The cliquishness of the Chicago poetry scene led poet/publisher Batya Goldman, 31, to become a professional pen pal. Frustrated by the lack of communication between poets who, for the most part, only met within their own groups, Goldman began to distribute a “chap,” or self-made collection of her work, and to swap addresses, chaps, and zines with poets and writers around the country.

Soon she had entered the world of the underground press–writers, poets, and authors with small budgets but plenty of determination to express themselves, usually by spending many long nights stapling and collating at their neighborhood copy shop.

The magic of zines, says Goldman, is the chance they provide for anyone to become an author. Within his or her own forum, the writer is able to try anything, and in the process achieve a sort of self-validation. “They’re for the guy who works at the 7-Eleven and lives in the trailer park–but yet his room is filled with books. He might be brilliant, and he deserves a chance,” she says.

Goldman went on to start Mary Kuntz Press, selling poetry chaps and compilations by mail or at readings that were originally held at Sweet Alice on Damen, but later moved to Goldman’s living room. Last year David Hernandez, a poet and author who was then a visiting professor at DePaul University, suggested she organize a conference for underground authors and publishers, possibly through DePaul.

“I think they [DePaul] were a little cautious at first,” says poet Gabriele Strohschen, who joined forces with Goldman to plan the event. Since the group was unfamiliar to the school, Goldman collected letters of support from potential participants. With Hernandez’s help, Goldman convinced DePaul to host the first Underground Press Conference.

According to DePaul faculty member Ted Anton, an assistant professor of English, academics in the fields of American studies and cultural studies have begun to examine underground publications more closely. “Some of the most exciting new ideas are coming from zines and E-mail,” he observes. As the event organizer, Goldman hopes to let attendees know about possible grants or other funding available through universities. “Underground people should have their fair share of the academy,” she says.

The quality of zines varies dramatically, and while Anton admits that some are “really bad,” he also points to innovators in the field, such as Lauren Salmi, editor of Indelible Ink, who has creatively recycled materials from the trash for use on her covers. Like many aspects of “alternative” culture, the world of zines is quickly being raided, mass-packaged, and sold to Sassy readers across the nation. A recent Time cover story titled “Everybody’s Hip” told of Jeff Fox, the former publisher of Die Evan Die, a zine dedicated to loathing of the Lemonheads’ lead singer. After praising Fox’s hipness, the article goes on to note he has already been “scarfed up” to edit an unspecified “hip magazine.”

With nearly 150 publishers registered for the weekend conference, Anton, Goldman, and Strohschen are hoping for close to 200 participants from all over the midwest. Saturday’s panel discussions, led by experts on production and desktop publishing, cyber-text and disc “magazines,” censorship, distribution, and marketing, will be held at the Schmitt Academic Center, 2320 N. Kenmore. On-site registration begins at 9 AM and costs $25. An accompanying Underground Ball will take place Saturday night at HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee, with music from David Hernandez and Street Sounds and Marvin Tate and D’Settlement at 9 PM ($5 cover). On Sunday from 11 to 6, the conference concludes with an outdoor book sale and open mike event. For more information, call 486-0685.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Yael Routtenberg.