for yourself why you like doing it. In 8th grade, that pinnacle of adolescent muck, you are constantly getting told what to do and maybe you’ve heard all the reasons why you are told to do something a certain way, but… whatever—it just doesn’t make sense yet.
I’ve found power in defining writing for myself, and finding ways to continue to make it mine and useful. Growing up, I wrote stories and poems and put them into books that I would copy and give to other people. It wasn’t until I went to college that I learned I was making zines. During that time of making my own books I found two things that I loved: writing and bookmaking; and I got the chance to make each of them my own.
So, instead of doing Reader’s Theater with the 8th grade, I switched up my curriculum and decided to introduce them to zines.
Zines are self published magazines that are made using whatever you have on hand. They have a cut and paste look to them, as they are most often made using a photocopier. The print runs are small, so only a few are made at a time, and they’re made to express something, not for profit.
The energy of zines is empowering. This form has been used again and again through the ages, often with the edict: if they won’t publish us, we’ll publish ourselves. Zines have found form in publications for protests, Sci-Fi and dystopian narratives, comics, and most recently, through young women who defined for themselves what it means to be a girl or grrrl.
“I don’t have a computer at home,” some of the students would say, trying to get out of the project. And every time I told them that they didn’t need a computer, that everything they needed they had in school, they’d look at me like I was crazy. Many of them didn’t seem to know what a photocopier was, and I had to emphasize again and again in a crochety-aging-hipsters manner: Get the authentic experience and make this on a photocopier, not a scanner or printer.
A zine, of course, can be made on anything you want, and in the future, they can totally make their zines at home using their printer and scanner if they have one. But it sure looks cooler from a photocopier.
How can zines be applied to creative writing?
I had the chance to work with these particular students for two years and I knew their writing, they’d written in every genre of fiction, written poems, even came up with creative definitions of fiction, so I trusted that they knew what they were doing. But all this work I’ve done with them wasn’t going to amount to much unless I gave them the chance to see how to apply creative writing on their own terms. I wanted writing, the power of it, to feel immediately useful to them.
Before they got into their final project, the Per-Zine (stands for personal zine, which can be about anything that’s personal to you) they made zines about their favorite things and zines that explained how to do something: making hamburgers, waking up on a Monday, or even making a your younger sibling cry.
Perzines tend to have an opinion even if its about something simple, like the things that make you happy, or the way you’ve found to survive the pre-high school years. It’s yours.
Students found clever ways to articulate their feelings about their thoughts, God, or their frustration with stereotypes.
All writers know that the game changes when you introduce the idea of making something public. But it’s even more thrilling when the rules change: when you decide that something is ready to be published, when it’s your finger hovering over that green button on the photo copier, when you are the one that’s decided that what you have to say is valuable and needs to be heard. It’s true that they’ll grow up and many of their opinions will change, but the day they sat in class and created a zine to share, what went through their minds when they were bored are documents of who they were at a time, and are articulations of what many of us, even as adults, are still feeling. Through creating zines, students connected with one another, whether it was teaching each other how to photocopy, or finding something they related to in the work of another student. They have everything they need to make writing their own—not a bad skill to bring with you into high school, or maybe the rest of your life as a writer.
This website was a wonderful resource and includes a template for making a quarter page zine line the ones by Catharine Blaine students.