via Chicago magazine
by Phoebe Mogharei
You can usually find Anthony Rayson, 64, in the bright wood sunroom at the rear of his home in south suburban Monee. Through the window, there’s a sandbox and kids toys for Rayson’s grandson, when he visits. At a small table, he lays out apple slices for guests.
The room is stuffed with bookshelves, and the bookshelves are stuffed with folded sheets of white A4 paper making up thousands of homemade zines. Rayson pulls a few titles: Abolish All Prisons, Free the Slaves!, and finally, The Most Virtuous Vagina in the United States of America, grinning.
Zines, or self-made, low-budget literature — often booklets — were once a staple of underground publishing. But in the internet age, as self-publishing become quicker, cheaper, and boundless, they’ve fallen out of favor. These days, zines are mostly relegated to art circles.
Rayson, though, has found a practical use for the medium: For the past 20 years, he’s run the South Chicago ABC Zine Distro, a service that mails copies of zines from his extensive collection to incarcerated people. He also catalogs and sends out zines made from inside prisons, creating a network between prisoners across the country.
Rayson’s work, including multiple collaborations with incarcerated writers, is the inspiration for a current exhibition, Incarceration: Art, Activism, and Advocacy, on display at DePaul’s Richardson library through the first week of January.
Rayson wrote his first zine, The People’s Polar Express, in the 1970s. He’d just dropped out of his freshman year at Grinnell College in protest of US military action in Cambodia — or rather, in protest of a protest. “Grinnell students only struck for one day,” says Rayson. “So I said, ‘No, I’m staying on strike.’”
He hitchhiked around the country for two years, then returned to his parents’ home in Tinley Park, where he logged more than a hundred pages of creative writing. (He’s since gone back to school, graduating as valedictorian from Prairie State College in 1995).