Subculture Mothering: China Martens on Punk Parenthood

Subculture Mothering: China Martens on Punk Parenthood

Stacey Greenberg

Before the internet made it easier to network with other alternative parents, before there was a genre of mama zines, or even Hip Mama, there was China Martens' "The Future Generation: The Zine for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends & Others."

Created by China Martens in 1990 (after the birth of her daughter in 1988), "The Future Generation: The Zine for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends & Other" was a zine unlike any other. Her mother, who read to her from as early as one month old and fashioned cut-and-paste picture books for her as a toddler, was her original zinester influence. Martens has a short story published in Breeder: Real Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers; is a columnist for Slug and Lettuce; and won the 2002 Baltimore City Paper "Best Of" zine award for "I was…a Student Nurse." Seventeen years later, China is still cranking out issues of her groundbreaking zine-most recently #15 "The Raising Teenagers" issue. She spent the last year compiling all of the issues into one too-good-to-be-true volume: Future Generation: The Zine-Book For Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends And Others.

China and I have been long-time Internet friends and have collaborated on Mamaphiles, a mama zinester collaboration. When I heard about her new book, I couldn't wait to (virtually) sit down and chat with her about the journey that led to it.

Stacey Greenberg: So why did you decide to put out a zine in the first place?

China Martens: I wanted to create an information and support network for alternative parents. There wasn't anything like that at the time. It was very rare to meet other parents like myself. We were all hungry for information, departing off the "known" path of the way we were raised. It was hard being a parent in the subculture because you lost some of the support and resources you had first gained within it: you no longer could keep up in the same way because you were a parent. But you didn't fit in with mainstream parents or parenting resources either. We needed to communicate with each other, and for the first time I felt I was experiencing issues that there wasn't already a zine or a movement based around addressing. There was not even a single zine that had parenting essays in it or was made by a parent. (Not that I saw anyway, and I had been around a lot of zines in what felt, at the time, like the heyday of zines.) The closest thing I could find was Mothering Magazine which had the natural parenting stuff I believed in, but absolutely nothing political in it, or punk, or said anything about how to put your ideals into action when you were living the nitty-gritty life. (Like if you were poor or stressed out).

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SG: How did you come up with the name, The Future Generation?

China: I don't totally remember. I think it was because it was a phrase one often heard and it put importance on what that meant, for society, for us all. As a parent you suddenly become very much concerned with the future that your child is going to grow up into and connect with the idea of generations more, of your past and future. Before I was a parent, I wasn't even sure if I would have a future. I think that was very common in those days, to wonder if you would even live past 21. The switch from being a young person, into being a young adult and parent, meant now I had more responsibility for the outcome of things. I wanted my zine to have personal experiences but also theories, to look at the bigger picture, to be something that folks without children (like many of the anarchists and alternative types around me) could get into to. (i.e. How do the little actions of today affect the future?) I think child-raising issues are extremely interesting and encompass anthropology, sociology, and philosophy as well as hands-on-experience with putting your theories into practice. "The Future Generation" sounded like a good serious title. It's not just each of our own children; it's all of our children. It's society. It's what we hope to see. We know where we've been. Now where are we going?

SG: How did the "anarchists and alternative types" around you respond to TFG?

China: Mostly very positively. I think the anarchists got it most of all. I still have saved a review of TFG issue #7 in Slug and Lettuce:

This is an excellent zine that in my opinion gives feminism a different twist. I find it hard to describe because the articles are very revealing and informative. It's got well researched stuff about women, and unlike most feminist and/or riot girl zines it doesn't come off with too much anger and hatred. The essay about motherhood is particularly very "moving" and filled with substance.

Sometimes punk publications have responded by dismissing my zine as hippie (one of the worst insults in punk circles) or good "if you are interested in that kind of thing." There was a serious issue, in the punk and ecological movements, with the concept of overpopulation and that to have children was socially irresponsible. Feminist publications (in the early days) have also dismissed me, not reviewing my zine or even taking my issues seriously, not wanting to deal with the whole topic of "motherhood" beyond being an oppressive role. Motherhood was a very uncool topic to broach. That's important to note too – that across the board, I would say, it was not something very "cool" with anyone. (Except for the status quo, they were all over "family values" but I was not status quo. In fact I kind of felt in danger from the status quo, they would like to take away my child for looking different or doing things against the grain.) Generally it made people laugh or take notice because my subject matter was just so different compared to any other zine around back then. I know your question only asked me how the alternative types responded to me, but I think it's of note to say that the mainstream press wouldn't have touched anything I wrote with a ten foot pole.

SG: What has it been like going from "zinester" to "author"?

China: It is wonderful! Now I'm not sure if it's also because of my age (41) or that I had to really work to get here, because I don't think it would feel the same way if I was younger and was coming out with my first book, but I'm not sure.

In my thirties, after failing to attain a career or two, I decided to just call myself a writer. It's all I am, all I can be, all I want to be. I work any job I can get but what I do with my life is write. I'm not saying that I'm a "good" writer but that I spend a lot of my time writing and trying to write and fighting to write. I have an attitude that is bound to feel good in failure, although that can get a little bitter at times. So now in a time of success (my number one goal since I was 13 was to be a published author) I am really enjoying it for all its worth.

We have worked two years for this book to come out and now I am going on the "Crazy Dreams & Ideals" Tour with Ariel Gore and Annie Downey. Am I going to enjoy this time in my life? Hell Yea! Yea, I'm excited. But I think I am pretty grounded in my expectations. As a zinester, I understand process. I am involved in every step, but I'm not going it alone and I don't have to pay to xerox it. (Now that I don't have copy shop connections anymore.) My time as a zinester has definitely prepared me for this. Books take longer to come out and can go to more people. Zines are a joy to have control over yourself and make as you like. Both are a good thing. My first book is a mutant: it's a zine-book.

SG: So what's next for you?

China: Is it alright if I take this question literally? What's next for me is to take a shower, get dressed, pack all my zines and get on the train to go to the First Anarchist Bookfair in New York City where I am moderating a workshop called, "Don't Leave your Friends Behind: Anarchism & Supporting Parents and Children." This workshop is a project developed by Victoria Law and myself which has been evolving since we first did it last year in Boston at La Rivolta! (An Anarcha-Feminist Festival). We are interested in communicating with the child-free radical community in how to support parents' and children's needs. This has been evolving into networking with others (Jennifer Silverman and Amy Hamilton will be joining us as presenters for this one), and for me, an interest in organizing radical childcare. (I organized Kids Corner at the Mid-Atlantic Radical Bookfair last year, a first! For me, and for the bookfair.) We are now editing a book together, with Jessica Mills (Maximum Rock n Roll columnist) collecting the experiences and writings from the anarchist parents listserv and radical community into a Rad Parents Allies Handbook. It's exciting stuff.

As my daughter has grown, it's given me free hands to involve myself in some activism as an older, not-actively-raising-a-child woman, to use my experiences to try to build better support networks for the children and parents coming up now, and I really like it. What I really want to work on is writing a novel! I have been working on this creative-nonfiction novel for a while now and I really love working on it. It's a really liberating place to write creatively, and not as any form of activism, but more just art and self-expression. I am hoping now that I have finished one book, or zine-book, it will not be intimidating to me anymore and now I can finish this second book easier. So far I enjoy writing on this novel a lot more than I did working on the zine-book, but I suppose that is also because it's a new inspiration and not just compiling old ancient things.

I am fearful, because I actually like writing this novel, that no one will like it. (I believe the inverse is going to be true with my zine-book. I really believe people will like it, that it has an audience. And I totally hated working on that. The whole process was like pulling my fingers across a chalkboard, but I love the results!) But that's ok. I just want to write and finish this novel, my first one. My number one goal with that project is just to finish it. Even if it sucks and only I like it.

And then I will write another one.

This interview originally appeared on

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