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If you're a teenager in love with words and writing, the coolest place to be this summer is San Francisco. In April, Dave Eggers, that bi-coastal pied piper of pop-culture publishing, opened a kind of McSweeney's-West writing wonderland for teens called 826 Valencia (or eight-two-six, for short). Eggers and his merry band are offering everything, for free: workshops, tutoring, zine assistance, classes in webzine publishing, comics, SAT prep and journaling. One day in May, he even offered free haircuts (gave four).

Ninive Calegari, the director of the 826 Writing Lab, calls her position "the dream job of a lifetime." With an ever-growing roster of 52 media-savvy, enthusiastic volunteers, Calegari coordinates field trips, school visits, and multi-session workshops. Eggers co-teaches one workshop on Monday nights, while two veterans of Salon.com and Mother Jones do the webzine workshop on Thursday afternoons. Did I mention that it's all free?

"We want it to be playful and inviting for kids, so they'll drop in," Calegari says. "It's more like a living room, with rugs, and lots and lots of bookshelves and computers. It's all about kids, creativity and writing."

And write they will. Focusing on 6- to 20-year-olds, 826 offers a zine assistance program that sounds like a DIY fantasy. Here's the 826 pitch, from their Web site: "We've got lots of computers, laser printers, color printers, a color copier, a black and white copier, work tables, staplers, you name it. So young zine-makers, feel free to use 826 as your base. We'll help out any way we can. And everything's free." And Eggers, the guy who founded that Bay Area '90s cult zine, Might, and keeps punching out the East Coast's favorite lit-zine, McSweeney's, is gonna be right down the hall to proof it.

The last two weeks have been exciting for would-be zinesters at UNC-Chapel Hill. The North Carolina Writer's Network hosted their annual Hot Ink for Teen Writers there. elin o'Hara slavick directed the sold-out zine production workshops. Students made zines from family photographs and Adbusters-inspired advertisements that disturbed or offended them. With an interest in political and public art interventions, slavick wanted to encourage her students to find and "visually manifest their own opinions." Asked for a zine philosophy, she said, "Every zine I've ever helped to make comes from a deep sense and experience of the local. We are here. What we make must be about where we are."

Greg Barbera and Clifton Dowell taught one of the first zine workshops in the Triangle when they teamed up to tell their stories at the NCWN Fall Conference three years ago in Raleigh. Both spoke from labor-of-love experience. Dowell and his wife, Frances, had founded DreamGirl, and Barbera is the music editor for the zine Salt for Slugs and Spectator. Barbera is enthusiastic about putting out zines ("You're providing an alternative to what's out there," he says), but admits you have to wear a lot of hats, from writing to distributing. He also advises that you don't have to wait for the next workshop. "A good zine comes from within yourself, from the world around you," he says. "Really nothing is stopping anyone from making a zine but themselves."

Maybe you don't need to go to San Francisco after all. That corner copy center might be just the place to get your party started.

For more information: www.826 valencia.com; www.ncwriters.org; www.saltforslugs.com

More by John Valentine


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