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Dr. Mimi Thi Nguyen presents zines as sites for creative political change

On April 25, live on Zoom from the Special Collections and Archives’ Robinson Room, Dr. Mimi Thi Nguyen presented a talk on her punk background, experiences in the zine world, and use of zines as political tools for change. Many tuned in to hear her presentation, some even joining in for an optional in-person zine workshop where participants could create, donate, and archive their zines to the College Archives.

Zines are self-published, handmade booklets often containing poetry, political commentary and art. Commonly handwritten with stylized markings and creative imagery, zines have historically been used as a material form for both ethnically and ideologically marginalized  groups to engage in self-expression free of censorship and fused with a tempo of urgency and immediacy. Rather than writing to appeal to an audience, zines are often published in search of community.

Nguyen is a Vietnamese-born American scholar, self-proclaimed punk, and zine creator who has worked as Associate Professor and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and has continuously taught, written, and presented on zines as sites for creative, political change. Her origins in the zine world began in 1991.

“I listened to a lot of political punk and anarchist punk, when I was first getting into punk, and a lot of it was just like this, in musical form, this like shaking people and being like ‘what is going on,’ ‘do you see this?,’ like ‘we need to organize ourselves differently’,” Nguyen said during the talk. “There’s so many things we could do differently in the world and the way in which we organize ourselves now is so awful and dehumanizing and terrible, and all of that stuff, and I want to be able to communicate that too.”

Her love and involvement with the punk movement has fueled her drive to create informative political zines in hope of waking people up and shedding light on the reality of the world.

“That is how I approach my writing as well, the kind of shaking anybody who bothers to run across my writing and being like ‘do you see this,’ ‘we could do this differently, we could be otherwise to each other,’ and that was really what fuels my zines, but also my academic work as well.”

Before her involvement with zines, Nguyen started off writing politically-minded opinions.

“With punk, I became a political writer, that’s what I started doing. I had a lot of feelings about war and it was like the time of the Gulf War and I was writing for the student newspaper columns about the Gulf War and the Bush Administration and the kind of process of communicating my rage to others was really important to me,” Nguyen said.

At a young age, even before her involvement with the punk counterculture, Nguyen knew that she wanted to write, using her voice as a medium for outward expression.

“When I was a lot younger, before I became punk, I thought that I definitely wanted to be a writer, but I thought I wanted to write children’s and young adult fantasy fiction which is still the kind of fiction I read,” she said towards the end of the event.

As the event came to a close, Nguyen reflected on how much she has cherished life as a punk, unafraid of being herself and advocating for what she believes in.

“I really love telling the story of what punk means to me,” Nguyen said. “It’s really important to me, like the first part of this piece is actually the interjection to the collection of columns from punk planet and maximum rock and roll that I did, that some punk friends of mine are putting out. My reflections are, I am very happy to be an old punk, and it gives me a way to move through the world that is very precious to me.”

~ Jenna Boling `24

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