Tuesday, September 04, 2007

BookFare: Notes on the Sale of Words and Bodies

Mob Rule in New Orleans: Robert Charles and His Fight to the Death, Ida B. Wells, 1900
"Ms. Magazine and Accountabilty", Mecca Reliance (Off Our Backs), 1974
"Lord! What Kind of Child is this? (Interview with Pat Parker", Jessie Jane (Gay Community News) 1975
"Black Lesbian Feminists, Where Are you?", Mickie (Lesbian Connetion), 1975
"Am I the Only One?" Linda Stroud (Her-self), 1975
"Doing Research on Black American Women", Barbara Smith, 1976
Salsa Soul Sisters/Third World Women's Gay-zette, 1976-1985
Azalea: A Magazine by Third World Lesbians, 1977-1983
Dinah: A Monthly Publication of the Lesbian Activist Bureau, 1977
Matrices: A Lesbian Feminist Research Newsletter, 1977-1982
"Rewriting Afro-American Literature: A case for Black Women Writers, Gloria T. Hull, 1977
"Sexism and Racism at Gay Community News?" Nancy Walker 1978
"To the Sisters of the Azalea Collective and Lesbians Rising-A Thank You Note for the Second Annual Third World Lesbian Writers Conference", Anita Cornwell, 1980
"Dark Horse: A View of Writing and Publishing by Dark Lesbians", Linda J. Brown, 1980
"Notes on Speechlessness", Michelle Cliff (Sinister Wisdom), 1980
"Review of Between a Rock and A Hard Place (Joan Gibbs)" Michelle Cliff (Sinister Wisdom), 1980
"Black Women: An Historical Perpective (conference coverage in Off Our Backs), Terri Clark, 1980
Ambrosia: Newsletter in Celebration of Black Women, 1980 (Inaugural Issue)
Connections (the publication of Black Women's Network), 1982
African Ancestral Lesbian Files at the Lesbian Herstory Archives
Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Archive Files on publishing and reading lists (Duke Archives)
"Black South Africa: One Day Soon", Alexis De Veaux, (Essence), 1983
Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women, (inaugural issue), 1984
The Brown Papers: Publication of the National Institute for Women of Color "Moving Mountains Past, Present and Future: The Role of Women of Color in the American Political System", inaugural issue, 1984
Makeda: Celebrating Black Womyn, 1988
"Where are the Women: 10 Years of Staffrider", Boitumelo Mofokeng, 1989
Blank Words on a Page, Sobhna Poona, (Seriti sa Sechaba) 1990
Ache: A(Free)Publication for Black Lesbians 1989-1993
Black Lace, 1991 (inaugural issue)
ZaatarDiva, Suheir Hammad, 2005
SOARS (Story of a Rape Survivor), A Long Walk Home Press Packet (alongwalkhom.org), 2007

So I've been reading. I've been reading obscure and not so obscure newsletters, magazines and journals created by black women.I've been reading flyers for black lesbian performances, dance parties and book releases. I've been reading "special" third world women's/black women's issues of feminist periodicals. I've been reading lone articles by black women in feminist, educational and lesbian publications. I've been reading articles by Black South African women writers protesting the way their work has been made invisible by "black consciousness"publications and poetry books published by a black feminist "not-for-gain" enterprise in South Africa. That's what I've been reading this week...but as anyone who knows me knows...I have been reading everything I can get my hands on...for quite some time.

That's why "if you're lookin for me you can find me in the stacks disobeying the law" to paraphrase Akon. But research libraries have not been enough, because Universities don't often collect what I need to read. And independent archives are not enough because when they prioritize the type of stuff I'm talking about...no one will fund them so (i.e. Feminist Library in London) they are locked out of their buildings...their treasures held captive because they can't pay the rent or (i.e. Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn) they are open for 2 hours a month because of a volunteer only staff of women who must have other jobs. OR they have folded alltogehter (like the African Ancestral Lesbian Archives) and are filed away somewhere in the Lesbian Herstory Archives which is sadly only able to be open for enough hours for the volunteer on call to not be able to find something like the Jemima Literary Magazine (there is no staff archivist to update the computer).

And when the library is not enough I transform from researcher to consumer/collecter I search half.com and alibris for books that it seems nobody wants but me. Sometimes it works (I have original copies of most of Kitchen Table Presses Feminist Organizing Pamphlets with pins still attached), but I know that most often these things are lost in the basement or the people who have them are like me...they would never put these treasures back on the market. They realize that their worth can't be counted. They realize that there are some things we cannot afford to trade.

I have realized one of the central tenents of my developing religion. Printed words are alive. This is why I touched every signature on June Jordan's letters. Printed words are not just vain reaches towards immortality, they are alive. So when black feminist talk about birth in their work over and over again...about how SAGE: Scholarly Journal on Black Women was born about how creating Sturdy Black Bridges was a "birthing process" it is not just a metaphorical statement.

It took me a while to figure out why being at the "rare and antique booksellers" section at the Decatur Book Festival felt like a slave auction. It felt that way not just because postcards that joke about black people,chicken and watermelon are for sale next to first editions of Faulkner's everything. But because a first edition of Toni Morrison's Sula (SULA...the book that black feminists created black feminist literary criticism in order to explain) is $475 unsigned. Who is going to buy that book? Jurina and I were the only black people I saw there all day. Who is going to buy that book and why?

The point is that there is no way to place a value on a book like that. Black feminist criticism exists. Priceless. There is no way to place a value on the work that we do to put words together, to reach towards an audience that we are accountable to, these works are acts of love, we are putting lives into the world, we are creating lives that we can live together. How much does it cost? There is no way to put a value on these books, but we do. The books were created through an industry that priced them. Toni Morrison herself wrote a letter once to June Jordan explaining "good capitalism" as the reason that Random House wouldn't publish her poems and essays until she could write a novel. (June Jordan was not a novelist...in fact the novel was inadequate to every black feminist I focus on). There is no way to count how much these books mean, but then as Morrison's letter begs me to ask, is there anyway to get them out to the people without submitting to the market, agreeing on a price?

The point is that books are alive and we sell them and buy them. The impossible seems necessary because we have been through this before. Because human life itself has been for sale here (Decatur Town Square), the impossible has precedent. And Hortense Spillers (that essay...Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe...it's alive if we love it...if we listen to it newly and are transformed by it...it's alive if we love it...as a live as you...and me) reminds us that something hadto be said about black women as mothers, about black motherhood (not the same as mothering) about what it meant for black women to produce life...to make slavery profitable and legible. Something had to be said to transform life into flesh.

Is this not the same hollow magic that makes words into commodities?

My question about the black feminist author...lesbians, and not...reclaiming motherING as a radical practice is a question about value and life. If I can answer this question maybe our words will be able to live their own lives without being sold away from us. So many black women insisted, through collectively-run journals, through, autonomous publishing, through self-publishing, through fundraisers, through refusing to run ads... that our words could be collective, that when we made life it would not be commodity but rather process, rather infinite, rather hope. If I can find a way to answer, or at least keep asking this quesiton, maybe I will find a way to graduate with a PhD without "going on the market". Maybe reproductive justice, our self-determination of what we create (which is community) will exist. Maybe capitalism will end. A question about what black women make is a question inviting freedom.

1 comment:

Nan said...

Good for people to know.