Visit the website of the Southwest Virginia LGBQT+ History Project and it’s immediately clear that this grassroots effort is well organized and fueled with a level of sophistication and rigor. Co-lead by Roanoke College Assistant Professor of Public History Dr. Gregory Rosenthal and Roanoke writer and organizer Rachel Barton, the History Project has accomplished a good deal in its first two years. It’s collected more than two dozen hour-long oral histories and the archived much of the community’s large collection of printed and digital materials in partnership with the Virginia Room of the Roanoke Public Library, Fintel Library at Roanoke College, and the Roanoke Diversity Center. And it’s only a piece of what they’ve been up to. There are city walking tours, articles, and an online exhibition.
And then: the stacks of folded paper with a cut-and-paste look, center stapled and illustrated with simple pen and ink drawings—a zine. Intentionally rough, local, underground, and accessible, issue one appeared this summer.
Rachel Barton fills us in on the effort.
BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke: How did the idea for the zine come about?
RB: History Project Co-Leader Gregory Rosenthal and I had been talking about doing a zine for quite some time. We really liked the idea of bringing more queer writers together and having Roanoke locals write about local LGBTQ history.
All the old gay activist organizations in Roanoke in the ’70s and ’80s had newsletter publications they would send out to their members. They included comics, queer reviews, essays, and a lot of sharp political commentary. We wanted to bring that back in a sense by giving us our own publication, but something more modern with the focus exclusively on art and writing.
It’s one of the arts initiatives in which we want to bring LGBTQ history to the public. At our envisioning workshop last year, we decided to work on a theater project, a historical marker project, and this zine.
BCR: Why is a zine the right form for what you’re trying to do?
RB: The History Project is an entirely volunteer-run enterprise. None of us get paid, and we don’t have any money, so the zine seemed a fitting representation of our focus on grassroots, at-home community organizing. I like how homemade zines are. When I was making it, I basically just had my laptop and a ballpoint pin, and I did all the drawings and the layout myself. It’s cheap and local and made with love!
Plus, it’s a great outreach tool. Zines are small and portable. We put them at coffee shops and community centers and anywhere else that will take them around the city, and people can transiently pick them up, flip through the pages, and put them down again. They take up real space, and that’s important to us. We want queer art and queer history to have an immutable presence in this city. I love imagining folks getting coffee on a busy weekday morning and stumbling across one of our zines, and then picking it up and seeing all of this amazing local queer art, and knowing in a very tangible way that that exists here.
BCR: What do you do to encourage submissions?
RB: We make posters and hang them around town. We also try to spread the word as much as we can on social media. We want as many people to know about this as possible.
BCR: Spanning the efforts of the Southwest Virginia LGBQT+ History Project, there’s great material for inspiration: the walking tours, the library, the archives, the online materials, and the community you’re fostering. How are you seeing the project inspire new interest in history, or in writing?
RB: For this next zine, I would like to see more people utilize the research we’ve done to create some great pieces about local history. There are so many great stories out there that deserve to be told. But even when the pieces we get are more autobiographical, people are making connections between their personal story and the history of LGBTQ life and liberation in Southwest Virginia broadly. Last issue, we had some great autobiographical poetry submissions by a local teenager about how queer people are still struggling for acceptance and love. And I think that’s what the zine illustrates: a history of struggle, liberation, and acceptance that is cross-generational and unfixed from time. The zine is a testament to how history is a living thing; it somewhat blurs the lines between past and present.
BCR: You include prose fiction and nonfiction, poetry, drawings, collage, and photography in this first issue. Are there any other forms that you’re really exciting about including?
RB: I would really love to see someone try their hands at a comic submission. I’d also like to see more essays. A lot of those old gay newsletters had “gay reviews” of local popular restaurants and bars. I’d love to see someone revisit that! I want people to have fun with it. That’s the most essential part.
BCR: When will the next issue come out?
RB: The next issue is slated for publication January 2017. We’re accepting submissions until December 1st. This next zine is coming out right around the holidays so we’re doing a “home” theme. We want art and writing that says something about what home means to LGBTQ folks.
- Submit your home-themed writing (poetry, fiction and nonfiction prose up to 500 words) and art until 1 December. Mail submissions to the address below or email Rachel.
Dr. Gregory Rosenthal
Assistant Professor of Public History
221 College Lane
Salem, VA 24153
- Learn more about Southwest Virginia LGBQT+ History Project efforts such as the archives, the oral history project, Roanoke walking tours, and more.
- Attend the History Project’s second anniversary party and year-three envisioning workshop at 6 PM on Wednesday, Sept. 20, at the CoLab in Grandin Village. ★