Feminist Press

Feminist Press
FP dot org reduced resolution.png
Parent company City University of New York (CUNY)
Founded 1970
Founder Florence Howe
Country of origin United States
Headquarters location B. Altman and Company Building
New York City
Distribution Consortium Book Sales & Distribution (US)
Turnaround Publisher Services (UK)[1]
Publication types Books
Official website feministpress.org

The Feminist Press (officially The Feminist Press at CUNY) is an American independent nonprofit literary publisher that promotes freedom of expression and social justice. It publishes writing by people who share an activist spirit and a belief in choice and equality. Founded in 1970 to challenge sexual stereotypes in books, schools and libraries, the Press began by rescuing “lost” works by writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Rebecca Harding Davis, and established its publishing program with books by American writers of diverse racial and class backgrounds. Since then it has also been bringing works from around the world to North American readers. The Feminist Press is the longest surviving women’s publishing house in the world. The Press operates out of the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY).

Founding and history

By the end of the 1960s, both Florence Howe and her then husband Paul Lauter had taught in the Freedom Schools in Mississippi, and Howe was already attempting to compile a mini-women’s studies curriculum for her writing students at Goucher College in Baltimore.[2] As the 1970s approached, Howe was convinced that, just as she needed texts for teaching about women, so would other educators. Her initial appeal to a number of university and trade publishers to issue a series of critical feminist biographies[3] proved of no avail. Ultimately, the Baltimore Women’s Liberation, an active local group and publishers of a successful new journal, helped to raise money for the Press’s first publications. On November 17, 1970, the first meeting of the newly formed Press was held in Florence Howe's living room.[4] The first book to be published was Barbara Danish’s children's book The Dragon and the Doctor in 1971.[5] Howe saw her dreams of producing feminist biographies come true with the publication of Elizabeth Barrett Browning at the end of 1971.[5]

In the Press’s founding years, Tillie Olsen changed its course dramatically by giving Howe a photocopy of the 1861 pages of The Atlantic Monthly containing Rebecca Harding Davis's anonymously published novella Life in the Iron Mills.[6] In 1972, the Press issued this work by Rebecca Harding Davis as the first of its series of rediscovered feminist literary classics.[7] Olsen’s second suggestion, Daughter of Earth by Agnes Smedley, and Elaine Hedges’s suggestion, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, were published in 1973. Both have become staples of American literature and women’s studies curriculums since, with the 1990 Norton Anthology of American Literature including both Life in the Iron Mills and The Yellow Wallpaper.[8]

In the spring of 1971, Howe and her husband moved to New York, where she brought the burgeoning Press to her newly accepted professorship at the State University of New York (SUNY)/Old Westbury. The president of the school, who was interested in bringing Women's studies programs to the college, allowed Howe to operate out of the corridor of one of the buildings. The Press was met with excitement and support from students who worked in the small office in exchange for college work-study. Two New York City publishing professionals, Verne Moberg and Susan Lowes, contributed to the publication of three volumes of reprinted fiction released in 1972 and 1973, which Howe believed to exemplify the Press's enduring commitment to producing course-adoptable books to supplement curriculums dominated by male writers.[9]

In 1972, the Feminist Press became a 501(c)3 organization with tax-exempt status[10] and in 1975, the Press moved into its own headquarters in a separate house on campus, a cottage which had been faculty apartments and a garage. The Feminist Press was committed to creating a democratic workplace where staff served on the Board which made all publishing and policy decisions. In addition, all paid staff received equal salaries and served on committees including editorial, finance, and marketing & distribution.

The Press continued its innovative program of publishing work in three categories: feminist biographies, reprints of important works by women writers, and nonsexist children’s books. For each category, the Press enlisted advisory committees of distinguished feminist writers, scholars, and educators. The Reprints Advisory Committee was established in 1973 with Founding members including Roslyn Baxandall, Mari Jo Buhle, Ellen DuBois, Florence Howe, Paul Lauter, Laurie Olsen, Lillian Robinson, Deborah S. Rosenfelt, Elaine Showalter, and Catharine Stimpson.[11]

In 1973, the Press received funding from the Rockefeller Family Fund to survey secondary school textbooks in English and history and to plan for a project to develop supplementary texts.[11] In 1975, the Press received two major grants from the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation to begin what became a seven-year project – Women’s Lives/Women’s Work, a groundbreaking series of 12 books and teaching guides to supplement high school English and Social Studies texts.[12][13] The series was co-published by the Feminist Press and McGraw-Hill’s Webster Division. During the life of the project, the books and teaching guides were extensively tested and evaluated by teachers in schools all across the country.[14]

Books in the Women’s Lives/Women’s Work series, alphabetically by author:

  • Cantarow, Ellen with O’Malley, Susan Gushee; Strom, Sharon Hartman (1980). Moving the Mountain: Women Working for Social Change. Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press; New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0070204438.
  • Elsasser, Nan; MacKenzie, Kyle; Tixier y Vigil, Yvonne, eds. (1980) Las Mujeres: Conversations from a Hispanic Community Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press; New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0912670843.
  • Hedges, Elaine; Wendt, Ingrid, eds. (1980) In Her Own Image: Women Working in the Arts Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press; New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0912670738.
  • Hoffman, Nancy, ed. (1981) Woman’s “True” Profession: Voices from the History of Teaching. Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press; New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0912670932.
  • Hoffman, Nancy; Howe, Florence, eds. (1979) Women Working: An Anthology of Stories and Poems. Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press; New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0070204314.
  • Jensen, Joan M., ed. (1981) With These Hands: Women Working the Land. Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press; New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0912670908.
  • Kessler-Harris, Alice (1981) Women Have Always Worked: A Historical Overview. Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press; New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 091267086X.
  • Nicholas, Susan Cary; Price, Alice M.; Rubin, Rachel (1979) Rights and Wrongs: Women’s Struggle for Legal Equality. Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press; New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0070204241.
  • Romer, Nancy (1981) The Sex-Role Cycle: Socialization from Infancy to Old Age. Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press; New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 091267069X.
  • Sterling, Dorothy (1979) Black Foremothers: Three Lives. Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press; New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0070204330.
  • Swerdlow, Amy; Bridenthal, Renate; Kelly, Joan; Vine, Phylis (1981) Household and Kin: Families in Flux. Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press; New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0912670681.
  • Twin, Stephanie L., ed. (1979) Out of the Bleachers: Writings on Women and Sport. Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press; New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0070204292.

The Feminist Press also played a pioneering role in the nascent field of Women’s Studies by providing curricular materials, bibliographies, directories, and a newsletter. The Clearinghouse on Women’s Studies, established at the Press, was the primary source of information until the National Women’s Studies Association was founded in 1977.[15][13]

In the summer of 1985, the Feminist Press moved to the CUNY campus on East Ninety-Fourth Street following an invitation from the school. Allowed to maintain an independent staff and board of directors, the Press gratefully welcomed the resources and visibility made available by this partnership.[16]

In 2001 Jean Casella became the Executive Director of the Press. She was followed by Gloria Jacobs, former Ms. Magazine editor, and Jennifer Baumgardner, cofounder of Soapbox Inc. Jamia Wilson is the current Executive Director of the Feminist Press, appointed in 2017.

Today

Wilson is both the youngest director in the Press's forty-nine-year history and the first woman of color to head the organization. Under her leadership, the Press continues its commitment to publishing a broad range of voices. The Press has also recently endeavored to extend its reaches beyond merely publishing. In doing so, the Press has hosted a variety of events, conferences, and panels centering on key conversations in feminism.

“I grew up reading Feminist Press books from my mother’s shelf, and they were instrumental in developing my voice as an activist and writer. It’s an honor to join this intergenerational team to enliven the Press’s intersectional vision of publishing unapologetic, accessible texts that inspire action, teach empathy, and build community,” Wilson explained upon her appointment as ED.[17]

The Feminist Press remains rooted in the symbiotic relationship between a publication and its readership. In this exchange, a book not only promotes ideas to its reader, but it also inspires new formulations that could ultimately shape future publications.

The Feminist Press has remained current and relevant within the fast-changing world of modern politics and the rapid evolution of feminism. Recent bestsellers include debut short story collections Training School for Negro Girls by Camille Acker and Love War Stories by Ivelisse Rodriguez, both tracing the experiences of women and girls of color. Love War Stories was nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 2019.[18]

In 2016, the Press started Amethyst Editions, a queer imprint curated by Michelle Tea that champions emerging queer writers who employ genre-bending narratives and experimental writing styles, and complicates the conversation around American LGBTQ+ experiences beyond a coming out narrative. Tea's collection Against Memoir won the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay in 2019.[19] Brontez Purnell, whose novel Since I Laid My Burden Down was also published by the Amethyst Editions imprint, received a Whiting Award for Fiction in 2018.[20]

The Feminist Press has also demonstrated a commitment to publishing diverse voices in translation. Among their recent bestselling translated titles are Asja Bakic's Mars, translated by Jennifer Zoble; Cristina Rivera Garza's The Iliac Crest, translated by Sarah Booker; and Armonía Somer's The Naked Woman, translated by Kit Maude. Pretty Things, a novel by Virginie Despentes that was translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, was longlisted for the 2019 Best Translated Book Award.[21] Trifonia Melibea Obono's La Bastarda, translated by Lawrence Schimel and the first novel by a woman from Equatorial Guinea to be published in English, was shortlisted for the 2019 Lambda Literary Awards in the Lesbian Fiction category.[22]

The Feminist Press also established the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, a literary prize for debut women and nonbinary authors of color, in partnership with TAYO Literary Magazine.[23] In 2017, YZ Chin became the first recipient of the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize for her short story collection Though I Get Home. The prize has since been awarded to Claudia D. Hernández in 2018 for Knitting the Fog and Melissa Valentine in 2019 for The Names of All the Flowers.

The Feminist Press won the 2020 Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Book Critics Circle Awards.[24]

WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly

The Feminist Press also publishes WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly, an interdisciplinary peer-reviewed academic journal. The journal began as Women's Studies Newsletter in 1972, and in 1981 it was renamed Women's Studies Quarterly.[13] Today it is a biannual release simply called WSQ. Covering a wide array of thematic subjects within emerging women's studies, the journal has published issues such as "Technologies," "Citizenship," and "Motherhood." The subject of each issue is considered through various lenses, including psychoanalytic, legal, queer, and historical interpretations in addition to many others.

Notable authors and titles

Series

The Feminist Press has launched multiple book series. Women Writing Africa was begun in 1994 with funding from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations.[13] The four-volume series was completed in 2009. Like the two-volume Women Writing India, the series is composed of regionally unique women's literature. The Femmes Fatales series, featuring pulp, mystery, and noir novels by women writing in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s was launched in 2003, and includes recent releases such as the 2013 Return to Lesbos.

  • 2X2 Series
  • Classic Feminist Writers
  • Contemporary Classics by Women
  • The Defiant Muse
  • Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp [26]
  • The Helen Rose Scheuer Jewish Women's Series
  • Jewish Women Writers
  • Women Changing the World
  • Women's Lives, Women's Work
  • Women Writing Africa Project
  • Women Writing in India
  • Women Writing the Middle East
  • Women Writing Science
  • Ordinary Terrible Things
  • Amethyst Editions
  • Drag Queen Story Hour
  • Feminist Folktales from Around the World

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