L to R: Rebecca Wolff, Melissa Severin, Becca Klaver, Judy Johnson, Rachel Levitsky, Diane Gilliam, Erica Kaufman, Jan Freeman, Brandi Homan
On Saturday, September 13, Switchback Books hosted a Feminist Presses roundtable as part of Lifting Belly High: A Conference of Women’s Poetry Since 1900 with representatives from 13th Moon Press, Belladonna* Books, Fence Books, Kelsey Street Press, Press, and Perugia Press. Participants read statements and discussed what it means to call a press “feminist,” and how that term is affected by history (from the 1970s to the 2000s), culture (motivations and philosophies from the second wave, third wave, and beyond), and the publishing market (how do the categories of “feminist” and “women” affect marketing and sales?).
Rachel Levitsky and Erica Kaufman explained that reading series and publishing outlet Belladonna* is “a pursuit based in desire,” not out of a impulse to rectify “essentializing or separatism or marginalization.” Poet Diane Gilliam read a statement by Perugia editor-in-chief Susan Kan, and talked about the positive experience of publishing with a small, woman-edited press. Like some of the other presses involved, Fence does not call itself a feminist press; still, Rebecca Wolff could easily point to various feminist ideals it embodies. Judy Johnson of 13th Moon called for a feminist publishing distribution network, and Patricia Dienstfrey of Kelsey Street Press sent along a statement that called for better documentation of women’s editing and publishing endeavors. On the Switchback front, Brandi Homan discussed poetry as activism in a third-wave space and the impact of feminist identification on aesthetic choices; Melissa Severin spoke about the space today's feminist presses and poets have inherited from their predecessors, and wondered how we advance from here; and I, Becca Klaver, tried to answer the question "Why use the F-Word?" in ways aesthetic, operational, historical, and cultural.
All involved recognized the need for more and more substantial sources of funds, and well as creative new funding models, such as subscription pre-orders. The roundtable marked what we hope is the beginning of a long conversation among feminist literary publishers about the state of poetry, feminism, and editing. We hope to gather all of the statements in an online forum; look out for details!