QuaranTine Zine: Students create online magazine on experience

The fitst ever ATXY Zine magazine cover, created by the Austin Public Library’s Teen Editorial Board members. ATXY Zine photo


When Vandegrift junior Estella Zhao started quarantining mid-March, she wasn’t sure if she’d get a chance to volunteer at the Austin Public Library, much less be part of the first online magazine created by the local library: ATXY Zine. The “QuaranTine Zine” issue was designed and brought to life by Zhao and her fellow virtual student volunteers and serves as a reminder of teens’ experiences during the pandemic. 

“Now that the libraries are closed, we wanted to find a way to continue to uplift teen writers and artists,” Zhao’s Austin Public Library supervisor Kathleen Houlihan said. “We felt very strongly that the project must be wholly teen-run and all decisions should be made by teens about the content of the literary and art magazine.”

Their summer issue will be submitted to the Austin History Center COVID-19 files to document the teen perspective during the pandemic. It was created on the Austin Public Library’s Canva account, and the volunteers had to individually log on and add their material to the magazine in a two week time period. Submissions for the fall issue are open until Oct. 31.

Vandegrift junior Erin Houchins also felt the need to write during quarantine. She created a collection of poems discussing what she missed most about everyday life. When Zhao asked for her poems, Houchins was shocked. 

“I was honestly really honored that she even thought of me for a magazine, I was like ‘why would you even think of me’ and she was like ‘shut up, you’re an amazing writer,’” Houchins remembers.

As president of the Creative Writers Guild, Houchins has fostered her writing skills throughout high school, eventually leading to her first publication in the Austin Public Library’s magazine.

“There were things that I missed and things that I couldn’t do anymore so I decided I was going to live through my writing,” Houchins said. “I like being able to express all the emotions that I felt about those things through the imagery and describing them.”

Zhao admitted that for her the process has not been particularly motivational, but more of a creative outlet.

“It was a fun volunteer experience, and it was all virtual, but we still felt like it was productive and we got things done,” Zhao said. 

For one of her magazine submissions, Zhao wrote an essay on her quarantine experience, beginning with the last day of school and ending with a reflection of the time she had while at home and how she spent it.

Estella Zhao

“I just wanted to write something, I guess, in the simplest, broadest sense of just wanting to document it–because it was chaotic. It was all chaotic,” she said. “There were still fun parts, like in March, whenever we all went virtual, it’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to pay attention during class as much!,’ but it was also stressful, so it’s just expressing that.”

Along with her essay, Zhao also created a virtual sticky note collage entitled “Paper Ephemera,” inspired by her reading log, where she had been keeping track of the many books she read during quarantine and her favorite quotes from them.

Erin Houchins

“I [thought] it would be fun to do a sticky note collage with the quotes, and then random activities that I did, because I used sticky notes like, ‘Remember to do your assignment for Google Classroom’, so I thought, ‘Oh, I can make sticky notes virtually,’ just tie it all together with the random things that I did,” Zhao said.

Her supervisor at the library praised Zhao’s submissions, saying that she often receives comments on Zhao’s work from the Zine’s readers and that “Paper Ephemera” was her personal favorite.

“[Zhao’s] two pieces really showed off a great range of ability and creative vision,” Houlihan said. “She showed great leadership for the group, and we very much appreciated her vision, and her compassionate mindfulness about schedules and deadlines.”

Katie McClellan is a VHS senior and this is her second year on staff. She’s also a member of the yearbook staff and NHS. Katie loves to read, write, advocate, and spend time with her friends. 

Brianne Chase is a VHS junior and this is her first year in newspaper. She has been in choir for six years and is a part of the women’s varsity choir.