What is the Buffalo Black Book?
“Buffalo Black Book is a quarterly print 9×12 full color magazine. With the goal of highlighting and exploring culture, subculture, love and people through candid conversation and busting of social stigma. It is edgy, raw, pure and evokes a message of hope, empathy and courage. I feel that creating empathy in a culture comes from dialogue no matter how difficult the topic and that Buffalo Black Book is a beautiful way to invite that dialogue.”
Now tell us about you, and how Buffalo Black Book came about
“My name is Elizabeth Siematkowski. I grew up in the North Country. Canton, NY specifically and came to the Buffalo area eight years ago for graduate school. After finishing my degree and becoming a licensed mental health clinician I worked at Niagara University for four years counseling college students. I found my time working with my clients to be a great privilege. Through them I was reminded that you never really know what people are going through and of the infinite strength a human being has in terms of resilience and the ability to love. During my time at the university I began to really think about how isolating feeling unheard and misunderstood can be and that a way to enact positive change among people and within a culture is through empathy. The more understanding we have about one another, our life experiences, backgrounds and viewpoints the more empathy we build for each other. And I realized a way to create that empathy is through dialogue. I wanted to create a platform to have hard conversations, where no topic was off limits because no person is off limits. So that is when I came up with Buffalo Black Book. That was April 2015.”
“It started as a tiny cut and paste fold up, palm sized, handmade “zine”. They would take about an hour each for me to make and I would spend any spare moments I had making them. Then I started leaving them all over Buffalo in random places: coffee shops, bathroom stalls, I would creepily hand one to someone I would walk by on the street without speaking to them haha. It was kind of this mysterious little black book with no name attached to it the only connection was through the email I created for the publication which I still use, email@example.com. And people actually started to email me! They began submitting poems and tipping me off to things that were happening in the city. Then I signed up for the first ever Sugar City Zine Fair on Niagara Street in November 2015 and was like okay, I think I may have something really special going on here.”
“In January of 2016 I left my job at the university and went out to California to work for the National Park Service in the Santa Monica Mountains. I had always wanted to move to CA, because well, I love rollerblading, sun and the beach. But once I got out there, all I could think about was how much I missed Buffalo and specifically Buffalo Black Book. At that time I had started an Instagram account for it and had about 200 followers. It wasn’t really even a thought in my mind that I could somehow make the little fold up zine into a career or full fledged publication. But as I was out there rollerblading on the Venice Beach Boardwalk I thought, you know what, I can (and do) rollerblade in Buffalo too and I am no stranger to cold weather growing up in the Great North, I need to get back there. So by the grace of God I was Airbnb-ing my place and the person renting from me didn’t like my apartment so she ended up leaving and I was able to move back in after a month. After I moved back I started working mornings at Sweetness 7 Café on Grant Street (totally love the crew there) and also a bit at the Orange Cat Coffee Shop in Lewiston (I still work there now and then because they are like family to me, I worked there all through grad school). But I realized if I wanted to make Buffalo Black Book a real thing I needed to go all in and give it everything I had. My sister lent me her old Canon Rebel and in May I hit the streets. I started interviewing people, we would meet at coffee shops, then we would kind of plan their shoot together and I would go to their homes or studios and just try to capture a day in their life.”
“Coming from a psychology background, I had no experience in digital anything, so I found a print shop in Rochester that is in the old Kodak factory, called Mercury print. I brought them a few examples of my favorite coffee table print magazines and asked them if they could print something like it. They said yes. Then I asked, ‘okay how did they create this?’ And they told me through a program called Adobe InDesign. So I spent day and night watching YouTube videos and teaching myself the program. Then I wrote the stories, chose my favorite photos from the shoots, did the layout and created the magazine.”
“In late August I think it was, Newell Nussbaumer of Buffalo Rising contacted me and asked if I wanted to be interviewed. Of course I was honored and said yes. Through his interview/article I met Kim Smith of Kim Smith Photo, the back cover advertisement. Then the first issue debuted September 15th and the launch event was at Hydraulic Hearth on the 10th and it was amazing. It poured rain! Like the most crazy thunder and lighting rainstorm I have ever seen. But people still came out. And I secretly love that that happened because it’s like that’s Buffalo, man people show up, they beat the odds and that is the heart of Buffalo Black Book.”
“Now I am creating the next issue, aimed to debut December 15th. The goal is to just do everything I can to get it to print, hopefully line up select advertisers again and make it through the year and create all four quarterlies. Even if I break even or lose a little as long as I can pay my rent I will be so happy. The thing is I love this project and I think that is because I love people. I want it to succeed because I want people to succeed.”
Where do you find your inspiration?
What about Buffalo inspires you/your business?
“When I see people being themselves and beating odds it really hits my heart. I think what inspires me most about the city of Buffalo is that the people are amazing. People are amazing in general. Buffalo as a city has had some extreme historical hardships not only by way of industry, market, jobs, population decline, extreme segregation but also just in terms of weather. People in Buffalo are hardy as hell. And it’s like what keeps people going when they are up against so many external factors. How are they doing it? So, I wanted to ask them.”
Your go-to words of encouragement
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
“I would tell myself: don’t be afraid to be the goofball that you are. And to trust myself more.”
Favorite Buffalo stuff.
“The food. And I like that Buffalo is kind of off the beaten path, it is the underdog. I feel like I have been underestimated a lot in my life and I feel like Buffalo as a city has also been a bit underestimated in ways, but always comes through and is full of beautiful surprises if you really give it a chance.”