Sandra Knauf is the driving force behind Greenwoman, a zine devoted to gardening, environmentalism, and all manner of outdoor DIY pursuits. It was an early favorite amongst the members of the Zine Committee for its impassioned (and educational) writing and a quirky, homemade design sense. Several of the issues are currently available for checkout, and the rest of the series will soon be added to the Collection.
Tell me about your first exposure to zines.
Being an unhip, middle-aged Coloradoan, zines were part of the great unknown for me until a few years ago, where I first read about them in Ariel Gore’s wonderful book How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. Her book advises writers to just get your work out there, publish it yourself if you have to, and she mentioned zines. I ordered a few zines from Microcosm Publishing to find out what they were all about and a new world opened up. I fell in love! Later, I figured out that I had been exposed to zines before. Years ago I had read Al Hoff’s book Thrift Score, the definitive book about thrift store shopping/American material culture & kitsch/etc. She published these little booklets before the book, and I wound up buying all the issues that she had. She was selling them for super cheap, like 50 cents apiece, and they were so fantasic! After reading Gore’s book, I thought, oh, those were zines! Just this last summer I noticed that some things I had in my library, handmade booklets on herbs and cooking, for example, were really zines.
How long have you been writing Greenwoman? How did the zine come to be?
I published the first issue of Greenwoman in May 2008. After reading Ariel Gore’s book and being floored by the talent of some of these zine writers, I thought, okay, I want to do this! I’d worked on a fundraising book on gardening while in a garden club a few years earlier and so I had a little experience and I felt confident that I could publish something entertaining and educational. I can’t even tell you how psyched I was and how excited to begin!
What made you decide to create a print zine? What sort of writing had you done prior to Greenwoman? Was there ever any temptation to just slap it all up online?
Slapping it online? Hell no! I’m a hand’s on person. I see making zines like cooking, like making a garden, a home; I relish the work, the planning, the intricacy, the intimacy. Also, I want to present my best work possible, and it would be impossible (at least for me) to do that on a blog. To me, writing takes time and a lot of thought and finessing and rewriting…and even though I’m not a perfectionist, I always see how I could have done it a little better. It’s fun, because you make yourself a deadline and you get it out there, so you see results. And zines are REAL, you can hold them in your hand, send them to people you love, let them clutter up your house.
I did have quite a bit of writing experience before Greenwoman. Many years, in fact, as a suffering, mostly unpaid, but happy writer that continues today. I’d written for local publications, did a few magazine features, had some humorous essays published in the garden journal GreenPrints, written six columns as an op-ed guest columnist for The Denver Post. I’d even read my essays on the radio (KRCC, southern Colorado’s NPR affiliate). I’ve been in love with writing, fiction and nonfiction, for many years, and by many, I mean almost two decades. From my first creative writing class, when I went back to college in the early 1990s.
What kind of work goes into creating an issue? How much time?
I spend a lot of time thinking about it. I think about what I can do for a cover, what artwork I have available (collages I’ve made), what I can come up with. I have a pretty big collection of gardening books, catalogues, pictures, a lot of vintage stuff, Dover books, most bought at flea markets, yard sales and thrift stores–plenty of material to work with. I thought it would be funny to have these “Veggie Comix” made from embroidery transfers of decades past, something I was fascinated with as a kid–anthromorphic vegetables & fruits, so I do a couple of pages of those in each issue. I bought those transfers on eBay.
For the writing part, I send out S.O.S’s to my writing friends– “please, I don’t wanna do this alone!” I whine, and I bribe them with free copies and plants from my garden. I tend to get very sick of my own voice in these productions, so I really try to get some friends to join me. So far, I’ve been thrilled to publish some of their work, as well as a story by Bruce Holland Rogers, an award-winning fantasy writer, and an essay on bees from the late Al Meyerhoff, an environmental lawyer who had been published in the L.A. Times and The Huffington Post. These last two were fabulous scores from really wonderful men who either let me reprint their work for free or for a pittance. It made me realize, once more, the generosity and incredible goodwill among writers.
So far, I’ve always used as a main essay one of my “old” writings, something I wrote about during the last decade while learning how to become a gardener and gardening with my children, transforming our urban property, doing this “country in the city” thing. This is really why I started the zine, because I had these stories that I cared about and I wanted to see them published. That and because promoting gardening and environmentalism is of the utmost importance in my life. I still have a couple of essays I want to publish from back then, and I’m always out there, having new adventures. Once I figure out what I’m going to do and can focus on putting the issue together, it goes pretty fast. It takes a couple of weeks, working a couple hours here, a few there…maybe 40 hours altogether, I’d guess, in actual hands-on work.
Where do you get your ideas from? Your life and your work seem very much intertwined.
I have so many ideas, Matthew, it’s like a bad case of ADD every day. I get caught up in a lot of things. I love gardening and Nature, and that’s the focus of this zine, and I’m always thinking about it, about what I’m going to do this year (join a community garden, keep working on a native plant documentation project at our Red Rocks Canyon Park, and, I’m going to try to do something super-subversive and funny, grow Peter Peppers–native peppers that, I kid you not, actually resemble penises). I’m always thinking about what I want to write about, but I also get easily obsessed with other things. For instance, these last few months I’ve been fascinated with Julie & Julia (and learning about Julie Powell, Julia Child, and reading all these books, and trying to figure out why Nora Ephron did not portray Julie Powell true-to-life in the film), and now I’m into the Grey Gardens thing, exploring these fascinating anarchist women who lived in shocking filth and a strange combination of both unparalleled freedom and imprisonment. I could make a zine about both of these subjects; there are so many rich subjects. My zines and my life are completely intertwined. I think my feminism, my love of film and food and a lot of other things overlap, and some of the strange obsessions spill over into Greenwoman.
Speaking of which, I liked the twine binding and collaged covers. Do you do all of the art yourself?
No, I steal some of it! Actually, I felt very guilty after the last issue because I used a picture of an actor, and I shouldn’t have, it was copyright infringement. But I wasn’t clear on all that (I know, no excuse), and I’m not going to make that mistake again. That said, thanks for the compliment. Everything else is legit. The covers are from photographs I’ve taken and from my collages. I love visual art, although I have no training. I’m a folk artist, I guess. I took the idea of the twine binding from Christoph Meyers’ zines, 28 Pages Lovingly Bound With Twine. Christoph Meyers was one of the first zine authors I fell in love with, he’s an incredible writer, and I really liked the craftmanship and look and feel of the twine bindings, so I borrowed that idea. It’s really a pain in the ass to tie all those knots, but it’s a labor of LOVE and I think people respond to that.
From your work with Greenwoman, have you made connections with other zine writers? What sort of feedback and reactions do you get from your audience?
I’ve contacted a few zinesters and a few have contacted me, and Greenwoman may have a few fans out there, but I haven’t received a lot of mail because, maybe, I don’t know, my zine’s more polished, less punk, and I’m older, kind of an old lady in the zinester world (I just turned 47) so maybe the people who read zines aren’t as comfortable contacting me. They don’t realize that, inside, I’m just an advanced twelve-year-old.
I’ve written several of the writers I love, including Celia Perez (I Dreamed I was Assertive). I was contacted by Dan Murphy, who writes The Juniper. Dan is super-cool, and such a garden lover. I totally develop crushes on all the people I connect with because zines are such a passionate media. Maybe a few zines are made out of anger, and I can relate to that, but the vast majority are made from love, and it shows. Currently, and I’m sorry if this sounds kiss-ass, but I’m being completely sincere, I have to say I am in love with zine librarians. I’ve had a lot of contact with them as I’ve sought out a few librarys to send Greenwoman to. Jessy Randall (a brilliant poet and YA novelist who is the zine librarian at Colorado College, just a couple of miles from where I live) is also a zinester. Jenna Freedman, the zine librarian at Barnard College where they collect zines by women, rocks. She does a lot for the zine community and does her own entertaining and brainy zine, Lower East Side Librarian. Most of the zine libriarians I know are writers, educators, and just brilliant people. They’re on the cusp of seeing what is important now in American literature. I also love Sage Adderly, who carries my zines in her distro, Sweet Candy Distro. She’s a mama, a tattoo artist, a sensitive, talented writer of zines (Marked for Life) and a beautiful human being.
What zines are you enjoying right now?
Currently I’m reading a book that was compiled from zines, Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills, by Raleigh Briggs, which has a lot of natural house cleaning, health and beauty recipes. It’s fantasic. And I just ordered Christoph Meyer’s book What I Did Last Summer. Since October, I have not had enough zine reading time. I was recently thinking I need to buy MORE zines, even though I still have some I haven’t read. I’m kind of greedy. I’d love to read more of some writers I admire, Celia Perez and the author of Trailer Trash, Michele Shute. I’d like to order tons of zines, just to search for more interesting writers to become enamored with–maybe this summer.
Do you think zines have a place in public libraries?
You’re kidding, right? Okay, you’ve forced me to climb atop my high horse. I’ve been writing a long time, I’ve loved reading since kindergarten, and I even managed to get a B.A. in English, so I know a little about literature. Zines are so much more important than many of the mass produced “products” in libraries today (you know what they are, like something with Dummies in the title, or Goosebumps, or the latest celebrity or politician tell-all-for-money). Zines are the most authentic form of writing self-expression, because no one is telling you what to do, there’s no editorial or market imput. Zines are produced by one person or a small group of people who write solely because they love the printed word and they feel they have something to say. Zines are the opposite of corporate publishing garbage. They may not always be beautiful or perfectly written but they are pure, and many are fabulous examples of living history–chronicles of what it’s like to live in the good old U.S. of A. from the point of view of a real person (versus, for example, a celebrity).
Would you give us a preview of what you are working on next?
For Greenwoman Issue #6–grab the breath mints, I’m going to write about garlic. I got turned on, so to speak, to garlic this last year when a local gardening guru, Larry Stebbins, the director of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens (they create community gardens in the Pike’s Peak region and also provide horticultural education) was rhapsodizing about his home-grown garlic. He said that when he bakes lasagna the aroma is so heavenly that his neighbors come over to investigate! Of course, that intrigued me. Then I was astonished to learn that 70% of garlic sold in the U.S. comes from China! Internally I screamed, nooooooooooo! So I’m going to try to inspire people to grow their own garlic. I’ve discovered there are lots of different varieties, Creole garlics, Italian garlics, and the one I’m going to try to grow, Inchelium Red, is a garlic that was found on the Colville Indian Reservation in Inchelium, Washington. I’ve cooked with a few of these garlics this fall and winter, so I know first hand, they’re fabulous. I’m probably also going to publish a story on a community garden experience gone wrong, and, hopefully, I’ll scavenge some brilliant work from friends. (Note to readers–if you are a garden writer, contact me!!) This next issue will debut the art of my friend Rachael Kloster, who will translate the lowly garlic into a beautiful lino cut or illustration and maybe perform one or two other amazing feats. I’m also in the process of developing another publication. I would like to publish a more inclusive and diverse collection of garden writing and art. Working on Greenwoman, I hope, will be a stepping stone to a bigger and better garden writing magazine.