“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.
I’m proud to wrap up the UT Libraries triptych of zine exhibits with Weird and Wonderful Little Books: An Abbreviated History of Chapbooks Published in Austin. My colleagues Daniel Arbino and Sydney Kilgore released their exhibits earlier this year, featuring selections from the zine collections from the Fine Arts Library and the Benson Latin American Collection. Zines have a reputation for being edgy and subversive and are associated with punk and anarchist politics. That reputation at first blush doesn’t seem to align with poetry, but poetry chapbooks and zines have an intertwined history. (See our blog post “Have You Zine It?” for further discussion of these intersections between chapbooks and zines.)
Chapbooks have a curious history. Some scholars argue that the term is a combination of “cheap books” and “chapmen.” (Chapmen were traveling salesmen who wandered England and Scotland with thin, paper-bound books throughout the early Modern era, circa 1500-1800.) The current iteration of the American poetry chapbook is a distinctly 20th century phenomenon, linked to the technological advances of photocopying, desktop publication, and the internet. The UT Poetry Center in the Perry-Castañeda Library includes local poetry chapbooks from the last 40 years. My new online exhibit presents features this collection, with chapbooks from different small presses operating in Austin.
These little books play a profound role in poetry communities because they allow authors to share their work with their readers and fellow writers cheaply and easily. Writers can bypass the elitism and bureaucracy of boutique presses and mainstream publishing companies by self-publishing chapbooks or working with small local presses. These books, then, come with small price tags. Writers often only recoup their production costs, and some give their chapbooks away for free.
This version of a literary gift economy has been alive in Austin since the 1970s. Many outsiders might assume that Austin’s art and culture begins and ends with live music, but Central Texas has a vibrant literary culture, built by dedicated writers and small press editors. This exhibit features chapbooks from the late 70s and early 80s that showcase Austin’s counter-culture and feminist voices, while contemporary examples represent the diversity of writers in this growing city, especially those from marginalized backgrounds.
highlighting the presses, their editors, and, of course, the writers, I hope to
bring to life and document Austin’s literary community. Emmalea Russo and
Michael Newton, poets and small press editors, argue that chapbooks create “a
space for makers to come together and look at each other’s work. So much of the
value of poetry is the community that comes out of it—both in terms of
relationships and as a way to discover new ideas. It means everything.” I hope
that you will find these selections by Austin writers represent a community
where poetry does, indeed, mean everything.
 Woodcock, Diana Gwen. “The Poetry Chapbook: Blessing or Curse?” International Journal of the Book 8, no. 3 (2011): 27.
 Ibid., 28.
 “Emmalea Russo and Michael Newton on Ugly Duckling Presse.” Poetry Society of America, n.d. https://poetrysociety.org/features/q-a-chapbook-publishers/emmalea-russo-and-michael-newton-on-ugly-duckling-presse.