PUBLISHING AS A RADICAL FEMINIST
By Susan Hawthorne
My first job in publishing was as an editor at Penguin Books Australia from 1987-1991. I remember telling myself to 'not be a daddy's girl' and 'to unwork the system' as Valerie Solanas said back in 1967. It was good advice to myself and I set out to get into print as many lesbians, radical feminists, Indigenous writers, migrant and working class writers as I could. And by the time I left four years later, I had a pretty good record. But as the recession came and minds closed, ‘risky’ books were no longer welcome.
In 1990, Renate Klein and I sat in a hotel room in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory and asked one another whether we should be daring and have a go. The answer was ‘yes’ and a couple of months later Spinifex Press was born.
We had noticed that increasingly postmodern academics were being published and radical feminist scholars were not. We wanted to have a list that included the visionary thinking of feminists whether it be theory, fiction or poetry. Our mission statement was — and is — to publish innovative and controversial feminist books with an optimistic edge. We think optimism has to be part of being a feminist since it implies that changing the world is possible. And we want nothing less than that.
Four books in our first year were followed by seven in our second including Somer Brodribb's searing critique of postmodernism, Nothing Mat(t)ers and Judy Horacek's first cartoon book Life On the Edge. We publish between four and ten books a year depending on the ups and downs of feminism as well as unpredictable things like energy and cash flow ... And with just a few of us, stamina is a key element for a small press.
The early 1990s were a great time and in the USA there were hundreds of feminist bookstores and scores of feminist publishers. But with economic and technological forces increasing, the vast majority of feminist bookshops and presses folded. Some were bought out, some died. Many were replaced by Queer companies which were the new and loud voice. Women were erased and lesbians forgotten.
On the other side of the world we kept going (as did feminist presses in India, Turkey and South Africa). In the 1990s, we still had the International Feminist Book Fairs and Feminist Bookstore News, but they too took a dive. In 2007, we joined the International Alliance of Independent Publishers where we found again feminist publishers from around the world. We'd already done co-editions with several of them and then we heard the word bibliodiversity, a word invented by Chilean publisher. While it was a new word, we had been doing bibliodiversity since before we started Spinifex.
Some of the key themes of our publishing are:
• books on radical feminism and books informed by a powerful radical feminist analysis
• books by radical feminists about the pornography industry, prostitution and every aspect of the sex trade
• critiques of body industries in its broadest sense, reproductive technology, surrogacy, motherhood, adoption, rape, domestic violence, violence against lesbians, sexual abuse in all its forms
• works on other global issues such as climate change, globalisation, environmental destruction, war, industrial farming and fake solutions
• works by writers looking at other cultural systems, books by and about Indigenous cultures, books on prehistory and alternative history
• books by writers on disability including schizophrenia, PTSD, Down syndrome, anorexia, epilepsy and the consequences of trauma
• biography and autobiography by women from a wide range of backgrounds, many countries from every continent, many languages, many classes
• fictional representations of the world as historical reworkings, mythic in nature, political lesbian imaginings, dystopic futures as well as crime and romance (not the usual kind)
• poetry by some of the finest poets in the world who stretch the boundaries of the thinkable
• young adult fiction and picture books although they are a small part of our publishing output
Publishing can be both joyous and hugely frustrating. While there is something of an upsurge in feminism right now, it's been a long drought. We notice that the books we publish tend to be a decade or two — sometimes three — ahead of the mainstream discussion. And by the time our topics come around, the media does not recall our books and often, do not want to publicise them.
Spinifex is owned and run by women. All our books — except one —are written by women (we have a male co-editor and photographer or two). Many — probably most — of the cover art is by women artists and we see this as a way of supporting women artists. Our typesetters and editors are all women, as is our cover designer. Our priority is always women. Printers and distributors are in the main owned by men and we maintain good relationships with them. We frequently co-produce books with other feminist publishers and a significant number have been translated and published by feminist publishers or publishing houses run by feminists.
For the survival of feminist publishing into the future, I would love to see more feminist publishing houses open up. I was thrilled when I heard that Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes was setting up Victorina Press which, at just three years has won awards and had work published in translation. Translations and co-editions have also been important for us with almost 150 such deals with other publishers, including Renate Klein's Surrogacy into German and Korean, Suniti Namjoshi's Feminist Fables into Turkish, my Bibliodiversity into five languages and to date our most translated book, HELP! I'm Living with a Man Boy in 16 languages.
When it comes to starting new presses, it doesn't matter if they are small. Feminists need places to get our ideas published and while the digital world can do this cheaply and quickly, it is far too easy for work to disappear on the Internet. Get together, brainstorm ideas and make waves!
My book Bibliodiversity: A manifesto on independent publishing expands on these ideas.
To see more about Spinifex, please visit our website http://www.spinifexpress.com.au, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and sign up to our monthly newsletter.
Susan Hawthorne has worked in publishing for more than three decades at Penguin Books Australia and then as co-founder with Renate Klein of Spinifex Press in 1991. In 1985 she organised a nine-day women writers festival, The Language of Difference; from 1987-1991 she initiated two Feminist Book Fortnights across Australia; and in 1994 was the Chair of the 6th International Book Fair in Melbourne. She has always worked by Valerie Solanas' maxim to unwork the system by ensuring the visibility of Indigenous, lesbian, working class and migrant writing. Over the years she has built lists from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East intersecting with works by lesbians. As a radical feminist publisher building what is now fashionably called 'diversity' into lists has been part of her work since at least 1985. She is the author of many articles on feminist publishing and of the book Bibliodiversity: A Manifesto for Independent Publishers (2014) which has been translated into Arabic, French, German, Spanish and Czech. From 2012 to 2016 she was the English Language Network Co-ordinator for the International Alliance of Independent Publishing. She has won a number of awards for her work in publishing and taught Publishing Studies at several universities. She is an Adjunct Professor at James Cook University, Townsville