Caxton Club, Newberry to Host "Outsiders: Zines, Samizdat, and Alternative Publishing"

The cover of an underground publication produced and distributed in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam during World War II
The cover of an underground publication produced and distributed in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam during World War II
February 2013

Chicago this spring will be celebrating the rich tradition of underground, dissident, and alternative publishing, highlighted by two special programs at the Newberry.

“Politics, Piety, and Poison,” is an exhibition of French materials spanning a period that includes the revolution; “Outsiders: Zines, Samizdat and Alternative Publishing,” is a discussion about self-produced books and pamphlets that express individualized, unconventional, controversial, or prohibited messages. (“Samizdat” means the clandestine copying and distribution of literature banned by the state, especially formerly in communist countries). Held only every two years, the Caxton Club/Newberry Library Symposium on the Book this year is also sponsored by the Bibliographical Society of America.

“Outsiders” speakers and panelists include:

Johanna Drucker is the inaugural Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA. She is internationally known for her work in the history of graphic design, typography, experimental poetry, fine art, and digital humanities. Her most recent titles include SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Speculative Computing, and Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide.

Lisa Gitelman, Professor of English and of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, is a media historian whose research concerns American book history, techniques of inscription, and the new media of yesterday and today. Her most recent book is Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture.

Anne Komaromi is Assistant Professor, Centre for Comparative Literature, and Victoria Fellow, Acting Coordinator of the Literary Studies Program, at the University of Toronto. Her research interests center on late Soviet culture, especially uncensored literature and unofficial art, and the history of dissidence. Komaromi currently is working on Samizdat as a problem of textual culture and material texts.

Anne Elizabeth Moore is a Fulbright scholar, a United Nations Press Fellow, the Truthout columnist behind “Ladydrawers: Gender and Comics in the US,” and the author of several award-winning books, including Cambodian Grrrl: Self-Publishing in Phnom Penh.

The symposium will be held from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm Saturday, April 6, at the Newberry; it is free and open to the public, and no registration is required. The event begins with a casual coffee get-together, followed by opening remarks by Caxton Club President Bruce Boyer; the Newberry’s John M. Wing Foundation for the History of Printing and Book Arts Custodian Paul Gehl; and the program chair of the Bibliographical Society of America, Marcia Reed. Quimby’s Bookstore of Wicker Park will be at the event selling do-it-yourself and other alternative press materials.

At the same time, the Newberry will be hosting “Politics, Piety, and Poison,” an exhibition of French pamphlets from 1600 – 1800 that includes examples of alternative publishing. One highlight is a series of engraved scenes that depicts the crimes, trial, and execution of Parisian grocer Antoine-François Derues, who was accused of poisoning the wife and son of an associate, Monsieur de La Motte. This early “zine”—which resembles a newspaper cartoon—is a condensed, visual retelling of the sensational murder case that captivated Parisians at all levels of society. Derues was found guilty and executed in May 1777.

“Politics, Piety, and Poison,” is open now and runs through April 13. Other related events include “My Life is an Open Book: D.Y.I. Autobiography,” a zine exhibit at the University of Chicago that also runs through April 13; and Chicago Zine Fest, held at Columbia College March 8 and 9.