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To Jen Angel

February 21, 2023

The counter-institutions and the many radical networks that Jen Angel helped build and nurture were a key foundation to the formation of Justseeds in the early 2000’s. She was a friend and colleague to many of us. We mourn her passing while equally celebrating her life. Below are a collection of writings and art to Jen Angel from the extended Justseeds network.

David Solnit (Berkeley, CA)

Dear Jen Angel,

Thinking of you as I made this design with love and appreciation for you, for a long friendship, for how you move in the world — even after you have left us, and all the ways you support people, communities and movements, including me. I’m learning from your practical, down to earth brilliance, love, and generosity. Thank you.

The bottom of the image is from a botanical illustration of mycelium (Rebecca Zwanzig, High West Wild). I was listening to a talk this week about how forests are interconnected and provide critical information and mutual aid, which is facilitated by hub trees. I realize that you have been such a hub tree for our human forest. Suzanne Simard, a scientist who grew up in the forest, explains, “When [Hub] Mother Trees—the majestic hubs at the center of forest communication, protection, and sentience—die, they pass their wisdom to their kin…sharing the knowledge of what helps and what harms, who is friend or foe, and how to adapt and survive in an ever-changing landscape.”
love, David

PS; Today’s update written by Jen’s friends on Caring Bridge ended with:
“On her 48th birthday, just days before her death, Jen posted this Mary Oliver poem on social media:
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Mary Tremonte (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jen Angel was a formative figure in my life. I hadn’t seen Jen in person for many years, but have kept up with her endeavors via social media. Hearing of her attack and then death is heartbreaking. Jen’s resonance for me is in the spaces and structures that she co-created for us to come together in affinity, to nurture our political consciousness and media-making in all its forms. Spaces like the UPC/AMC were a crucial root for me in finding my creative voice and to meet others with which to build affinities. They are the bedrock of basically all the work I have done over the past 20+ years, from touring with the Project Mobilivre-Bookmobile Project (which led me to later live in Canada for five years) to working as a Warhol Museum educator for a decade (I was hired because of my zinemaking experience) to joining Justseeds as it became a cooperative in 2007. Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative has been my radical art family for over 15 years. So much of how we initially found one another in the early-zeros was in spaces like the UPC/AMC. We found one another through intersecting affinities with activism, street art and printmaking, nurtured through in-person gatherings. I will be forever grateful to her for showing us a way, structurally and also by example, of how to lead a rich, fulfilling life while holding on to one’s ethos, and being open to adaptation in changing times. 

I *think* I first met Jen at the More Than Music Fest in Columbus, Ohio, in 1997. I was almost 19 and it was my first large hardcore punk/anarchist/activist gathering. I also remember seeing her zine Fucktooth at Tower Records while still in high school in the boring suburbs of NOVA and being very intrigued by her very personal/political writing. I think we intersected at subsequent fests, but I wasn’t really in Jen’s orbit until Fall 1999, when a group of Pittsburgh self-identified zine geeks and activists drove to Little Rock, Arkansas, for a gathering hosted by Theo Witsell of Spectacle zine and Tree of Knowledge distro. We stopped somewhere in Ohio to connect with another carload to caravan down together. The other car included Jen, her partner at the time Jason Kuscma, and their friend Kristen Schmidt, with whom I shared a tent and totally bonded with throughout the weekend; we are still friends today. The gathering would affectionately be dubbed “Tickstock” by the two dozen or so attendees, and happened again the following year. I remember looking up to Jen as a cool older punk babe and I felt like I already knew her a bit from reading her zine…but she was also so friendly and welcoming. That idea of meeting “famous” people in the scene and them just being people who are your peers and comrades has been an ongoing thread that I really appreciate about our punk-art-activist networks. 

Nine months later in Summer 2000 a similar Pittsburgh crew (thank you Mike “Q” Roth) road-dogged to Bowling Green, Ohio, for what was then called the Underground Publishing Convention (or UPC for short, which we found snarkily funny). Jen and Jason were excited to showcase Clamor, the new magazine they had just started. We all slept on the floor of their house (a running theme in the generosity and openness of DIY networks) and I met other zinemakers who I started trading and penpalling with. I continued to attend the UPC which later became the Allied Media Conference (AMC) for almost every year it has existed, including the 20th, and unbeknownst final in-person full conference, in 2018. I started by attending for the community and workshops, then exhibited The Slagheaps are Sprouting, a Pittsburgh-centered art and zine tour in 2002, and led printmaking workshops and tabled many times with other members of Justseeds. It has always felt like a cultural and political home. It’s a testament to Jen’s acuity and humility that she handed off the conference to the organizers of Detroit Summer to take it over in 2007, recognizing where the future of the conference truly lay in centering BIPOC and queer perspectives. 

Jen Angel was a possibility model of a punk creative and activist keeping it real through decades of engagement while also expanding structures for us to share knowledge and struggles to build a joyful culture of resistance together. I thank her for creating these spaces and doing so much behind-the-scenes work for us to come together. Her spirit will inspire us forever.

Fernando Marti (San Francisco, CA)

Jen was always a welcoming generous light, in community and at the Anarchist Book Fairs she nurtured, cultivated and gave soul to. To me, she was just a bright light in the Bay Area constellation, always a smile and inquiring words when I saw her. Her spirit continues to welcome new worlds, as the words of her family attest to, worlds where we can respond to the senselessness of violence with compassion and restorative hope. You will be missed.

Nicolas Lampert (Milwaukee, WI)

I so appreciated how Jen Angel welcomed people into movement organizing. Her approach to movement building and creating structures for many to thrive and to share is a lesson for all of us. She made such a positive impact in my life when I was first beginning to write about art and activism in the early 2000s. She encouraged me (and so many others) to write for Clamor magazine and I can trace my path to writing to the encouragement that she and Jason provided me in those early days. She – and by extension Clamor – took the “Become the Media” ethics that was made famous during the Seattle WTO protests (yet existed long before) and moved it powerfully into DIY print publications. Jen had a keen understanding of the role of radical art in movements and was a key ally to artists and designers. She welcomed artists onto panels at the Allied Media Conference and the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair and booked us airtime on KPFA to talk art and activism. She was always building and expanding radical networks by connecting people and believing in the talents that we all have. She helped connect so many of us. That is part of her enduring legacy. Thank you Jen.

Josh MacPhee (Brooklyn, NY)

Jen Angel, 1975–2023

Like so many activists, anarchists, organizers, and zinesters of my generation, my life has criss-crossed with Jen Angel’s so many times it’s challenging to catalog all the intersections. Her death has been an unshakable shadow—although I don’t think I have seen Jen in a decade, that doesn’t diminish how crucial she and her work was to my own life. The truth is that I didn’t know Jen deeply as a person, although we are interconnected in so many ways. I set out to write about Jen, but in reality I find it hard to do much beyond chronicling our parallel paths, and maybe through that seeing how influential Jen was on so many people and projects.

When Jen started Fucktooth in the early 90s, still in high school outside of Cleveland, I was living just a handful of miles away at Oberlin College, going to punk shows in Cleveland and starting a zine distro—called Junglegym—with my friends Irene and Rebecca. I’m sure Jen and my lives crossed, although I have no memory of it anymore. Maybe we met at a show, or through mutual zine friends, or maybe Junglegym even carried Fucktooth—I have a little brain itch that makes that sound right, but for someone who has literally hoarded enough stuff to start an archive, I strangely don’t have a single copy of any of our old zine catalogs from those days.

I suspect we almost reconnected for many years after that: Jen went to the Active Resistance conference in Chicago in ’96, I was living across the country and couldn’t make it (yet ended up moving to Chicago a year later); she was in Seattle for the World Trade Center protests in ’99, I was in an anarchist collective that decided—quite stupidly in hindsight—that it wasn’t important enough to go to.

It was at the Underground Publishing Conference that we very definitely got back on the same track. I’m unsure if I got to 1999’s Midwest Zine Conference—the precursor to UPC—but I was definitely in Bowling Green, Ohio for the next handful of conferences. This is where Jen’s life and work began to have profound impacts on my own. With the conference, Jen and Jason (Kucsma, co-founder of UPC and Clamor) created an open and flexible space for small independent book publishers, zinesters, and artists to not only hawk our wares, but also hang out, talk shop, and collectively share and think through problems. It was at UPC (and the San Francisco Anarchist Bookfair, which Jen eventually would also be involved in) that I started promoting Justseeds and my artwork to broader audiences, and really cutting my teeth at “tabling”—that staple of learning how to explain what you do and why to as many people as possible in hopes that some of them will buy your shit. It’s also where I either first met, or deepened existing relationships with, many of the initial cohort of artists that would evolve Justseeds into an artists’ cooperative. Mary Tremonte, Nicolas Lampert, Colin Matthes, Dylan Miner, Erik Ruin, Shaun Slifer, and Bec Young were all UPC staples, and we looked forward to seeing each other each year, trading art, and being on panel discussions with each other. This platform that Jen built was absolutely essential to the social bonds that fostered Justseeds into a cooperative project.

The years immediately following ’99 were a huge growth period for both the left and independent publishing. Many of us were trying to figure out how to scale-up in sustainable ways and reach larger audiences without compromising our politics or horizontal processes. Justseeds was growing way beyond my individual capacity, both in terms of the labor of administration, packing, and shipping (never mind actually making artwork) and the space necessary to store all the stock. Clamor was going through similar growing pains, and in the spirit of community mutual aid, Jen, Jason, and Josh (Breitbart, who joined the Clamor/UPC/Allied Media Projects team in the early 2000s) took stock of the broader scene’s weaknesses (atomization, struggles to transition to online sales, distribution scaling difficulties, etc.) and their unique strengths (cheap real estate in Toledo, Ohio, a publication that could act as a bridge to many like-minded projects, lots of energy and good will) and crafted a project to address the former and take advantage of the latter. Clamor opened a small warehouse and brought a number of DIY projects’ distro in-house, acting as a physical (and online) hub for the cultural production of the counter-globalization protest era. Justseeds became one of these projects, with Jen et. al. taking on my stock and doing all the order fulfillment.

For a number of reasons not worth getting into here (and many of which Jen has written about herself in her pamphlet Become the Media), the distro project failed, and it almost took Justseeds down with it. I was out of a lot of stock and something approaching $10k. Jen was apologetic, but more importantly supportive in finding next steps to keep Justseeds alive. And it turns out this was just the provocation needed to move Justseeds out of my hands and into a cooperative endeavor. With the help and support from hundreds of people (including Jen) Justseeds reemerged in 2006 as an artists’ co-op, with many of the members gathered from relationships built at the UPC.

I never lived in the same city as Jen, yet from 2000–2006 it felt like we were always in conversation. I often did artwork and bits of writing for Clamor and UPC/Allied Media Projects, and Jen and Jason were instrumental in the publishing of my first book, Stencil Pirates. Clamor was initially going to publish it, but when that became unfeasible, they shepherded a relationship with Soft Skull Press, who ultimately became the publisher. I remember traveling to Ohio from Chicago often, and vice versa for Jen and co.

I can’t remember the last time I saw Jen, but we were certainly what the old communists would have called fellow-travelers. She always seemed interested in institution building over sectarianism, creating something worth having a fight over rather than fighting over abstractions. Unlike many other people and projects I (and Justseeds) have shared streets with, I never once felt any sense of competition with Jen, only a desire to strengthen each other through mutual aid and support. This ability to look beyond the pieces and at the larger board was something that seemed to come easy to Jen, which is so impressive in our age of the self.

Jen was an often behind-the-scenes yet essential element in the growth of Justseeds, and core to my own personal outlook on, and practice of, community building. I celebrate her life and hope the power of her way of being can continue to challenge us and help us grow.

Dylan Miner (East Lansing, MI)

Roger Peet (Portland, OR)

I realized while writing this that I probably met Jen Angel during Active Resistance in Chicago in 1996. That’s a distant memory, but every year for who knows how many years, when I showed up at the Bay Area Anarchist bookfair to hawk the wares of the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, Jen would be there to greet me and usher me in the general direction of where I was supposed to go. Those events always had a mildly chaotic flavor but showed clear signs of having been set up by people who knew what they were doing; people who were looking to create a stable base for the chaos to ride on, and one of those, of course, was Jen.

One year we actually got to hang out outside of the context of the bookfair and Jen suggested we head over to check out her bakery. We got coffee and meandered down the street, passing through an increasingly dense informal encampment of tents and structures cobbled together out of tarps and twine and scrap lumber. Jen was telling me about her explorations in the realm of polyamory, a field in which we had some shared interest, and like most people who I feel like I can actually talk to about the experience of having broadly open romantic horizons, Jen seemed to be kind of chill about it. She talked about how she was more about the fun part than the identity part, and described how an unfurling of emotional expectations could make things easier for people in their relationships, as opposed to the “more complicated and weird” that a lot of people seem to imagine. I nodded along.

The avenues of tent and tarp and pallet opened up before us to reveal the improbable gingerbread house that was the Angel Cakes bakery. Jen unlocked the door and ushered me in and set about moving some stuff around. She handed me a small red velvet cupcake and I ate it and asked if I could have another one and I ate that too. She showed me through the surprising architecture of the event space that the bakery was attached to and described all the people who used it for all the kinds of parties you could imagine, and how much she appreciated being able to connect the workaday context of baking with the wild uproar next door.

It was what she did there, and had been doing for decades. Setting up institutions and letting them run, seeing what they turned into, and then looking around for more things to develop and distribute to people who needed more infrastructure than they could imagine creating themselves. That was what Jen did for the people she thought of as a community; which opened out to include basically everyone: building things to last out of whatever there was to hand, and setting them free into the world on clockwork legs, to run themselves into the whirlwind of a new world. Some sort of open-world Trojan horse we could all get on and in and go on riding with, hanging off the outside with our mouths and eyes open and blinking in the light, and she might simply stand and wave and dust off her hands and look around to see if there was something else that needed doing, and then something more after that.

Kevin Caplicki (New York)

Design available as a high-res download, for printing, on our Graphics page.
Design available as a high-res download, for printing, on our Graphics page.

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One comment on “To Jen Angel”

I hope some (many?) of folks in the Justseeds collective can make it to the celebration of Jen Angel’s life. It will be May 7th in Oakland CA.

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