Underground Press Conference

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The Underground Press Conference (UPC) was an important, if short-lived, mid-1990s gathering of zine publishers to discuss and debate the zine phenomenon and attract public attention to zines. Founded in early 1994 by Batya Goldman, publisher of Mary Kuntz Press, and Gabriele Strohschen, editor of WISdom, the UPC was held in August of 1994 and 1995 at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.

The conference's planning committee consisted five individuals in addition to Goldman and Strohschen, including David Hernandez, Chicago's unofficial Poet Laureate; Tim W. Brown, editor of Tomorrow Magazine; Cheryl Townsend, publisher of Implosion Press; Lisa Kucharski, poet, photographer and sound artist; and Ted Anton, professor of English at DePaul Universty, who facilitated the relationship between the conference and university.

Reflecting the interests and professional networks of the planning committee, UPC's first year mainly attracted zinesters involved with publishing poetry zines and chapbooks. Participants included Bob Grumman, avant garde poetry critic; Ashley Parker Owens, editor of the mail art zine Global Mail; Ron Androla, publisher of Translucent Tendency Press; Kurt Nimmo, publisher of Persona Non Grata Press; Alfred Vitale, editor of Rant; Michael Basinski, rare book librarian at SUNY-Buffalo; Paul Hoover, editor of the Norton Anthology of Post-Modern American Poetry; and Ken Wachsberger, editor of Voices from the Underground.

These speakers and others addressed topics in panel discussions ranging from the practical, such as zine marketing and distribution, zine production, and electronic publishing (then in its infancy), to the theoretical, such as censorship, political activism and academic study of underground literature. Other conference programming included the Great American Lit Sale, an outdoor exhibit by over sixty zine and chapbook publishers; a Read-In of poets reading their work coordinated by C.J. Laity, editor of Letter eX, Chicago's monthly poetry newsletter; and a Saturday Night Underground Ball at The Hothouse featuring poet/performers David Hernandez and Street Sounds and Marvin Tate and D'Settlement. The 1994 UPC also marked the appearance of U-Direct (1994-1996), a bimonthly zine dedicated to networking among zinesters.

The 1995 Underground Press Conference took on a decidedly different character than the 1994 version, focusing less on poetry and more on typical nonfiction zine fare. UPC '95 drew a number of zinesters recognizable to this day, including R. Seth Friedman, editor of Factsheet 5; Chip Rowe, publisher of Chip's Closet Cleaner; Thomas Frank, editor of The Baffler; Pagan Kennedy, publisher of Pagan's Head; Abe Peck, publisher of the Chicago Seed; Joshua C. Mares, publisher of Houston's Propaganda and Propaganda en Español; Jen Angel, publisher of Fucktooth; Haki Madhubti, director of Third World Press; and Heath Row, then publisher of the reviewzine Karma Lapel. Gabriele Strohschen left the planning committee and Ashley Parker Owens joined; otherwise, the planning committee remained the same as in 1994.

Highlighting 1995 UPC programming was the launch of an underground press archive and six-month-long exhibit of zines at DePaul University's John T. Richardson Library. Conference participants were asked to donate copies of their zines and chapbooks to start the repository, which exists today as the Chicago Great Lakes Underground Press Collection.

Panel topics again covered practical and theoretical issues of concern to zinesters, including zine- and book-making; Internet publishing; zine reviewing; feminist and riot grrrl zines; gay and lesbian writing; grants and fellowships; documentation of the zine movement; and underground press history from Vietnam to the present. A notable moment occurred during the censorship panel when poet Paul Weinman stripped naked to exercise his freedom of expression. Like the previous year the conference hosted a large zine sale, a marathon open mic reading, and a Saturday Night Underground Ball at The Bop Shop featuring perfomances by Jenny Magnus and the Vulva Club and Colby Wayne Perez and Joshua C. Mares and Vatobilly Music.

The 1995 UPC was not without controversy. Quimby's store owner Steven Svymbersky and zine publisher Dan Kelly distributed an alternative conference program parodying the conference, its content, the scene's feuds and personality conflicts, and zine media saturation in general.

Uniting a diverse and fractious zine scene proved too daunting a task for UPC planners and other interested parties. Criticism of UPC's association with a university, squabbles over "authenticity," accusations of "selling out" and jealousy of self-styled zine scene leaders who felt their thunder stolen eventually led to UPC's demise. Like zines themselves, which often come and go after a short but intense run, UPC, too, proved to be an ephemeral phenomenon.

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