An Interview with Anne Elizabeth Moore

{mosmedia}  Is it possible to follow your passions, to do what you truly love to do, without compromising you r values? What about meeting basic human needs? Can it be done? Some people struggle most of their lives to obtain this dream. Some eventually submit to a job that goes against their beliefs or end up starving to death in the street. Yet others have proven that it is possible to live a life that is consistent with your values, pursue the things you love, and still afford food and rent. Anne Elizabeth Moore is one of those rare people.

She has been involved with independent publishing her entire adult life and recently published her own book, Hey Kidz! Buy This Book: A Radical Primer on Corporate and Governmental Propaganda and Artistic Activism for Short People, with Soft Skull Press. Last year, she became the associate publisher of Punk Planet and Punk Planet Books, and has continued to write for a number of other independent publications.

In a recent appearance in Madison, WI, she read her first hand account of the consequences of attempting to radicalize the clientele of the American Girl Place in Chicago. The following morning we met for breakfast at Bennett’s Smut n’ Eggs, before migrating to a coffee shop where we discussed the dilemma of following one’s passions while surviving in this world. 




MD: When you are faced with the question, “What do you do?” how do you usually respond?


Yeah-I respond by giggling, turning away nervously, and changing the subject. However, I assume you want an actual response.


MD: Well, when you’re in a social situation and people ask what you do, you’re sort of forced to explain how you make a living. How do you interpret that question?




I basically write and teach and try to change things, in whatever medium that I can. Now, what forms that takes is like 150 hours a week of teaching 2 courses at college, or volunteering at a place for middle-schoolers, and publishing 2 magazines and a book, and publishing my own zines on a constant ongoing basis, and writing articles for-probably a good rotating chunk of like 5 magazines at any given time, and spending every waking social moment talking to other people who are doing similar things and trying to come up with more resources for us all to do them. And then the question becomes, “Well, what pays the money there?”


MD: You spend all your time doing things that you’re passionate about, and somehow you have to get enough money to live. But that seems like a pretty big struggle.


Yeah. A part of it is that when I was really, really young I decided that I was never going to make any compromises in terms of what I was going to do. And what does that mean? Well, it means that I was never going to work for a fast food company. And I was never going to do straight journalism, newspaper journalism, because I felt like it was an easy way to have what you’re doing be controlled in some way. And I wasn’t going to get a job at a bank. I just wasn’t going to work at jobs like that. So from a really incredibly early time I just decided not to make any compromises. And then it becomes this thing of, “Well, you gotta survive.” Okay so, you’re still going to be hungry, so what do you do? And I worked for The Progressive, I worked at The Onion, I worked for artists in photo studios, I was a photographer for a long time. And then you see how wide that world actually is and you start actually finding a way to make a career out of it. I think it’s impossible to explain to people how to do that. So I don’t know what your plan is for that. But if you change the idea of resources from financial to just general resources I think it’s a lot easier to make a living doing what you need to be doing.


MD: What do you mean by general resources?


Well, if you decide to take a job in the food industry and find a way to fit it into your life that works-a vegan cooperative restaurant, maybe, or whatever your politics are-you’re going to make shit money but you’re also going to have the ability to eat a meal a day. And sometimes it comes down to that. Sometimes you are going to be hungry enough that you would have to wash those dishes for a couple hours a day. So, changing the idea of what your immediate economic needs are is the first step.


MD: It seems like you have lived in several different places. How has your environment affected your lifestyle and your pursuit of following your passions? Could you compare living in Madison or Seattle to living in Chicago and how these cities have affected the way you live your life?


In Madison there is pretty strong punk or activist community that you can just kind of settle into and do your thing. I had a lot of access to that because I was working with WORT [the community radio station] and The Progressive and The Onion and it was just very easy to find a network of people. And then I was in Chicago when I was in grad school and so my whole thing kind of changed. But then when I was out in Seattle the predominant thing seems to have been that the dot-com bust happened, like two days after I arrived. Well, the biggest thing was that the WTO happened exactly three days after I arrived and then the dot-com bust happened. So quite literally, Seattle became this renowned hotbed that was perceived to be a site for activism, but actually it was hard to get anything done with people who lived in Seattle. It had this reputation of being really together and on the ball, but there were really just four Seattleites involved in the WTO stuff. They were brilliant, amazing people, but we can’t really take Seattle to be the perpetrator of the WTO [protests]. But that, again, created a community that was really easy to see and fit into. Now, in Chicago I think through working with the people throughout the United States that I’ve been working with, I now have a pretty strong network of people that clue into that and do amazing stuff on an international scale.



MD: Can you talk more about how these environments differ in terms of where you live and how rent varies, and the actual city itself and how that affects you? Or is there a wide variation within each city?




Well, the dot-com bust in Seattle literally made it hard to do anything because you couldn’t find a job. You couldn’t find a job at all. And if you can’t eat you can’t do what you believe in. I don’t care who you are, you just can’t. So it does make quite a big difference, but at the same time economic disparity sort of makes you angrier and more willing to act when you see something going on. So yeah, there is the sense that in Seattle it is hard to get stuff going because a lot of people are paid by Microsoft or Starbucks. I’m not sure…I need more questions to answer that accurately.


MD: Like in Chicago-you rent an apartment, right? How does that affect your lifestyle? One of the reasons that I was attracted to Madison is that there are all of these co-op houses. That was a way for me to assimilate here easily with my lifestyle in terms of not paying as much money and sharing resources with people.




Right, right…well, I definitely share resources on a different level. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve had this lifestyle for a long time. I’m 34, and so I have sort of figured out the things now that I really need to get my shit done. How I ended up surviving in Seattle was, I basically found the most ramshackle house you’ve ever seen…And that’s how I got my book [Hey Kidz, Buy This Book!] written because I didn’t really have to pay rent. I paid a dollar rent. But in Chicago you don’t have unused spaces like that and I did have to find an apartment. But my business partner, Dan Sinker at Punk Planet, instead of offering me a shit load of money was more willing to say: “We’re gonna bring you out here to work with us at Punk Planet and in order to make that happen we’re gonna do whatever we need to do. You can live in our house for as long as you need to. We’ll totally cook for you…” You know, just providing different resources than the financial ones. And that’s kind of what I mean about community. That’s what you need-people who understand that and are willing to do it and I’m completely willing to do that for other people as well. That’s how it works.


MD: Like social capital.




MD: You said that at an early age you decided that you were not going to compromise. But being in the field you are in, do you think you would ever find yourself in a situation where you would, say-get a book published by a larger, corporate publisher? It seems like a lot of the big names on the Left do publish with, say, HarperCollins. They get tons of money doing that and they can sustain themselves.




I’m in a situation right now where I’m trying to finish a book for an agent who does work with HarperCollins, Random House and some of the big publishers. So I have put some thought into that. I can’t honestly say that I was never going to compromise, but the things that I was never going to compromise, I haven’t. And that is: I’m going to be in charge of my own modes of production, and anything that appears in public with my name on it is going to come from me and I am going to have the first and last say in what that looks like and feels like and how appears. So, for example, I’ve done zines and have been working in independent publishing for most of my whole life. I think I’ve been doing zine stuff for like 15 years. A few years ago, some people I worked with at ZAPP, the self-publishing center at the Hugo House, and I got a chunk of money from an organization called One Reel, to run a project for the Bumbershoot Festival, which is basically Seattle’s arts festival. It’s mostly a music venue. I got a bunch of money to do what I wanted to, which was bring zinesters from all over the world to teach zine-making workshops at one of the most popular events in Seattle. They gave me carteblanche: “You can do whatever you want. You can set up the space however you want. We’ll give you anything you need.” And I accepted it knowing full well that eventually corporate sponsorship would come in. Now, when the corporate sponsorship came in it turned out to be Starbucks, and they did try to make all these demands like, “This is great but every zine that comes out we have to put our logo on.” (Laughs) I was terrified that I had worked myself into this situation where someone was saying that to me. I can’t even begin to describe…And I was doing anti-Starbucks work at the time. So I had to threaten to leave. I had to be done with it. I had to explain: “You can’t do that. There is no way. And I don’t care if you think it’s ridiculous, and I don’t care if you decide you’re not gonna pay me because of this. I can’t put the word out there that independent publishing is only possible through Starbucks. Period.” They actually did back down, but I’m not ever going to be able to work with them [One Reel] again. Which is also fine.


MD: Did you still get paid?




I did still get paid. Yup. And I did still get to bring people out from all over. And it was really, really fun and a lot of things about it were totally worth it. But it was a pretty crazy scenario. How did I go off on that?


MD: Uh, HarperCollins and compromising…


Yeah, yeah. And like with Joe Meno’s book Hairstyles of the Damned…The worst of offender of artists’ rights-I have also worked in comics for a long time-is Marvel Comics. And Joe was tracked down by Marvel Comics and has been asking my advice about working for them. And I want to support my friends, and my colleagues at Punk Planet, so I offer advice on how to work for-not only the most mainstream publisher on the face of the earth, but also the most egregiously, hurtful, damaging one. And so a lot of issues of compromise do come up, but that’s sort of just part of your work becoming more well known and more popular. So it’s kind of tricky and kind of weird, but you just gotta think about it on a case-by-case basis: Well, what am I not willing to tolerate? I’m not willing to tolerate Starbucks putting their logo on my work or anybody else’s. I’m not willing to tolerate personally working for Marvel Comics, and I will urge anyone I can to avoid supporting their publishing and film ventures-I mean, just read up on the history of Jack Kirby for more info-but if my well-informed friends still want to make those choices, I will at least help them be smart about it.

MD: Do you think going through those venues would affect the content of your work too?

Absolutely. Which is exactly why I would hesitate to go through them at all. I mean, this being said, I haven’t been offered a contract with HarperCollins. I haven’t been offered a contract with Random House. I would really, really carefully consider whether or not I would do that at all. So I’m not exactly sure what I would do. Yeah, it would profoundly affect the content. But moreover, it inviolates my belief that independent publishing works. So it’s very strange.

MD: Do you have anything else to say about this dilemma of trying to follow your true passions while getting by?

The most important thing with following your passions that people tend to forget about is-the way that Neil Postman put it, and the way a lot of activists and artists have put it in the history of talking about this stuff-is that, if you’re not actually enjoying what you’re doing as you’re doing it, you shouldn’t be doing it. The very reason for doing it is to improve the world, and if your world isn’t actually being improved by doing the work, don’t bother. Get out of the field. Go find something else to do because you can’t be not enjoying yourself. Which, again, changes the whole structure of how you’re going to live your life because you’re pursuing things that, not only are important and make positive changes in the world, but are fun for you. And then the question of, like, “Can I afford a new house?” aren’t quite so important if you’re actually enjoying what you’re doing.


Matt Dineen is currently living in Northampton, MA after a one year affair with Madison, WI. He is struggling with the dilemma of following his passion for writing, music, and radical social change with the harsh reality of trying to get by and pay off debt. When he’s not filling outjob applications at health food stores and restaurants Matt interns at Class Action, a non-profit organization working to bridge the class divide and create justice, equity, and sustainablity for all.

Note: This piece is part of an ongoing series of interviews for TF which Matt will be conducting with people exploring the dilemma of following their passions while surviving in a capitalist society.


Check out the dates and locations for Moore’s “Spazzes with Glasses Book Tour”