In 1970, activist and professor Florence Howe founded The Feminist Press in the dim light of her living room, with a singular goal in mind: the press would produce textbooks and volumes of critical theory for the brand-new field of women’s and gender studies. In addition to new works, Howe wanted to fuel the second-wave feminist movement by reprinting out-of-print feminist classics, from Zora Neale Hurston to Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Now, the press is its own feminist icon, and this week the American Bookseller’s Association highlighted them in a Small Press Profile.
The Feminist Press’s commitment to social justice on all fronts, not just the literary, is backed by its powerful history of executive directors, including Gloria Jacobs, the former editor of Ms. magazine. Jennifer Baumgardner, the current publisher, is determined to maintain the revolutionary momentum towards equality that The Feminist Press is known for.
“We are really alert to the voices that may be so marginalized that a mainstream press either wouldn’t know to value them or know how to handle them,” Baumgardner told the American Bookseller’s Association. “And then, secondarily, we’re a nonprofit publisher with an educational mission, so we try to build social justice programs and platforms around the books that lend themselves to it — which is a lot of them — to essentially shift the culture.”
What does that look like in practice? One example is a project called “The Corrective Canon,” in which authors from marginalized and intersecting identities take on literary classics by dead white men and reclaim them for a new, contemporary canon. The first volume of this project was published this spring. Sarah Schulman’s The Cosmopolitans is a queer retelling of Balzac’s Cousin Bette. The Cosmopolitans has been in bookstores for barely over a week, but the novel is alreadyreceiving explosive attention from the media. It’s been praised by the Slate blog Outward, Ms. magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and dozens more. The April/May 2016 issue of Bookforum gushed that Schulman’s novel is “an extraordinarily radical and risky experiment that seizes on what you thought you knew about the period . . . only to chop it up and reassemble it in jarringly unexpected shapes.”
The Feminist Press also believes in activism for all ages. Their children’s book series, “Ordinary Terrible Things,” intends to give children an age-appropriate lens through which to comprehend things like abuse, death, and divorce. The second book in the series, Death Is Stupid, discusses mortality with kids in a way that leaves out unnecessary sugar-coating and condescension.
Going forward, Baumgardner says we can look forward to more of the same – which, in this case, means more consistent metamorphosis.
“We need to keep lifting up some of the most important feminist voices writing today, rather than just the people you are used to hearing from,” Baumgartner says.
Keep pushing, Feminist Press – we’ll be here to devour every word!