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Bringing together Oxford’s zines

Yii-Jen Deng reviews five of Oxford's zines, established and brand new, as an outlet for creativity in a time of confinement

In light of the current coronavirus situation, we at Cherwell are interested in bringing together student zines to publicise Oxford’s writing community.

Many students in the coming weeks will be studying remotely, perhaps in self-isolation and quarantine, in a context of increasing uncertainty. Writing becomes more important than ever, not only for creative expression, but also for mutual encouragement, and of course for keeping in touch with Oxford even as we remain away.

Student zines are often little-known. The Media section on the university website lists three – Cherwell, Oxford Student, and Isis Magazine – but diversifying our voices can only be a strength. 

Here are five of Oxford’s brilliant zines, introduced by their editors and reviewed by Cherwell. There are, of course, many more we have missed – please do contact [email protected] if you would like your magazine to be featured.

Hypaethral Magazine

Editor’s message: ‘Hypaethral Magazine is a new online platform for the arts. It seeks to provide a home for university students who are creative to submit and showcase their work during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. University provides opportunities for community, workshopping, events, and publication, but with terms cancelled, culture centres closed, and social distancing enforced it has become a lot harder to engage in the arts. Suddenly we’re stuck inside with a lot of time on our hands. Writing and creating art is accessible, fills this time, and is scientifically proven to improve our mental health. Art is a way to survive, and to express our emotions at this difficult time. That’s where we come in. We will aim to accept and post content on our website https://hypaethralmagazine.wordpress.com weekly, as well as starting a survival pack mailing list to get you through this trying time, and sharing prompts / challenges / recommendations on our social media. Art can transport us out of isolation. We hope we can help.

Perhaps the newest zine here, Hypaethral offers an eclectic range of creative writing from short stories to extracts from unfinished plays, presented in its minimalist web design. There is much potential in the few pieces it has so far presented: Maya Little’s Poem for Somewhere Else conveys a wistful view of isolated multiverses, while Lucy Thynne’s story Motherly Love is a masterful rendering of domestic tensions rising in the unsettling, claustrophobic conditions of quarantine.

Sine Theta Magazine

Editor’s message: ‘Sine Theta Magazine is an international, print-based creative arts publication made by and for the Sino diaspora. It was founded in 2016 by friends from around the world, and its staff, contributors, and interviewees have spanned the globe, from Sweden to South Africa, as well as right here at Oxford University, where our editor-in-chief is a student. We publish quarterly, themed issues showcasing the creative outputs of Sino creatives, and act as a platform for dialogue on the complex nature of diasporic identity. We also feature artists and writers online, on Instagram and Twitter. We serve to empower and connect the Sino diaspora but publish in English and welcome all readers.’

In the eye-catching vibrancy of their artwork, Sine Theta easily intrigues and, opening the striking covers, you will not be disappointed by the richness of its content, spanning poems, personal essays, and exclusive interviews, which have in the past included the nature writer Jessica J. Lee and performance artist Patty Chang. Its editors have a knack for tantalising submission themes, with beautiful results. However, the zine is less accessible, with most issues costing just above £10, though a pdf version is offered for its writers.

Cuntry Living

Editor’s message: ‘Cuntry Living Zine acts as a space to platform voices and issues of those identifying and experiencing oppression as women* and non-binary people. We have totally open submissions, and accept anything from poetry, to playlists, art, recipes or photography. We’re always striving to ask better questions, give better answers and platform new voices, and we make space for creativity without fear of judgement or rejection. We produce 3 zines a year, and run events alongside it, including club nights and craft events. Integral to the aesthetic of Cuntry Living is the DIY collage work that accompany the pieces submitted, produced during our ‘cut and stick’ sessions open to anyone. We cut up traditional, sexist media from magazines such as Glamour and Cosmopolitan and repurpose it for our message. We have digitalised our Winter 2019 and Spring 2020 editions, which you can find here:  issuu.com/cuntryliving.’

Cuntry Living is propelled by a wondrous, irreverent defiance that explodes in vivid collage and sprays of cut-out words. This is where you can discover some of Oxford’s insta-poetry, with the undeniable influence of Rupi Kaur’s feminist art amongst others in the quirkily distinctive multimedia. The writing quality varies, although in Cuntry Living this is part of the joy of it – a delight in crafty experimentalism. Ella Woodcock’s Double Take, presented as a screenshot from a memo, is one curious example, as is the tiny note purportedly found in a copy of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.


Editor’s message: ‘Onyx Magazine is an annual creative arts magazine that uplifts the work of Black poets, artists and writers. The magazine’s vision focuses on being an authentic tool of expression for Black creatives who are underrepresented both in higher educational institutions and the publishing industry within the UK. This vision stemmed also from the wealth of talent that Team Onyx felt was not being captured in print publication. Founded by eight Black Oxford undergraduates and printed in Oxford, the magazine features poetry, historical articles, art, creative think pieces, and is recognised by its black matt front cover and silver foiling. The name for the magazine stems from the historical use of Onyx as a medium to form pottery and art, which dates back to as far as the Second Dynasty. In a similar way to the gemstone’s use Onyx Magazine aims to be the medium through which Black creatives shape and express their artistry. It also points to the inherent value and worth of finding, polishing and celebrating ‘underground’ art. Since conception Onyx has been invited to No.10 Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament, and also won its first award in 2018.’

The gorgeous black covers with the mark of an onyx offer a foretaste of some of the artistic boldness within. In its thought-provoking articles on race, and such poetry as Theophina Gabriel’s exquisitely poignant III: Ghost, the magazine reveals inspirational creativity from a lesser-known side of Oxford, set off by brilliant illustrations playing with contrasts between light and dark. The latest issue of Onyx can be found at £7.99 online. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Onyx has also begun a ‘BUY 1 PASS 1 ON!’ scheme whereby you can choose to buy a copy and give another for free at no extra cost, while receiving a free enamel pin badge ‘as a nod to helping create a feeling of community and togetherness during this isolating time’ – a lovely gesture. 

State of the Arts

Editor’s message: ‘State of the Arts aims to provide a space for new writers in Oxford to showcase and workshop their pieces. We host regular writing nights during term time, where writers read out their work, give each other feedback and throw around ideas. Throughout the vacation, and a potentially remote Trinity term, we will be organising live streams for writers to talk about their work, as well as digital workshop sessions. We are also setting up a playwright pool to connect writers and help them work together. To keep people creating throughout this time, we are sending out regular prompts and providing an online space for our writers to workshop each other’s’ pieces. We will publish select pieces on our website, and are hoping to put together a journal once back in Oxford.

A fledgling publication we are excited to introduce! Watch this space.

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