Who are you, Zoe?
Hi! Gosh how do I answer that ? I am just a being navigating her way through reality, writing things here and there, trying to create and just be. At the time of writing this (while ‘I Am the Black Gold of the Sun’ by Rotary Connection and Minnie Riperton plays very loudly), I am in Bordeaux, France for my study abroad year at university, studying a mix of French and English literature! I don’t want my identity to be centred around the fact that I am a student, but I have literally been one for my entire life, so it feels like a massive part of who I am right now.
Sweet-thang zine is very well thought-through – the themes you have covered so far feel like a guide to wholesome living and self-reflection.
Whose journey do these themes encapture and what do they mean to you? I have always brain-stormed when coming up with a theme for a new issue, and the deciding factor is always: “what can I imagine working insanely well visually?” The theme first issue just felt really natural as a debut in this journey. Then I remember aching to dedicate an issue to ‘Body’ because I knew how vast and magical the response would be. I love our second issue, especially the work of the cover artist, Soamy Hajezy. The photography, as well as the poem that went along with it written by Monique Etienne will forever be one of my favourite pieces in Sweet-thang history. Weirdly, I felt like our third issue, ‘Mind’, was the first issue where I went into detail with a particular theme – which was mental health. It is a very special collection of stories and images.Our fourth issue, ‘Love’, was…impulsive! We hadn’t had an issue for 8 months because I was so busy for most of 2018 – I was also in a very unfulfilling relationship for the majority of that year…so I think it’s safe to say that a lot of time was wasted! Personally, I felt like Sweet-thang had lost a lot of momentum during that time, and it was hard. That’s why the ‘Love’ issue was very small and online rather than in print. I curated it with my best friend and loyal Sweet-thang contributor, Oyinda! So it was definitely special, and kind of acted as a re-birth in 2019 after a stale year, not only with my personal love life, but the lack of movement with the zine itself. I hosted a Valentine’s Day zine-making party at my university – it was so much fun, and the first time I had ever done something like that – I definitely want to bring Sweet-thang energy into the real world and do more things like that in the future. Maybe a Valentine’s Day party can become a regular thing.And obviously, we’re in the middle of the release of our fifth issue, ‘Nostalgia’. Personally, it is my absolute favourite of them all! I was so passionate about the theme, because, as I say in the Editor’s letter, a lot was changing during the time of making it. I was leaving teen-hood, moving abroad by myself for the first time, moving out of my family home. I have had to say a lot of wholesome goodbyes this year and have felt naturally nostalgic about my past. Issue five definitely comes from a personal place, and I think that’s why I love it so much. “Celebrating words and art created by Black womxn / Black femmes / Black nb folx”. Why do you seek to celebrate these folks specifically?
I started a personal and diary-like blog in 2014, and I was introduced to so many other like-minded teens, just writing cheesy blog posts and enjoying this corner of the internet that was so DIY and raw and innocent. I found so many little zines and publications and collectives, a lot of which do not exist anymore, but they all had this Rookie-esque energy of freedom and creativity and I just felt so inspired. But they were always really white-washed – I never felt like I saw myself in these cute DIY bubbles. The idea of making my own zine was always something I wanted to do. But then it occurred to me that to be able to represent the voices of people who looked like me and produce a creative safe space that celebrated those voices would be even better! And Sweet-thang was born. I honestly just wanted a space for young black girls to be messy and cute and creative and write poetry and make playlists and collages. I felt like images of messy, free teen-hood in mainstream media was never afforded to black girls. Making a zine that allowed this was so liberating. You were 18 when you first published Sweet-thang zine.
How did you go about it?
Where did you find the courage and knowledge to start such a big project?
It’s lowkey all such a blur – but I literally just remember getting out my note-book and writing down name ideas for a zine. At first, I wanted to create a zine just dedicated to poetry, and I was going to call it ‘Bittersweet’, and then the phrase ‘Sweet-thang’ just came to mind and I thought yeah, that works! It was the sweet year of 2017 – a really good year for me, despite it being my final year of A-levels! I felt like I had taken a huge step towards my truer self that year, in terms of my identity as a creative, as an individual. I went to so many events and truly started to network and I just had so much energy, which definitely helped me take the final push to create Sweet-thang. I did my research on affordable printing companies and got to it.
Can you share some dos & don’ts with aspiring zine-makers and self-starters?
– Say yes to as many opportunities as possible
– Ask for help (you’ll always need it)
– Create budgets / be smart about money
– DM loads of people on Instagram (either to ask for submissions or to ask for a share! Asking someone with an audience that you would love to grab the attention of to share your idea can be a game-changer)
– Be active on social media (even if it is just to upload random photography / artwork that goes with your aesthetic. Not every post has to be explicitly related to the zine.
– Don’t wait: Once you have a gut feeling for an idea, bring it to some kind of fruition straight away – it will grow magnificently during the process anyway!
– Feel bad about rejecting people’s work (as a zine-maker/editor/publisher, you have the right to produce something that fits with your vision)
What’s next for you?
More zines and more fun. 2020 is going to be top level Sweet-thang energy! Host/participate in more events, collaborate. I also want to continue writing more poetry, learn a bit more about graphics and collages – visual journalism is something that really interests me, so I want to get more into that!
Interview with Zoe Thompson by Amuna Wagner
All artwork provided by Zoe from sweetthangzine