This month for our spotlight on indie publishers, we’re bringing it back to NYC to highlight the work of Feminist Press, celebrating their 50th anniversary just last year! Three Rooms Press lead editor Mary Rose Manspeaker sat down with senior external relations manager Lucia Brown to discuss Feminist Press’ mission, their approach to publishing over the course of four historical waves of feminism, the work of the Young Feminist Leaders Council, and more—find the full interview below, and check them out here!
Mary Rose Manspeaker: What sets you apart as an independent press? What do you look for in submissions and new initiatives that fits your mission of moving the feminist conversation forward?
Lucia Brown, Feminist Press: The Feminist Press is the world’s longest-running feminist publisher. We were founded in 1970 by Florence Howe to discover lost works by women writers that had been ignored, not due to quality, but because of the gender of the author. We have become the vanguard for books on contemporary feminist issues of equality and gender identity, with authors as various as Juli Delgado Lopera, Zora Neale Hurston, Michelle Tea, Bishakh Som, Bridgett M. Davis, Megan Milks, Brontez Purnell, and Ananda Devi.
We publish twelve to fifteen books a year and specialize in an array of genres including cutting-edge fiction, activist nonfiction, literature in translation, hybrid memoirs, children’s books, and more. We seek to champion intersectional and nuanced works that spark much-needed dialogue and move the feminist conversation forward.
In terms of what we’re currently looking for, we seek political and cultural activist nonfiction that furthers our understanding of intersectional feminism. We gravitate toward voice- and vision-driven stories as well as genre-defying texts. Other topics of interest include feminist dystopia, environmental justice, and immigration stories
MRM: The Feminist Press celebrated 50 years last year, and has such has been part of the literary world through four waves of feminism. How has the press’ approach to publishing changed throughout its history?
LB: The Press has had a long life and we plan to be around for a long time! I think we owe our longevity and relevance to an expansive understanding of feminism(s). From the start, our founder knew that the movement was for people of all genders (that’s why she opted for the name Feminist Press). We work to make space for a variety of perspectives and genres, and are always working to discover what conversations need to be uplifted. Through fifty years of publishing, we’ve had different areas of focus, but I would say that we’ve been pretty consistent throughout our history in terms of the variety of books we publish. We’re not limited to one genre or format, we want books to be accessible to all readers. We believe that you can pick up any title—whether it be a fun novel that you can binge in the bath or an activist manifesto you can take to a march—and come to the same conclusions about feminism. We meet our readers where they live.
MRM: In what ways does operating Women Studies Quarterly tie into and expand the conversations the press is able to take part in? Are there ways in which the editorial visions of the two complement one another or differ?
LB: WSQ has been a part of Feminist Press for almost our entire history. The journal started as Women’s Studies Newsletter in 1972, just two years after FP was founded. FP’s founding mission was to bring classic out-of-print works by women back into circulation, particularly so they could be studied in the classroom and in the burgeoning women’s studies departments across the United States. Having a feminist academic journal then was natural synchronicity. Today FP’s list is largely contemporary, though we pride ourselves on how our publications can seamlessly move between trade and academic audiences. WSQ also has a hybrid model as an interdisciplinary journal, and each thematic issue features scholarly articles, prose and poetry, art, book reviews, and even a Classics Revisited section. Publishing WSQ, one of the longest running feminist academic journals, is a key way for us to stay true to our legacy while also more actively engaging with current academic discourse. Recent and forthcoming issues include Black Love, Solidão, Inheritance, Protest, and Asian Diasporas.
MRM: Can you tell me a bit about the Young Feminist Leaders Council, and their role in your mission?
LB: The Young Feminist Leaders Council is a group of ten young professionals who are passionate about the Feminist Press mission. In their first year, they’ve connected with each other about their interests and backgrounds, met FP staff and Board members to learn about the different aspects of feminist nonprofit publishing, and brainstormed ways to introduce FP books to their own communities. Intergenerational activism has always been part of our mission as a feminist organization—our staff and board includes people as young as nineteen and as old as ninety. Working with the YFLC has allowed us to deliberately engage the next generation of young feminists! We’re also excited that the members are located around the United States (and even in the UK!)—it’s great to engage with young people who are interested in feminist publishing but don’t live in New York City.
MRM: What would you say is the most important aspect and outcome of supporting independent presses and bookstores? Of bolstering the literary arts?
LB: There’s no greater feeling than walking out of an independent bookstore with a heavy bag of books that were lovingly produced and curated just for you. That doesn’t happen when you buy a book from Amazon. Every person who buys a Feminist Press book is an important member of our family. This is such a vibrant community and we count ourselves lucky every day to be a part of it.
MRM: How have you adapted to the COVID pandemic landscape, and what are your goals for the future? Has the past year and a half changed your outlook?
LB: The pandemic has been a time of loss for so many of us. In the past year we lost two beloved authors, Helène Aylon and Ruth Kluger, as well as our founder Florence Howe. It’s been hard not to be able to gather together as a community to celebrate and honor those that are no longer with us, but it’s also been a rallying reminder of just how important books are. A reader who never had the opportunity to meet Florence could pick up her memoir A Life In Motion and start to get a sense of her story and personality.
In this time when people have felt isolated and hopeless, books are a reminder of the strength of the human spirit.
MRM: Tell us about your most recent publications and what’s in the works—feel free to plug your new books!
LB: We just announced our upcoming season on social media and there’s so much to be excited about! I’d encourage people to preorder Malika Moustadraf’s Blood Feast, translated by Alice Guthrie. It’s an arabophone cult classic by Morocco’s foremost writer of life on the margins, full of haunting, visceral stories by a master of the genre. I also highly recommend We Were There by Patricia Romney, which explores the history of the Third World Women’s Alliance, a bicoastal organization operating in the 1970s which was one of the earliest groups advocating for what came to be known as intersectional activism.