QUESTIONS FOR CRAFTERS: Amy Egerdeen
Nightjar Books at City of Craft. Photo by Celine Kim.
Interview by Tara Bursey
Many of you will already be familiar with the work of Amy Egerdeen– you may remember her as a regular contributor to Toronto Craft Alert just a few short years ago, as well as for her hand bound books and journals made under the moniker Nightjar Books. After a couple of years in school, Amy is currently doing some really compelling and important work combining her love of books and zines with her job as a community worker. Amy and I chatted recently about zines, activism, and self-publishing as a vehicle for social change and personal empowerment. Prepare to be inspired, folks.
How long have you been making zines and handmade books? What originally got you interested in the world of zines and self-publishing?
I’ve always loved books aesthetically and started learning bookbinding when I was about 21, learning how to bind through books borrowed from the library. I got really into it and started my own business, Nightjar Books, selling books online and at craft sales. During this time, I also started editing a feminist group zine with Ellie Anglin (whose Toronto Arts Council-funded zine Tender Buttons I’m now helping to edit seven years later), a creative-writing and collage-based zine that we would distribute around Kitchener-Waterloo, which was part of a really interesting zine movement in the city. I got really into the idea of making my own content as well as coming up with ideas for how the zine would look and how it would be put together, so I started my own zine Heirloom, which became an ongoing project and I’m working on #6 right now. I was and still am into self-publishing because of the way it makes me productive- the idea of sharing work/publishing being inaccessible or a hard-won struggle really turns me away from being productive, makes me become critical. I love the idea of not letting the process of publishing get in the way of making and sharing books.
Issues of Amy’s zine, Heirloom.
Can you talk about what you do for a living and describe how you’ve brought zines and zine-making into your job as a community worker?
I moved to Toronto about five years ago and kept making books and zines while I did a feminist social work program at George Brown College. I then got hired at a high school to do a zine-making workshop with the girls group there and ended up staying for almost two years, facilitating the girls group and a summer program for youth, and all along the way we were making zines and doing self-publishing. The group was so into the zine idea– after the first workshop a couple of the women came back the next day with zines they’d made that night. We made a bunch of zines in the group, but then I also had women coming to me about projects they wanted to work on individually, or how to make a zine for their ISU- remember Independent Study Units back in twelfth grade? I worked with three ninth and tenth graders who wanted to make a zine about youth activism, and we made both a physical zine and blog so it was easily accessible outside the GTA.
I finished at the high school in early 2011 and started my new job, group facilitating at an incredible education program for young moms at Jane and Finch. I facilitate a class called Community Engagement where we talk about advocacy and activism, politics and social justice. I brought zine-making in right away to this group, and have worked on a few projects with them including a little zine called Day in the Life, in which the women wrote about their daily lives and how they’d be affected by the city budget cuts of January 2012. These zines actually got into city hall for the funding meeting– every councillor had a zine on their desk on the morning of the meeting. We also made a zine about sexuality that was really incredible, where the women talked about sexuality, power in sex and consent using collage and their own experiences. The process of making that zine started some amazing conversation and group-building. I also love using zine-making as a last-day activity in groups, where the women can create something together that they can have to reflect on their process, and have a physical reminder of the other women in the group.
With the various options (particularly online) that they have to self-publish today, it seems that teenagers still get really excited about the zine format. What do you think it is about zines that makes them so attractive to teenagers?
There’s something about the physicality of the zines– as much as online options are great in lots of ways and youth are initially drawn to internet-based information sharing, it’s actually really hard to make something exactly how you want it without lots of time/effort/computer knowledge– you generally have to stick to templates, blogs. But making collages, writing, drawing, and immediately photocopying and distributing it– that’s something that the group can truly feel involved in, they’re making something so completely their own and it’s exactly how they want it to look. It’s about community building, too – we do the workshops in a room where all the women can talk about what they’re working on and share resources, there’s an intensity about creating something as a group, talking about what you want to say with your collage or piece of writing. A lot of really amazing group building happens in that space of making zines together. Also, financially– we have a photocopier here, but we don’t have fifteen computers for all the women to use, so the idea of each woman sitting behind a computer versus all the women talking around a table while they physically create art and information and share resources and ideas…I think there is a huge difference in what that looks like and what comes out of it in the end.
Do you think that zines have the power to create social change?
Completely. The zine I mentioned before– in the first group, we made a zine about the women’s lives called Day in the Life. The idea was that politicians and decision makers have no idea about the lives of the women they’re affecting with their funding cuts to programs and services. They don’t know poverty, they don’t seem to think about how cuts to TTC night buses, for example, will directly affect women who work overnight jobs and literally have no other way to get to work. The women proposed making this into a project, and we decided on a zine because we could make lots of copies and physically take it to City Hall. The women wrote about their lives – focusing on childcare cuts, or housing, or TTC, or whatever they wanted to talk about – and they edited each other’s work and made art for the cover, (and we made) about 100 copies. The day before the city budget meeting, I contacted our local councillor to tell him about our zine, and he took fifty copies with him to the meeting – each councillor had a copy of Day in the Life. When the worst funding cuts were mostly avoided, we as a group talked about this being directly impacted by our work and the work of all the activists and advocates who were part of the fight to keep Toronto’s funding. I think not only did it impact City Hall, it impacted this group of women to know that they can actively make change happen in the political sphere through their own words and stories. Even just the act of zine-making, I think, creates community and creates a sense of being able to make things happen, to physically be involved in politics or decision making processes, to feel a sense of being heard.
Filed under: Questions for Crafters