Zine Supreme #4: Dani Burlison
Welcome to Zine Supreme, a series in which I ask women and gender non-conforming folks making magic happen through the written and printed word about their work. Today's interview is with Dani Burlison — author, long-time zinester, and die-hard feminist. She wanted to talk to me about her most recent zine, Lady Parts: My Life With and Without a Uterus, and smashing stigma.
What prompted you to become a creator? How did you start making zines?
I've been writing since I was a little kid. I started with short stories and moved into ridiculously tragic poetry when I was listening to a lot of The Cure as a teenager. But I never thought about publishing or making anything for other people until I was well into my 30's. I didn't really have the encouragement or the self-esteem that it takes to be a writer. Essentially, I didn't really think anyone would care about what I had to say.
As for zine-making, my friend and fellow writer Leilani Clark and I started the Petals & Bones Zines (and writing workshops) about six years ago after we had both contributed to and worked on various other projects. For me, creating those zines, which were mostly collections of short stories, poetry and essays from a range of writers and artists, was empowering. I loved the idea of showcasing talent and insights that I wasn't really reading anywhere else, and it was an added bonus to have amazing local artists design each cover.
What are your intentions as a creator? What do you hope to achieve when you make a zine?
For Lady Parts specifically, I wanted full creative license with how my work would be presented. Of course the appearance of the zine was important, but I also wanted my personal essays presented alongside the work of women that I admire. With a zine that focuses on reproductive rights and the various issues women face, it was critical that I include the perspectives of women of color and trans women as well, so that's what I did. I want people who pick up this zine to find something they can relate to. I want women to hold it in their hands and connect with it, whether through the first person essays about abortion or hysterectomy, or about the complexities of gender reassignment. I'd also be happy if women tried the self-care suggestions or herbal recipes and it brought them a little ray of happiness or ease.
How do you feel your identities impact your work?
Growing up poor kind of fucked with my head and I definitely see those early experiences and my identity as a “white trash” kid informing the way I go about my work as a writer. First, I struggle with issues around scarcity, like there aren't enough opportunities for me or there isn't a clearly defined space for me in the literary world. It's almost like I'm afraid of people discovering that I don't have an MFA or health insurance and that if I'm found out I'll be exiled or something. Next, I sometimes feel guilty writing for the sake of writing, and tell myself I should just focus on paid work, like my journalism and teaching. Being a single mom has had an impact in that regard, too — like I should only focus on my kids and that writing is a luxury. I've always felt like an outsider. Now that my kids are older and I have more free time and less guilt, I'm more inclined to prioritize my writing. It has been an interesting process, breaking through some of those negative ideas about myself and redefining what is “valuable.” It is also kind of funny and weird to be making zines in my 40's but I love it and am working on a follow-up to Lady Parts right now.
What materials do you use in your zines, and what’s your creative process like?
For Lady Parts, I wanted the aesthetic to be clean and straightforward in order to highlight the writing in it. Initially, I planned on having my daughters illustrate it but opted instead to use vintage images that I gleaned from New York Public Library's public domain collection. A friend did the layout and I'm so pleased with how it turned out.
Because of the insecurities I mentioned before, my creative process is so ridiculously messy. I work best with deadlines and I can often be found in my disastrously messy home office— a kitchen nook — eating almond butter straight from the jar, listening to Agnes Obel or Kate Bush, grumbling at my cats to leave me alone and rewriting slash questioning slash hating every sentence I write.
I struggle so much with my inner critic. It's a miracle that anything I write makes it into the world.
What’s the hardest part of this work — and why is it worth it?
The hardest part of this project in particular was meeting my own deadline. I was ambitious and thought I'd have everything written and ready to print just a couple of months after major surgery. Boy was that a ridiculous idea! The whole process was very time consuming.
The other part that was challenging for me was to really be okay with sharing a very personal, very traumatic story about an abortion I had when I was 18. I am very openly pro-choice, which is one thing. But when you start actually telling people, “yes, I had an abortion and it was like this and I don't regret it,” there is a scary vulnerability that comes with that. Especially when you have very anti-choice family members and a presidential candidate demonizing women for ending their pregnancies and giving blatant (and insane) misinformation about abortion.
And yes, I think this project was worth it. So many people have reached out to share their own stories and to thank me for the essays, interviews and recipes in the zine. It feels good to know that this zine is important to so many women (and men, too).
Which of your zines or zines you’ve been a part of is your own favorite, and why?
In 2004, a couple of fellow single moms and I went to New York to protest the Republican Convention and put together our stories in a zine called “Catastrophic Success” (based on that stupid comment from Bush). It was one of the first zine projects I was involved with and I loved it so much.
I've written for a variety of other zines, too but I think I'm most proud of Lady Parts. It is a project I concocted, wrote and designed entirely on my own while recovering from some life-changing physical and emotional challenges and I'm so happy it is out in the world.
Carmen Rios is the Managing Editor at Argot Magazine, Digital Editor at Ms., Community Director and Feminism Editor at Autostraddle, and a Contributor at Everyday Feminism. Her words have been published by BuzzFeed, BITCH, ElixHER, MEL, and Feministing, among others, and she was once a blogger and activist with the SPARK Movement, a writer at Mic, and Managing Editor of THE LINE Campaign blog. Carmen's successful work for over eight years in digital feminism—as a writer, social media maven, and activist leader—has earned her the titles of “digital native,” “intimidating to some,” and “vapid and uninteresting.” She's too honest on Twitter , too vague on Tumblr and consistently uses the same Instagram filter.
You can also find her at carmenfuckingrios.com