A local literary artist stands as a beacon of representation ‘for those as queer as the cosmos’
Dubbed as Las Vegas’ “Zine Queen,” Elizabeth Allen Berry paves their own path to deliver impactful poetry through artful zines, spoken word performances, teaching self-publishing workshops and as a rising creative force in the local literary scene. They are also the creator of their very own publishing company, Cosmic Q Publishing.
Berry hails from Minnesota, attended college in Wyoming and has lived in Vegas since 2019. They say they’ve been composing poetry for five years and that it emerged from their experience of coming out.
Off The Strip chats with Berry about their creative process, artistic influences and the non-profit organization they work with, Poetry Promise, Inc.
Why do you create art?
At first I was a waveform, then I was put into this human body. The space in between that, where I experienced flow, is what I’m trying to communicate; I’m trying to communicate my individual experience through art, maybe not even to others but to myself, especially when I’m painting with acrylic paints, where I feel like I’m looking into a mirror. It’s like having a self-meditation for hours because I’m trying to understand more about myself and how I fit in this world through creation.
How did you get the nickname “Zine Queen”?
Oh, my goodness. I’m so glad you asked that because it’s necessary that I give a shout-out to my mentor and my good friend, Ashley Vargas. Her performing name is Miss AyeVee, and she runs Beyond the Neon. She’s just phenomenal and runs these amazing workshops. Right now she’s on maternity leave, and we are so joyful that her baby is so healthy and happy.
It was during an open mic night when I said, “Hey, I’m going to perform this poem. This is my zine. It’s the second one I’ve ever made.” I told her that before I was up on stage. As she was introducing me, she said, and “‘The Zine Queen’, herself, Elizabeth Allen Berry,” it was one of those moments that clicked.
Who are your biggest artistic influences?
In zine and graphic novel format, there are three big artists that really inspire me: Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” collection, Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” collection, and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe. They tell stories that are really unique through really unique formats, with “Maus” winning the Nobel Peace Prize through its contribution.
And then, as for my writing, I got a degree in entomology. So I get a lot of inspiration from that writing world and how they describe the natural world. So E.O. Wilson has an autobiography that I really enjoy, and just the way he speaks about his life really encapsulates, and then there is another entomologist, Vladimir Nabokov, who is actually a fiction writer. He has an autobiography called “Speak Memory.” It’s about his experience, both escaping from Russia during the like prosecution of nobles and also talking about his experience with entomology and how that influences life. I think those are really beautiful pieces of writing.
What artistic creation do you feel most proud of (so far) and why?
There’s a recent poem that I’ve written. It’s up to performance, and it’s memorized. It has its actions. It’s called “Worth.” I was very inspired by a local poet called Monarch The Poet. He has a poem called “ABC,” and it runs through every letter of the alphabet. And it tells us a really beautiful story.
So I wanted to write a poem that had the same alliterative quality. In my poem “Worth,” I go through each letter of the word worth and do alliteration. There’s a whole section that starts with W, then starts with O, and follows with R. I feel like it’s the centerpiece of my performance because I’ve built it on wordplay. I’ve built on the format. I built on all these different sections of poetry, and now they’ve all accumulated into this onstage presence I have, and I feel amazing doing it. I love sharing it because it is definitely a crowd favorite.
Most inspiring place in Las Vegas?
I feel like every poet has a home open mic, a place where they feel most at home. For me, that’s Campfire LV. It’s the longest running open mic in Vegas. And why I say it’s so inspiring and why I show up to every single event is because not only does it feel like family, but people go on stage and own their truth often for the first time. The amount of people that have been there that are sharing their heart for the first time is so awe-inspiring to me.
I remember not too long ago standing on stage for the first time and being so nervous, fumbling with my words and knowing that all of that is part of the process towards becoming a performer, being a character on stage. It’s like watching someone take their first steps. It’s very indescribable to me.
Which local nonprofit organization do you support and why?
I work for an organization called Poetry Promise, Inc. They’re a local literary nonprofit providing literary arts programs across Vegas. And so through that organization, I’ve worked with a lot, but I really love their mission, and just getting poets out there and getting the artists paid.
Through that I’ve been able to work with Nevada Partnership of Homeless Youth. And that, I think, is an organization that truly helps the invisible population of America. We often talk about unknown people, but we don’t often understand that sometimes those unknown people are minors, and genuinely need support. So that’s why I love that organization. There’s also Project 150, which I’ve yet to work with, but I know they work with them to help the homeless youth as well. I think it’s such an important mission because they have such an important story to tell.
What challenges impact Poetry Promise, Inc.?
There are often communities that I visit or age groups that I teach that are fairly illiterate. It’s interesting for someone who’s a poet and performs to teach poetry to people who might not read or who might not know how to write. I think it’s really beautiful because I feel that poetry is accessible to everyone and should be a tool that everyone has at their disposal; whether they use it is up to them. I think it taps into this space—even art in general taps into this space—where it allows people to express parts of themselves that they might not understand yet. So it is interesting to go into communities and places all across Vegas and understand how they uniquely have their own experience that we then cater to as dynamic artists.
How can locals support Poetry Promise, Inc.?
Great question. I’ll take a broader stance. There’s obviously donating, but also there is space for literary arts in Vegas. There’s a very large space, whether or not it’s some people opening up their physical space for us to teach and educate, but also spreading the word that Vegas has an art scene. So often, tourists don’t understand that, like when someone from out of town asks, “Do you live in a casino?” There’s a whole community of people. So I think dispelling the idea that we’re just a tourist town.
There’s an arts scene that is growing here; we foster all our arts, and it’s definitely experiencing a boom right now. Spreading the word on that type of stuff is the groundwork. On the other hand, delving into the community of artists and supporting them, going to art markets, and spending your money locally also help.
Is there anything else you want to talk about that we haven’t covered?
Yeah, I’d love to talk about self-publishing. Self-publishing is something that’s accessible to everyone. According to the International Copyright Law, as soon as you put your pen on a piece of paper, it is copyrighted to you. And there’s another level at which you can take it. If you have passion about something or if you have an opinion, then there’s a space in our community for that opinion to be voiced, written and shared. That’s why I think zines are so important, because they provide that groundwork.
If you have access to a printer or a copier, then you are able to create your own book and share it with the community for free or for a minimal charge. But they are incredibly cheap to make, and there are incredibly versatile ways to distribute them. And there are increasingly more spaces opening for that in Vegas. We are experiencing an art boom, but we are also experiencing a zine boom. So if you’re a poet, an artist, a photographer, or a painter, there are ways for you to create your own handmade books that people will cherish and keep on their bookshelf for their entire lives.
Elizabeth Allen Berry is currently working on releasing the fourth chapter of their upcoming zine, “Becoming the Void Walker,” described as “a story of reclaiming power as a person who is Queer, Trandsgender and Neurodivergent.” Keep an eye out for updates on their website and Instagram.