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HazMat's about 'zines, not chemicals
By Christine Stoddard
I met Sean Walsh at the 2012 Richmond 'Zine Festival as he was hopping from table to table, introducing his distro. Sean's shy smile and suspenders made him unforgettable. I should've suspected that he was guilty of alternative literary mischief. As a matter of fact, Sean and his friends had recently opened Hazardous Materials in Northside Richmond, Virginia.
A couple of weeks after the 'zine fest, I asked Sean a few questions about HazMat. Here are his responses:
Photo courtesy of Hazardous Materials.
Let's start off with a wee intro about yourself. In a nutshell (or a snail shell--snail shells are prettier), who are you?
I’m one of the founding members and the 'zine librarian at Hazardous Materials. I work with the Neighborhood Resource Center in Fulton Hill and live in a collective house in Jackson Ward. Before moving to Richmond in June of 2011, I lived in New Orleans, where I taught middle school mathematics and was a part of the Iron Rail Book Collective and the now-defunct Crescent City Anti-Authoritarians.
Give me the low-down on Hazardous Materials. What is it and where did the idea for it originate?
Hazardous Materials is an all-volunteer, collectively-run 'zine shop and a community workspace located in Northside Richmond, Virginia. It can be hard to describe the space as just one thing: it’s a shop, a public studio, and a community space. We are open to the public and provide printing and copying service free of charge. In this way, we are really part of an experiment in alternative exchange; we aren’t out to make money, just 'zines. Hazardous Materials was really born out of the idea of creating a space where people can come and feel empowered to create their own 'zine with all of the materials available to do so, regardless of cost. Often not having access to a printer or copier is one of the main hindrances to people making 'zines and getting them out there for others to read.
Just for the record, who else is involved with Hazardous Materials? How would you describe your team?
There is a core collective of four members: Tim Dorsey, Conor Harris, Liz Keily, and myself. We also have about 6-8 additional volunteers that help run the space. They staff our open hours and table events with our collective members. We’re kind of a rag-tag group of friends who have known each other for year and who all have a love of writing and self-expression.
What is a typical day at Hazardous Materials like?
A typical day is pretty laid-back. One of our collective members or volunteers opens the shop around 1 p.m. and we close up around 6 p.m. What happens in-between can really vary; some days are really quiet and others can be hectically busy. We have people who stop by to peruse our stock of 'zines and used books, friends who come to relax in our space, and writers and zinesters who want to use our printer or copier. We encourage our staffers to use their time volunteering to write or work on their own 'zines when they aren’t helping visitors.
Photo courtesy of Hazardous Materials.
When did you first encounter 'zines? Why are you a part of 'zine culture today?
I was introduced to 'zines in college. A friend of mine, Annie Brown, started a collaborative 'zine about womyn’s sexuality, LIPS. Annie is an amazing organizer, and she empowered so many people by creating an avenue of self-expression. When I moved to New Orleans after college, I became involved with the Iron Rail Book Collective, which runs a radical book store and lending library. The Aboveground 'Zine Library was also in the same space. It’s one of the largest collections of 'zines in the country. My love of 'zines grew over the three years I was involved there.
I am part of 'zine culture because I believe in the power of self-expression. 'Zines have been a life-saver to me. When you make a 'zine, you share part of yourself with others without ever expecting anything in return, and when you read a 'zine, you are given a little window into other people’s lives. 'Zines connect us.
What makes Richmond a great place for 'zines and writing?
There is already so much creative activity happening in Richmond. Richmonders are expressive people. There is just something about this place.
What distinguishes Hazardous Materials from other alternative spaces in town?
We are focused entirely on 'zines, 'zine-production and writing. There are many great alternative spaces in Richmond (The Flying Brick, The Wingnut, Bainbridge), but unlike these spaces, we aren’t a housing collective as well.
What do you hope Hazardous Materials will bring to Richmond?
My hope is that Hazardous Materials will evolve beyond the personal project it is now into a community project that will survive the involvement of its current members. We want to create a permanent space in Richmond that is dedicated to self-expression. In this sense we really want to grow and become more a community space. We want to breed 'zine culture into every crack in Richmond.
Any last words?
Come stop by and see us! The shop is open 5 days a week (Thursday–Monday) from 1 p.m.–6 p.m. We have a writing workshop, The Writers’ Bloq, every Monday from 6 p.m.–8 p.m.
Oh, and write, write, write your beautiful self into everything around you.