carnegie library of pittsburgh interview

by erinohsays

Jude Vachon of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh interviewed me for their zine blog!

Hi! Tell us who you are! 

Erin Oh! I am a zine-maker, Pittsburgh Zine Fair co-founder, banjo player, and organizer for a city-wide campaign to raise the Pittsburgh Public School graduation rate.

When did you start writing zines?

I wrote my first zine in 2010 with my friend Michael Daly in Waterloo, Ontario.

Why did you start writing zines?

Michael and I were both diagnosed with bi-polar disorder around the same time, and we wanted to talk about how it felt to have that diagnosis. We talked about how we use writing as a way to channel our creative impulses into a productive force, and what that process means to us. Our first zine together is called “Conversations I Wish I Had” and it’s a dialogue between the two of us about how we’ve dealt with depression and mania, and how we use creativity to deal with both ends of the bi-polar spectrum. Throughout the zine, we included bits of writing we’ve each done, and graphics from old books that I saved from the trash at the library where I used to work. We traded and sold our zine on a pay-what-you-can basis at a zine fair in Ontario, and it felt really good to not be afraid of talking about our diagnoses. There is a lot of stigma around bi-polar disorder, depression, and mania, and it felt like a small but significant way of breaking down some of the silence and shame that so often surrounds psychiatric diagnoses.


Do you have any influences? 

Oh my goodness I love Patti Smith so much. Her music, voice, writing, and aesthetic all inform how I approach my own writing and self-publishing. I read Just Kids when it was first came out and I loved learning about how she created and why she created, especially when she was my age. I recently worked on a feminist zine project with Toronto-based artists GB Jones and Caroline Azar of 1980s riot grrl band Fifth Column and they remain an important influence on my perspective and approach to zine-making as well.


What do you write about?

I started writing zines mostly about personal issues and stories: mental health, relationships, dreams, but recently I’ve been writing more about how my own identity relates to larger ideas around culture and social institutions. I’ve made zines about Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, Frantz Fanon Wretched of the Earth, as well as anti-racist and feminist approaches to education.  Mostly, I’m now interested in making zines as a way to hash out my own emerging ideas and opinions about how to dismantle oppressive schooling structures by building upon anti-colonial values and approaches to liberatory education.

Why are zines important to you?

It is so much fun making zines! Honestly that’s what it all comes down to. I love cutting up old books, saving would-be thrown away grainy images from old encyclopedias and terrible 1950s magazines, and making something with my hands. As someone who uses writing as one of my primary modes of creative expression, it can get really isolating and boring just typing into a laptop or jotting words into a journal that no one else is going to read. Making zines has given me excuses to travel to new cities (I’ve gone to zine fairs in Philadelphia, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto and of course Pittsburgh) and it creates an excuse to talk with new people making cool work.

Recommend a zine(s)

Race Riot, Doris, Deafula, Telegram, The Broken Teapot, Anarchy and Alcohol

Tell us anything you feel moved to!

Bloom where you’re planted!