Freedom of the (Small) Presses
Ariel Gore and Tomas Moniz visit ABQ Zine Fest Seven
“I wanted to do the right thing, but what was the right thing? Did I fuck up? Now what do I do?” Tomas Moniz said over the line from California about his initial years as a father. I'm not a parent, but I approach things that carry weight in my life with the same sort of questions at the forefront of my mind. Moniz, however, met these dilemmas with a unique creative and intellectual curiosity that he channeled into a zine series that turned into several books under the catch-all title of Rad Dad (and later, Rad Families). As he set out to explore radical parenting (which he succinctly defines as “the hard kind”) in his work, Moniz drew inspiration from works like Hip Mama—an independently published magazine created in 1993 by Ariel Gore that meant to work in the cross section of literature, feminism and parenting.
“At the time it was really hard to find any kind of parenting literature that was outside of the bounds of 'this is what the white male pediatrician says to do,'” Gore said of Hip Mama's beginnings all those years ago, when she, like Moniz, was a young parent. “I was writing these stories, and the feminist presses said 'we don't really cover parenting,' and the parenting presses said, 'we don't cover feminism.' … That's why I started publishing Hip Mama. There was no publication for me as a writer or as part of the audience.” Gore paused to explain with a good natured laugh that she doesn't want to equate self-publishing as the result of rejection—but it is one route.
Whatever avenues they took to get there—complete with questions and failures and detours—it is safe to say that both Gore and Moniz have arrived. Each has carved out a niche for their distinct approach to exploring and opening the dialogue on family and radical parenting, while simultaneously making room to grow their other writing practices, working in memoir, fiction, poetry and more. For all the divergence of their creative paths, both writers got their start—and continue to write—zines. These self-published, usually self-printed works allow for creative expression that most writers with an editor and publisher to please can only dream of. Through the medium of zines, artists turn up the volume on creative expression, contributing to the format's decades-long flourishing.
“Parenting pushed me into that creative field,” Moniz explained. He had always been creative, but he became a parent very young, “right as I was coming into my own sense of adulthood,” so writing happened “in the cracks”—the moments that he could snatch away for himself. “My actions, my politics, my mistakes—that is what got it going.” The process of writing the long-running Rad Dad zine was revelatory for Moniz, as he described, making him a better writer and a better person. That process rippled outward, connecting Moniz to a community of parents, yes, but also zinesters and other radicals, including Gore. In fact, Moniz has contributed to Hip Mama and Gore wrote the introduction to Rad Families. The two, now California-based writers even shared a writing group that led to Gore's most recent novel, titled We Were Witches.
Family, and by proxy Rad Dad, Rad Families and Hip Mama, is about “how we build communities, how we create community, how we invite children into spaces and elders into spaces, and other writers and radicals,” Moniz said. Especially as a father raising his first child—a son—Moniz was thinking about “issues of gender identity and toxic masculinity … honoring the traditions of my own family but at the same time breaking from what I saw as a restrictive sense of masculine identity.” The two decades of work Moniz has put into editing and writing Rad Dad underscores the challenge of living aligned with these principles, and the simple notion that radical parenting, is indeed, the hard kind—“it's the work of being conscientious about our choices … [and] being open to reflection on how we create equality within our society and within our families,” he said.
Moniz and Gore both connected with community—which included one another—on these topics, and continue to unpack them, though with the advent of the internet, engaging with like-minded people is easier than ever. “I don't go to a zine fest to see if there is anyone else like me out there,” Gore explained. “I know there are awkward people all over the country—but I don't necessarily know what they're writing!” The fact that people still head to zine fests and buy zines speaks to the enduring quality of the medium—and both Gore and Moniz underscore that they didn't just get their start with zines, they continue to make them. “Every year the function of zines changes, but they somehow remain cool and exciting,” Gore said, positing that perhaps that has to do with that fact that zines “can react quickly when culture changes.”
Which is not to say that it is easy—by which I mean none of it is: writing, illustrating, thinking hard about complex topics, and as anyone who as ever made a zine knows, pagination. Speaking of how she carved her own space in the publishing world through Hip Mama, Gore said, “It may be hard, but it teaches you to be an artist. It teaches you how to over-function in the right ways. … Not that being a mom is the only way to do that. If you learn that the world doesn't think you're entitled to anything, then, if you don't get depressed, you learn how to hustle. … Being a young mom meant that I could be scrappy.”
Some of these hard-earned lessons allowed Gore to follow the threads she felt important without sacrificing her ideals. “There was something freeing about that,” she mused. Considering that power in relation to self-publishing and the big presses that tend to lift their ideas from smaller ones making a splash, she observed “back when writers used to get paid, you were at least selling your soul. Now it's like, [you're] a sellout and you still don't have any money. So what's the point of being a sellout?” Gore and Moniz both said—independently and emphatically—that the most exciting work they are reading, be it nonfiction or something other, is self-published. Which loops the conversation back around to freedom.
“Zine communities allow you to be more vulnerable and intimate,” Moniz said. “You can trust your own voice in a way. … You don't need the approval of an agent to create something. I think that is a real liberation.” Gore underscored that thought, saying “I want people to be creatively excited and freed up to try new things in their own work and their own lives. To prioritize their creativity without a sense of 'this has to be good,' but just because it is a way to live. Being a creative person is the only life.” Through their work, each of these authors, who have thrived through self-definition (and self-publication) underline the creative life as one that is important and wholly possible.
Ariel Gore and Tomas Moniz will be exhibiting at ABQ Zine Fest Seven, along with many others from around the city, state and country. They will also take part in panels and demos at the fest along with another guest presenter, Lawrence Lindell, creator of From Black Boy With Love zine. To officially kick off the seventh year of our beloved local zine fest, Gore and Moniz will do a reading on Friday, Oct. 6, at 6pm at Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW). ABQ Zine Fest Seven's celebration of print, self-expression and DIY culture is going down Saturday, Oct. 7, from 11am to 6pm at the Harwood Art Center (1114 Seventh St NW). Admission is free, but have cash on hand to support these zinesters and many others, and, of course to bring home and dive into some of the most exciting literature and art in print today.