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The First Rule of Q&A: An Interview with Celia C. Pérez

Who is Celia C. Pérez? Maybe you’ve seen/heard about (including here) her debut middle grade novel:

The First Rule of Punk

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez | August 22, 2017 | Viking

When I learned that she is also a librarian and longtime zine maker, I knew I had to chat with her. So we did that.

Celia C. Perez

Travis: How did you get into making zines?

Celia C. Perez: I learned about zines when I was in high school, but didn’t get into making them until I was in college. One of the first zines I read was a fanzine that was put out by a local punk record label in my college town (No Idea from Gainesville, Florida) and everything else just came after that.

No Idea

I went to college with the intention of being a journalism major since that was the only way I could envision pursuing my dream of writing for a living. However, I never got past the introductory class and ended up an English major. When I got into punk, I saw this one element of that world that I felt like I could participate in actively. I loved the energy and the do-it-yourself nature of the punk scene, but I wasn’t especially interested in playing an instrument. I enjoyed writing so I made zines. Zine making kept me writing. As I started reading more zines, they became a central part of my identity as a young adult, a way in which I was able to explore and express myself and my place in the world.

What are your favorite zines of all time?

I’ve been reading zines for a long time, and like books, they have offered both mirrors and windows, opportunities to learn and to connect with people. Most of my favorites are still some of the earliest zines I read (and surely I’m forgetting many titles) including: America?; Daffodil; The East Village Inky;

East Village Inky

Evolution of a Race Riot; Hope; In All That Brown the Sun Went Down (for the kidlit history lovers this is a comic zine about Margaret Wise Brown);

In All That Brown

In Morning Clouds; Inked; Invincible Summer;

Invincible Summer

The Lower Eastside Librarian; ¡Mamasita!; Pink Tea; Red Hooded Sweatshirt; Shotgun Seamstress; Slant; Subject to Change; That Girl; You Might As Well Live.

What’s your library like?

I work in a community college library in Chicago so my library, and campus, is very reflective of life in a large urban area. Our student population is incredibly diverse in pretty much any way you can imagine. We have a lot of second generation (U.S.-born children of immigrant parents) students, international students, students returning to school or starting their post-secondary education later in life, sometimes pursuing second careers or looking to improve their skills in order to advance in their current professions, and a lot of first generation college students. I often think of my library as a combination of academic and public in that we help students with questions and issues beyond what they need to simply complete assignments for grades. I think like with most any library there’s that combination of familiarity with an almost daily element of surprise.

Did being a librarian shape The First Rule of Punk in any way?

Only in the sense that as a librarian (and a research junkie) I recognized the importance of verifying information, looking at various sources, and simply researching what I didn’t know, no matter how small a mention it has in the final work. I often even research what I do know (or think I know) just to be sure. That might sound extreme, but I think it’s important to make every effort to seek answers and create accurate representations, especially if your aim is to be true to a topic or subject.

Public Service: Say someone is reading this who has never listened to punk – where should they start?

Disclaimer: I’m answering this question based on the assumption that adults are reading, but readers should be aware that some of the bands mentioned use profanity.

This is the kind of pressure-filled question that keeps a person up at night! I love different bands for different reasons, but I’m going to recommend bands that I especially enjoy listening to and that I think have something unique to offer musically. I’m all about gateway music, and I think these can potentially serve as gateway bands to exploring punk and finding what you, as an individual, might enjoy.

I love when a band can combine lyrics that have depth and carry important messages with music that is fun. Downtown Boys do this especially well.

Downtown Boys

They sing about issues like racism, colonialism, and identity, and their music makes you want to dance (and dancing is totally punk, by the way). Bonus: their lyrics are often bilingual and they do a few nice Bruce Springsteen covers! Their sound is reminiscent of the X-Ray Spex who I also recommend (and who my protagonist, Malú, digs).

X-ray Spex

X-Ray Spex

Poly Styrene was ahead of her time in singing about topics like the environment, consumerism, and feminism. She was “girl power” before that phrase was even a twinkle in some marketing person’s eye. Of the Riot Grrrl-era bands I think my favorite is probably Bratmobile.

Bratmobile

Bratmobile

Their music has this rawness and (seeming) simplicity that taps into the notion that anyone can start a band, play an instrument, write a song if they choose to. I like a good poppy, angst-filled punk band and Jawbreaker is one of my favorites so I would be remiss to not mention them. Other bands I recommend: Bad Brains, The Clash, Fugazi, Minutemen, The Ramones, J Church (and a lot of the Bay Area bands from the 80s and 90s). And I can’t leave out The Brat, a band featured in the book.

The Brat

The Brat

They were a late 70s-early 80s L.A. punk band, and while they didn’t release a lot of music, they’re an example of the presence of Latinx in punk even in its early days. I got into punk through the local scene in my college town, so I would also recommend checking out what is coming out of your own area. You’d be surprised what you might discover.

Thanks for the recommendations, Celia, and thanks for taking my questions!

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About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.