April in Champaign-Urbana is one month of arts festivals, with something for everyone, So if zines and indie pubs are your jam, you'll definitely want to check out Small Press Fest! this Saturday at the Independent Media Center. As a zine nerd myself, I was so excited to sit down with Sarah Christensen, festival co-organizer with Shoshana Vegh-Gaynor in the Ricker Art and Architecture Library, Courtney Becks in the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library, DoMonique Arnold at Uni High, and Kathrynn LaBarre in the iSchool, and learn more about how Small Press Fest! came about and what you'll want to check out when you go.  

Smile Politely: What was the inspiration behind Small Press Fest?

Sarah Christensen: I had taken a screenprinting class last year where we did a zine assignment, and I just loved everything about it. There’s so much creativity, craftsmanship, and thought that goes into them, and they can be either really personal or really instructive. I had heard that there was a zine fest in town several years ago but that the organizers were no longer in town, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring it back, but also to include other sorts of short-run and self-published material.

SP: What did you learn about indie publication and zines as you were researching and preparing?

Christensen: Since I’m embarrassingly late to zines and self-publishing, having only learned about them a year ago, I’ve learned a ton. I think my main takeaway is how important alternative media is in presenting and highlighting a broader spectrum of identities and experiences than is typically offered in mainstream media. As a librarian, I love that self-published work can challenge the status quo in terms of authority, credibility, and expertise.

SP: What are the top three things you hope visitors will get out this event?

Christensen: Most of all I hope that visitors will have fun exploring all of the work that will be at the Fest, but I’d also love for visitors to get a sense of all the different types of small press publications and to feel empowered to publish something themselves.

SP: What's been the most exciting part of planning this festival?

Christensen: It’s always a challenge to start something new, but realizing just how wonderful and supportive the DIY and small press community is has been exciting. I’ve reached out to a lot of people during the planning process, and many of them have connected me to others, shared information, or offered to help in some way. Yesterday we kicked the week off with Ricker Library’s artist book and zine collection showcase, and it was amazing to see all this coming to life and to see such a positive response from visitors

SP: What can visitors expect? What are some of the highlights?

Christensen: We’ll have something for everyone there — there’s going to be a lot of incredible work available by local, regional (some groups are coming from Chicago and Indiana), and even international artists and publishers, and the Noble Print Club will be live printing tote bags to give away to the first 100 visitors. One of the artists will be hosting an interactive children’s activity at her table, and we’ll also outline a designated kid-friendly area so feel free to bring the family!


Devin Morris (see his Dot Zine below)

Anthony Rayson from the South Chicago ABC Zine Distro and Rachel Rassmussen from Books to Prisoners, who are doing important work with prison communities, will be giving a talk early on in the day, which will be followed by a panel discussion and then lightning talks by many of the participating publishers. I’m especially looking forward to the panel – we’ve brought in Devin Morris from New York who wears many hats as an artist, zine editor, and zine festival host. He’ll be joined by Mimi Thi Nguyen, an Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American studies, and also a rockstar in the zine world, and Mugiko Nishikawa, a visiting scholar from Konan University in Kobe, Japan who is one of the founders of the Grassroots Media Project.

Mugiko Nishikawa's Grassroots Media Zine

Small Press Fest
Saturday, April 13th, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Independent Media Center
202 S Broadway Ave, Urbana
Free and open to the public

Check out the full Small Press Fest schedule here

Photos courtesy of Small Press Fest!