On the 2400 block of Curtis Street, blocks from downtown Denver, an unmarked, gray temple stands like silent monolith. The front doors won’t open for you, but a steel door around the corner will yield better results. Ring the doorbell, and once inside, climb the narrow stairwell to the second floor.
You’ve arrived at the Denver Zine Library.
The small space, tucked into corner of the building, holds near 20,000 “zines”: do-it-yourself magazines of raw poetry, political polemics, personal diary-like narratives, and irreverent comics.
So grab a zine and plop down in the plush chair. Or, if you’re a third-time visitor, check out a stack and read where you like. The library is open weekends, or by appointment on weekdays.
This is Denver’s only library of zines, and one of only a smattering outside of the East Coast, according to volunteer Brendan Williams.
Volunteers label zines into categories like “Comix” and “Perzines” – writings on personal experiences, which are usually serialized. Other than the shelves, there’s the single armchair in a corner and desk for the volunteer.
On Saturday, sunlight shone through a window. Williams worked the desk and explained that zines are united by a do-it-yourself approach to writing and publishing.
At first glance, it seems hard to link all 20,000 zines in a single category. Some are crudely folded pieces of paper dotted with poetry stanzas. Others look professional and are shelved in volumes.
Rather, it’s the content and spirit that matter, Williams said. More often than not, the contents are scrawlings from people that aren’t reliably represented in mainstream publications who decide to make their own.
“A lot of these zines here are made by people of color, LGBT, people who have been homeless, or the poor, and people who are connected to the punk (music) scene,” Williams, 25, said.
For example, Williams wrote zines about LGBT youth discovering their identities during the rise of the internet. He identifies as transgender.
He also produced a stack of zines concerning sexual assault. One was a tumultuous personal narrative written by a rape victim. Another was a laundry list of resources and advice written for other sexual assault victims.
Sitting prominently on a shelf is a professionally-styled compilation of Asian-American writers and poets living in New York City. One writer, a Filipino-American, wrote about some Filipinos’ unwillingness to accept descendants with European ancestry – like herself.
These are other zines are raw and intimate, presenting vulnerable writing and a glimpse into niche experiences some readers otherwise wouldn’t have a clue about.
The intimacy bleeds from the zines into the library itself. It’s extremely quiet, and from the armchair in the corner, it’s easy to knock knees with the day’s volunteer. Footsteps can be heard from clear across the building.
The Temple, as it is known, is worthy of a trip to the Curtis Park neighborhood in its own right.
It’s a fitting and mysterious locale for the Zine Library, and the fourth location since Kelly Costello co-founded the zine library in a Baker neighborhood shed. He briefly shelved zines at two locations in Denver, but both buildings have since been demolished, he said.
Costello is known in the metro arts scene by his moniker Kelly Shortandqueer. He’s also transgender and the author of a serialized perzine.
The Temple was once a synagogue, Costello said. It’s rumored that illicit parties and raves took place there before artists and nonprofits split the space into affordable studios and units.
When Costello toured the temple four years ago, he said there was a hole in the floor near where the library now stands. It has since been patched.
You’re free to wander around the Temple and stretch your legs. Upstairs, a hidden Santa Muerte shrine exudes bright colors. Murals bookend rows of visual art studios. Through a small window, you can look down into the Rebel Bread bakery and cafe that occupies its own wing.
However, Costello said a recent donation from prominent art collective Meow Wolf has buoyed the operation.
Costello declined to disclose the donated amount of money, but said the funds liberate the library to do more and “dream big.”
That may mean investing more in the annual Denver Zine Fest, an expo drawing folks from the region, or buying a laptop and junking the ancient desktop volunteers are using to catalogue the zines.
Or, it could mean more public promotion of the hidden gem, he said.