Special Issue Editors' Introduction: The Past, Present, and Future of Self-Publishing: Voices, Genres, Publics
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Special Issue Editors' Introduction
The Past, Present, and Future of Self-Publishing: Voices, Genres, Publics

In the history of writing studies scholarship, one of the most celebrated terms has been voice, a term made famous by its most ardent proponent, Peter Elbow, who has written extensively about voice, especially as a writerly quality that is neither defined by, nor obligated to, academic discourse. While voice is one of our most celebrated terms, it is also one of our most contested terms, owing largely to the fact that it has historically been aligned with expressivist pedagogies that have been largely (though not entirely) discredited by the profession at large. Darsie Bowden's, The Mythology of Voice, is one critique that, as its title suggests, calls into question the actuality of written voice, and wonders if such a thing as written voice even exists. If it does not, then the venerable task of "finding a voice" is rather beside the point, a quixotic pursuit at best.

But for community literacy workers, voice, whether written or spoken, has a different resonance altogether. Whether heard in the streets or in shelters, in jails or in town halls, in church basements or in public libraries, or in the many texts that circulate in community circles, voices have an undeniable reality, not simply because they are expressed, but rather, because they are heard, greeted, affirmed, disputed, questioned, parodied—in a word, answered. In community literacy contexts, then, the problem of voice is not one of personal exploration or authentic self-expression, as in "true voice" constructions of authorship. Instead, voice is real because it is originally social, not individual. Voices are heard, and only heard, because they exist in relation to other voices. Community literacy activists know firsthand what the Russian language theorist, Mikhail Bakhtin, long ago stated, namely that "A single voice ends nothing and resolves nothing. Two voices is the minimum for life, the minimum for existence" (252). This is especially true in the life and existence of communities.

Yet, this fact does not address the problem of whose voices may be heard, whose voices are included and whose excluded. Not all colloquies are hospitable to all who wish to be heard. Not all forums are open forums. Not all venues are accessible to all. This is as true (if not more true) of the written word as it is of the spoken. When written publication is construed as a distinction, a privilege, or a matter of high achievement, it goes without saying that a number of written voices may never be heard, may never find a responsive, answering voice. Understood this way, the traditional problem of "finding a voice" might be better thought of as the problem of finding a medium that would allow for one's voice to be heard. And if such a medium is not readily at hand, it might need to be invented or devised by the person who has something to say. [End Page 1]

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In a recent issue of The Economist, an anonymous feature writer points out that the heyday of the big, glossy magazine may be on the wane. To support this claim, the writer points out that over the last decade, the popular women's magazine, Glamour, has lost half of its readership, and is now moving its publication to the web, "promising only biannual 'collectible' print issues." While other publications have not suffered such substantial losses in readership as Glamour, the author reports that "British paid for magazines lost 6% of their readers last year," an appreciable decline from previous years for most publications of this sort.

What's especially interesting about this piece is that while readership is declining among the glossies, certain handmade "micro-publications," commonly known as zines, are enjoying a "boomlet" these days. This renaissance in zine publications, of course, is well known among zinesters, and has received wide coverage in the mainstream press, as zine festivals, zine archives, and zine publications have all proliferated dramatically in the last decade. While it would be mistaken to think that Glamour readers have migrated en masse to their kitchen tables to enjoy the pleasures...


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