Punk is alive and well, thanks to Emory class and Rose archives

By Ramsey Baden | Emory Report | Dec. 6, 2018

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A flyer for a performance of Atlanta hardcore punk band Neon Christ is part of the Rose Library’s growing punk collection at Emory University, documenting punk and DIY culture in Atlanta and the Southeast. Image courtesy Rose Library, Emory University.

By the 1980s, punk music had gotten America’s attention. Black Flag, the Clash, the Sex Pistols and many other bands were pushing the boundaries of music and art. Afro-Punk and riot grrrl became movements in which persecuted groups could push back against oppressive authorities. Neon Christ, Act of Faith and Crisis Under Control led Atlanta’s own punk scene. No one had heard anything like punk.

“Punk’s Not Dead” is an expository writing course at Emory this fall in which instructor Joseph Fritsch and his first-year students have followed the punk revolution. Their goal has been to capture its essence and use it to enhance their writing. 

“I’ve always had a real passion for punk, the music, the community it creates, the sense of working against authority, and creation itself within the community,” Fritsch says. He adds that the DIY element of punk culture specifically empowers students to write.

“The aesthetic of DIY, the less-than-perfect, the rough-around-the-edges, is one that I love to compare to the drafting process of writing,” Fritsch notes.

The collection

The Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library’s punk rock collection, which covers 1980-2009, is essential to the class’s investigation. It allows Fritsch’s students to look extensively at punk history and culture in Atlanta and across the United States. Students spent an entire class period in October in the Rose Library interacting with the punk collection. “Students were having a great time looking through materials, picking up things they didn’t expect to see – like clothing,” Fritsch says.

For student Maggie O’Mahoney, the visit revealed just how extensive an archive can be. “When we visited the Rose Library, we looked at artifacts from zines to photographs and even concert t-shirts. It was extremely eye-opening to see that the Rose considered a wide array of objects for the exhibit,” she says. 

Other students found the collection of clothing, posters and fanzines remarkably personal. “Each one of the donors for the various items had some connection to the punk movement in its earlier days, and were willing to display their souvenirs for other visitors to see,” says Yufei Han.

Fellow student Cleo He feels that the collection makes punk tangible and accessible. “I was most impressed by the handmade and handwriting features of the materials. For example, one of the zines has a handwritten line of ‘I’ve X’d myself from your world’ on it. I could feel the independent and DIY spirits of the punk concerts and it really shortened the distance between the actual punk scene and me,” says He. 

Fritsch is well qualified to guide his students in their creative journeys. He received his BFA in poetry from CUNY Brooklyn and is currently pursuing his PhD at Emory. He also works at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship, where he helps faculty and students create 3-D visualizations of their projects. Punk integrates smoothly with Fritsch’s interest in creation and artistry, and his own punk experience is an inspiration to his students.

Students are already picking up valuable research skills from their approach to punk this semester. “Through the course, I have developed my writing, as well as have learned how to incorporate evidence from primary sources, such as from the Rose, into my writing in a productive way,” O’Mahoney says. 

Fritsch agrees and emphasizes the importance of what the Rose Library really offers — a chance to enter another era. “It’s one thing to read about a culture that creates its own magazines in a living room, staples them together and distributes them by hand. It’s another entirely to pick it up and see it in person,” Fritsch says. “Learning to use an archive is a life skill.”