“Newtopia was born because there are no other publications like it,” says Charles Shaw, editor in chief of the six-month-old Web zine. Shaw has supported himself for years as a freelance copywriter and as a writer and editor for publications such as UR Chicago and Punk Planet and Web sites like 3 AM Magazine and Web Del Sol. Newtopia grew out of his frustration with the leftist rhetoric he feels is standard to magazines like the Nation or the Progressive. “Left-wing publications have very specific canons,” he says. “There are public-interest stories to beat the band, and stories about bums in the suburbs, but what do the people think? I realized that though there was no way to express that in the media, there was this whole reservoir of great talent on the Internet.”
Run out of Shaw’s two-bedroom Lincoln Square condo, the site features essays and personal narratives exclusively; none of the contributors are paid. Moreover, Newtopia contains no public-interest stories, no tear-jerking tales of homeless children, and no armchair analyses of Condoleezza Rice’s latest press statement. Instead, it’s a record of the way individual people react to world politics. Though Shaw approves and edits every piece of writing posted, he says the beauty of the site lies in the range of different voices he publishes.
For example, he says, “we support reform of the war on drugs, but we’ve discussed this cause through a lot of different perspectives. One of the best discussions of this war comes from the writer I have who’s on the inside in the drug trade in Humboldt County. We talk about the lifestyles of the people who live in between the political issues.”
Next month the site will start serializing the journals of Henry Carse, a Jerusalem theologian who recorded his thoughts every morning for 18 months as he watched the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unfold. Carse’s journals aren’t meant to give casualty statistics as much as provide observations and empathy. “It’s almost like poetry,” says Shaw. “But it’s also a real-life account of the way someone feels watching what’s going on there.”
Shaw’s regular contributors–many of whom double as editors as needed–come from all over. Tucson’s Catherine O’Sullivan writes “Diary of a Mad Mom,” a stream-of-consciousness column on raising kids in a politically aware environment. Writing from London, Cameron Carter provides scathingly honest accounts of what they think of us over there. Kimberly Nichols, of Palm Desert, California, specializes in exploding sexual taboos.
“We’ve done more than most Web zines have done in four years,” boasts Shaw. They’ve been awarded an Inscriptions magazine Site of Excellence Award, a Golden Web Award, and been nominated for a 2002 Webby. “It’s not a Pulitzer or anything,” says Shaw, “but it means a lot to us.”
Recently Shaw teamed up with Greg Everett, a Bay Area writer and founder of Grundle Ink Publications, to form a publishing company under the same name as the zine. The imprint’s first publication will be a second edition of Everett’s novel Screaming at a Wall, which Grundle Ink published earlier this year. In celebration, Shaw’s hosting what he hopes will be Chicago’s first annual Newtopia night. “The only thing you can’t do on the Web is be a tangible part of a community,” he says. “We’ve built a global community, and now, just for one night, a little piece of that will be here in Chicago.”
Kimberly Nichols, Greg Everett, and Charles Shaw will read at Quimby’s, 1854 W. North (773-342-0910), on Saturday, November 23, at 7 PM; it’s free. Newtopia is at www.newtopiamagazine.net.