Rum Riot Press Spotlight: Katie Haegele

"17 Strangers" Katie Haegele

Among the many diverse ‘zines catalogued and on view in the annex gallery through August 23rd are three creations from artist, poet, and journalist, Katie Haegele.  There is the eighth issue of  “The La-La Theory”, a ‘zine about linguistics, beside “The 77”, an instant ‘zine (a type of 'zine made from just a single sheet of paper) that describes a public bus ride. A small, unassuming, staple-bound ‘zine sits beside these two, almost lost on the OSB shelf if not for the familiar “HELLO, my name is” sticker pasted to its craft-paper cover. Haegele has scrawled “17 STRANGERS” into the blank space. This becomes the ‘zine’s title and introduces the reader to seventeen flash memoirs, each one including an interaction the author has had with a stranger.

In seventeen stories over thirty-eight pages, Haegele covers a lot of ground. She tells us stories from her childhood and her adult life, pointing at some small but important connections she’s made with people who’ve passed through her life. The memories display grief and embarrassment and vanity and many other things that are much more complicated than a list is capable of describing. Her writing is nonchalant, poignant, very funny and sometimes sad. It’s a balance that can only come from an incredibly sincere and thoughtful writer.

The ‘zine is Haegele’s unique and specific memories and, at times, my own. Haegele is a kid who embodies a certain guilt (the kind that only comes with innocence) at the theater when she is misquoted as having said an actor’s performance was good. She writes, “I fretted about this for a little while after the play had started again, scrupulous, nervous kid that I was. I hadn’t actually SAID I thought he was good. Wouldn’t that be lying?” It’s the kind of guilt a kid feels before they are able to distinguish different levels of importance. It’s the same kind I felt when I was seven and my aunt told a cop I was sick, and that we were racing to the hospital—a harmless effort to evade a speeding ticket. Later that night I worried and tossed in my bed and eventually, nervously tip-toed down the stairs to tell my mom the truth. Every one of these stories allows my to revisit my own memories in this way; they are all so honest.

Haegele, who studied linguistics in undergrad, is self-described as “interested in the thing some people think makes us human”. While she is referring to language when she writes this, I found that thing in reading “17 Strangers”. Through the seventeen separate moments she has bound together as one ode to the brief and significant connections we can sometimes find in one another, Haegele illustrates what makes us human.

By marnie
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