Elizabeth Siematkowski, M.S.Ed.’11: Sharing Buffalo’s Stories
September 27, 2016 by Lisa McMahon, MA'09
As a former competitive figure skater, Elizabeth Siematkowski, M.S.Ed.’11, knew the importance of self-care and personal wellbeing. She also knew that the college years were an especially important time for young men and women and wanted to help them navigate the life issues, concerns and decisions confronting them. So, shortly after earning her master’s degree in Niagara’s clinical mental health counseling program, she joined the university’s counseling center, where she worked for nearly four years.
And then she discovered another calling––that of storyteller. The stories she tells in Buffalo Black Book, the coffee table lifestyle magazine she writes, edits, photographs, designs, and publishes on her own, celebrate the culture, subculture, love, and people of her adopted hometown in a way that is “edgy, raw, pure and evokes a message of hope, empathy and courage,” she says.
Buffalo Black Book started out as intricately folded “zines” printed on black paper and featuring stories of people who were enacting positive social change or creating outlets for others (such as the founder of Buffalo’s slam poetry group, Pure Ink Poetry, and a Columbian family who has been instrumental in the transformation of Buffalo’s West Side neighborhood). Elizabeth would leave these little books around the city with the email address email@example.com so people could submit ideas for future stories.
The zine quickly gained an audience, and Elizabeth was encouraged to expand the books into a full-fledged magazine, despite the fact she had no publishing background. Working from her apartment, Elizabeth would peruse social media and read emails to identify individuals who could be potential profiles. She interviewed them in local coffee shops and took their photos at their studios or in their homes. While her undergraduate English minor helped her to compose the stories, she had to teach herself to use a desktop publishing software program in order to design what became an 80-page publication. She oversaw the printing, as well, making several trips to a Rochester-based print shop during the time it was on press. In September, she launched the inaugural issue.
Primarily available through online sales, Buffalo Black Book can also be purchased at several shops in Buffalo and in Lewiston, as well as at Iconic Magazine, McNally Jackson Books, and Spoonbill Books in New York City. Elizabeth is also working on distribution through larger companies such as Urban Outfitters Upstate.
The response to the magazine has been amazing, Elizabeth says, and she hopes to publish four issues a year. With only four advertisers to date, that might be financially difficult, but Elizabeth notes that she has “some great content lined up for the seasons to come, so I am going to do everything I can to see it come to fruition.”
Eventually, she’d like to produce similar magazines on an annual basis for other locations, such as upstate New York or Australia. She also wants to look into the possibility of having Buffalo Black Book become a publishing company that curates novellas, poetry, and other works from local authors.
In the meantime, she will continue to seek out stories that enable people to see and understand others, despite their differences.
“That is what the Buffalo Black Book is about,” she says. “It’s about getting to know each other and experiencing things we may not be comfortable with, and challenging ourselves to understand why we are uncomfortable. I think dialogue and understanding between individuals is what creates empathy in a culture. And increasing our collective empathy I feel is my life’s work.”