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The Feminist Press

13th Jul 2011

The_Feminist_Press

The Feminist Press (FP) is the world’s longest surviving women’s publisher, an independent, non-profit organisation with a reputation for promoting social justice and free expression. It was founded in Baltimore in 1970 by Florence Howe, a schoolteacher frustrated by the lack of feminist texts in the curriculum.

With the help of an early supporter, the writer and activist, Tillie Olsen, Howe acquired Life in the Iron Mills, an 1861 novella by Rebecca Harding Davis, a pioneer of American realism.

Over the next few years, many neglected works were restored to print: Daughter of Earth, a 1929 novel by Agnes Smedley, based on her experiences as a mixed-race, lower class radical; and The Yellow Wallpaper, a short story from 1892 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, now hailed as a masterpiece.

Brown Girl, Brownstones, a more recent discovery, is a 1959 novel by Paule Marshall, a coming-of-age tale from the perspective of a young girl born to Barbadian immigrants in New York.

From the outset, The Feminist Press championed working-class and ethnic writing. In 1979, FP were the first to republish the great African-American author, Zora Neale Hurston, and from the 1980s onwards, they also published literature from India, Africa, and the Middle East.

Since 1972, The Feminist Press has also published an academic journal, Women’s Studies Quarterly (WSQ). Each issue focuses on a single theme (the latest issue is titled ‘SAFE’), and includes creative writing and visual art as well as scholarly articles.

Over the last decade, FP has published Marilyn French’s four-volume From Eve to Dawn, A History of Women in the World, and on a more contemporary note, Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog From Iraq, based on an online journal by ‘Riverbend’, a 25 year-old Iraqi woman, posting from the outbreak of war in 2003.

New imprints include ‘Women Writing Science’ and ‘Femmes Fatales’, a showcase for vintage pulp fiction by women. Several of these novels became classics of film noir, such as Now Voyager, Laura and In a Lonely Place. Another in the series, The G-String Murders, was penned by burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee.

In 2005, The Feminist Press moved to a new base at the City University of New York (CUNY). Gloria Jacobs, former editor of Ms. magazine, became FP’s Executive Director in 2006, and Amy Scholder was appointed Editorial Director in 2008.

Among the latest releases are Who is Ana Mendieta?, a graphic novel based on the life and death of a groundbreaking Cuban artist; The Reality Shows by performance artist Karen Finley; and Celebrate People’s History, an anthology of revolutionary poster art.

Forthcoming publications include Intimate Wars, the autobiography of pro-choice campaigner Merle Hoffman, and I Love Myself When I Am Laughing : A Zora Neale Hurston Reader.

Ever mindful of posterity, The Feminist Press also offers a ‘Contemporary Classics’ series, featuring June Jordan’s 1971 novel, His Own Where. In 2010, the essayist Barbara Ehrenreich contributed an introduction to the second edition of a 1973 pamphlet, Witches, Midwives and Nurses, co-authored with Deirdre English. Another of their polemical tracts, Complaints and Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness, will be reissued in August.

Now forty-one years old, The Feminist Press boasts some illustrious fans. Toni Morrison read the opening chapter of her Pulitzer-winning novel, Beloved, at FP’s 15th anniversary celebration in 1985 (two years before its publication.) Hillary Clinton and Barbara Walters were among the speakers at last year’s 40th birthday gala, while Uma Thurman and Cyndi Lauper have attended past events.

But despite this starry aura, The Feminist Press remains a serious literary force. Want more? Past and present catalogues are available for download at the FP website, along with information on submissions and internships.

Tara Hanks

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