Wednesday, December 11, 2019
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October Small Press Spotlights! Part I: Feminist Press

Welcome to this blog, which is actually not dead! It’s been a very busy summer. I’m still reading a ton, but my writing energies have been focused on freelance assignments and other, non-public, creative pursuits, so I haven’t been active on here.

But! For the month of October, I want to do a little project. I’m going to spotlight a small/indie press I love every week for the month. There are way more than four indie presses that I love, but let’s be real, your andro-grrl is busy. If all goes well, maybe I can do another series like this next year (or sooner, who knows).

Full disclosure: these posts are not paid, but I have received several ARCs and review copies from these publishers. Not all of the individual titles I’ll talk about were given to me, some per purchased. But just a heads up, I do get free books from these lovely folks. However, I do really love the work they put out and would (and do!) happily buy books from them regardless. 

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First up, I’m talking about Feminist Press. They’re an NYC-based team publishing fiction, memoir/biography, and poetry. They’re serious about intersectional feminism. Let’s not forget that the term and theory of ‘intersectionality’ was developed by lawyer and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, because as Jaqueline Woodson pointed out at a reading of hers I went to the other night, Black women are rarely credited with their work, so it’s important to say their names and give credit where credit is due.

Feminist Press believes in this too. Their mission statement is: 

The Feminist Press is an educational nonprofit organization founded to advance women’s rights and amplify feminist perspectives. FP publishes classic and new writing from around the world, creates cutting-edge programs, and elevates silenced and marginalized voices in order to support personal transformation and social justice for all people.  

They publish books from writers at multiple intersections of identity, including emerging and established as well as reprints from authors who are no longer with us, including Zora Neale Hurtston and Grace Paley. Also, Michelle Tea has an imprint with them called Amethyst Editions, and I’m a little tiny bit in love with Michelle Tea. She’s so weird and great.

Make sure to check out their website, which has tons of information about their mission, the books they publish, and the initiatives they spearhead, including the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize and the publication of the magazine WSQ. They also have a great Instagram and Twitter. But in the meantime, I’m going to give you a taste of some of their recent titles that I’ve read (and a forthcoming one I can’t wait to read because it looks so gay), published between 2017 and the end of this year.

Backlist titles

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Your Art Will Save Your Life by Beth Pickens

This book is for all of you creatives- so, literally anyone who does anything creative for work or hobby or love or whatever- who feel like you need a good pep talk and/or affirmation as to why art matters, even and *especially* in times like these. You know, end times. Get thee this book, it will help you save your own life. With art!

We Were Witches by Ariel Gore

This is one of my favorite books ever and the first one I read by Ariel Gore (I proceeded to read almost everything else she’s ever published after this, and I highly recommend Atlas of the Human Heart and The End of Eve). This could be described as an autobiographical novel about a queer teenager who gets pregnant, has a baby, raises the baby while going to school, decides to invert the phallic structure of Freytag’s pyramid, and stuff like that. It’s amazing.

Against Memoir by Michelle Tea

This was my first Michelle Tea book, despite being aware of her important place in the queer literary canon. I really enjoyed this essay collection. The essays span from memoir to more journalistic pieces and I like that mix a lot. She’s a great writer, able to pull off a lot of different things: touching moments painted in lovely lyric sentences; short punchy paragraphs; hilarious anecdotes and musings. I love her brain. She’s also very great at reading out loud. I also highly recommend her book Black Wave, another FP title.

August by Romina Paula, translated by Jennifer Croft (whose new memoir Homesick just came out on September 10) 

Full disclosure: I haven’t read this one yet. But it sounds so good! It was published in 2017 and I picked it up at University Bookstore because of this blurb:

Traveling home to rural Patagonia, a young woman grapples with herself as she makes the journey to scatter the ashes of her friend Andrea. Twenty-one-year-old Emilia might still be living, but she’s jaded by her studies and discontent with her boyfriend, and apathetic toward the idea of moving on. Despite the admiration she receives for having relocated to Buenos Aires, in reality, cosmopolitanism and a career seem like empty scams. Instead, she finds her life pathetic.

Once home, Emilia stays with Andrea’s parents, wearing the dead girl’s clothes, sleeping in her bed, and befriending her cat. Her life put on hold, she loses herself to days wondering how if what had happened—leaving an ex, leaving Patagonia, Andrea leaving her—hadn’t happened.

Both a reverse coming-of-age story and a tangled homecoming tale, this book is a frank confession to a deceased confidante. A keen portrait of a young generation stagnating in an increasingly globalized Argentina, August considers the banality of life against the sudden changes that accompany death.

2019 Releases

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Summer of Dead Birds by Ali Liebegott

I adore this little poetry collection, which came out in March. I was aware of Ali Liebegott but hadn’t read her poetry before (I was missing out). This potent little meditation on grief is gorgeous and raw. Whether losing a person, pet, or relationship, the graceful and the ugly dovetail in imagery and metaphor for which birds provide the perfect symbol. Birds are delicate, majestic, elegant, reckless, easily broken by this world and yet soar high above it. 

Living on the Borderlines by Melissa Michal

This book of short stories published in February was so undersung in mainstream book coverage in my opinion. It centers on people of Seneca descent mostly living in what is now called upstate New York, but also in New York City mansions, Nebraska footpaths, BC islands, and rural Tennessee. The stories and characters vary widely in point of view, and as the title implies, they dance along borderlines, along a constant reckoning with a colonialist and racist society. But in addition to their broad experiences and world views, the characters all deal with themes of family, history, tradition, and intergenerational trauma. 

The familial relationships here are so strong and tender, no matter who they bond: long-lost siblings, grandparents and grandchildren, spouses and friends, the dead and the living. Many of the indigenous characters live off of but close to reservations, some white people live in indigenous communities, and some of the indigenous characters are surrounded by whiteness. Melissa Michal has created such potent stories around all of them, with disturbing and beautiful elements all at once. All of the characters, even in the shortest stories, are full of depth and nuance, and that is everything, especially in a short story collection.

In the acknowledgments at the end of this collection, Michal writes that she deliberately attempted to ‘think about that orality in story, although imperfect in execution. It’s a process breaking the rules and expectations about Western language and sentence structures so set into our minds through education systems. But here we are, moving forward, sliding through syllables, around the commas, and into the voice.’ This comes across so well, and makes for a reading experience outside the rigid western structures she writes of. That’s not to say this isn’t readable- it absolutely is, and it’s gorgeous and immersive. I highly recommend it.

Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana, translated by Mui Poopksakul

Another book of short stories, this one from one of the most well-regarded voices in Thai literature, published in English in April of this year. Here’s what I wrote about it for the Brooklyn Rail in the spring:

This is Pimwana’s English-language debut; her novel Bright (2019) is also the first novel by a Thai woman to be translated into English. The stories in Arid Dreams center on working-class people in Thailand, both rural and urban, and examines class, race, and gender in clear prose. Several stories are written subversively from a male first person point of view, scrutinizing the male gaze (such as in the titular story) and male rage (as in “Men’s Rights”). Every story is compelling and offers insight into a changing country.

Mars by Asja Bakic

I also wrote about this one, yet another short story collection (hell yeah short stories!), for BR:

This short story collection of speculative fiction from Bosnian author and poet Asja Bakić, translated from the Russian by Jennifer Zoble, is strange and playful, dark and layered. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and yet it probes the complexities of death and art, the (sometimes literally) explosive power of words and communication. Some of the stories have an almost carnivalesque atmosphere; some are unsettling and violent; some read like tangled parables or fairy tales. At turns funny, surreal, and grounded in simple language but flung through twisted realities, the stories in this collection are provocative and utterly readable. 

The Not Wives by Carley Moore

This is a debut novel from an essayist I really love, and also she’s a human I really love. I wrote about this book for Rewire News, but here I’ll just say that a novel about Occupy populated almost entirely with complicated queer characters is kind of exactly what the world needs. I mean, it’s one of the things. Obviously we need a lot of things. But you know what I mean.

Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera

This one is forthcoming in March 2020, and I haven’t read it yet, but FP was kind enough to send it my way. It sounds really gay which is exactly what I want in my reading. Here’s the blurb: 

Uprooted from her comfortable life in Bogotá, Colombia, into an ant-infested Miami townhouse, fifteen-year-old Francisca is miserable and friendless in her strange new city. Her alienation grows when her mother is swept up into an evangelical church, replete with Christian salsa, abstinent young dancers, and baptisms for the dead.

But there, Francisca also meets the magnetic Carmen: opinionated and charismatic, head of the youth group, and the pastor’s daughter. As her mother’s mental health deteriorates and her grandmother descends into alcoholism, Francisca falls more and more intensely in love with Carmen. To get closer to her, Francisca turns to Jesus to be saved, even as their relationship hurtles toward a shattering conclusion.

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That’s it for this post, friends! I hope you enjoy the FP rec’s and that you enjoy reading about some small indie presses this month. Next week, I’m turning to Counterpoint/Catapult/Soft Skull, so stay tuned! 

 

Sarah Neilson
<p>Reading mainly own voices books, usually in the genres of memoir, literary fiction, nonfiction and poetry. I love reading and hope you'll find some great reviews here!</p>

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