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The University of Kansas (KU) Libraries recently acquired over 1,000 zines from the former Solidarity radical organization in Lawrence, Kansas. The ephemera, related to everything from indigenous rights to “DIY emotional health,” joins over 100,000 items in KU’s Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, making it an essential resource for counterculture in the Sunflower State. To outsiders, Kansas may seem like an unlikely hub for radical literature, but Lawrence was a site of the pre–Civil War Bleeding Kansas conflict between pro- and anti-slavery groups; the battles were spurred in part by two Free State newspapers founded in the city. Later, in the early 20th century, socialist politicians held many offices in the state. While far right conservatism has been the dominant force in recent years (famously chronicled in Thomas Frank’s 2004 book What’s the Matter With Kansas?), the state retains its radical populist history.
The Wilcox Collection at KU was founded by Laird Wilcox. Upon marking its 50th anniversary last year, Wilcox told the Lawrence Journal-World, “[i]f the collection stands for anything, it’s the fact that our country’s made up of a matrix of beliefs.” You can already explore over 830 digitized examples from the Solidarity archives in the Internet Archive, and a release from KU notes that the plan is for all of them to be digitized in the future. There are hand-illustrated guides to fertility awareness, freedom for Palestine publications, essays against prisons, Firefly fanzines, and more curious titles like “Don’t Leave Me: How to Make Better Coffee at Home and Spend More Time With Your Cat(s).”
While the Solidarity zines became part of the Wilcox Collection, the rest of the library’s collection is now a public library alongside the campus, where materials can still be checked out. “The Solidarity Library has had many homes since its inception, but has been in the Ecumenical Campus Ministries building for a number of years,” ECM Director Kim Brook told Hyperallergic.
In the video below, Frank Farmer, a professor of English who organized the acquisition, says that the Solidarity publications are a “kickoff collection” for a larger zine focus. “They’ve always had a kind of amateurish and unofficial quality to them, but they are an index to a certain history, a certain strain of history in this country, about self publishing,” Farmer says in the video. University Archivist Becky Schulte adds that putting the zines — many photocopied, hand-addressed, and created as disposable objects — in a special space such as the library assures their future. “The Wilcox Collection is a live collection,” she says. “It’s one that continues to grow.”