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A Depressing Discourse on the Individual Solution
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By Polly Joan
In 1967 women's publishing was almost a blank page. In 1977 more than 200
publishing houses and small presses belong
to women. And the number grows daily.
Probably more than any other movement in history, feminism has been identified with publishing. So many words of
women needed to be said and read. But not
just words and ideas were expressed—women's publications have fashioned a new and
more realistic image of today's woman—
an image only women themselves could
understand and create.
Initially, women's publishing concentrated on poetry. Although every movement has had its poets, the women's movement may be unique in that many of its
early leaders were poets. In the beginning
there seemed to be no other way to express
the anger and frustration resulting from
centuries of oppression.
In the late 60s and early 70s, women
eager to hear others empathize with their
feelings flocked to poetry readings. Hundreds of women who listened to such poets
as Adrienne Rich, Robin Morgan, Anne
Sexton, Audre Lorde, Alta, Susan Griffin,
Judy Grahn and Marge Piercy left these
readings ready to take their new consciousness into political action.
Women's movement poetry was political; it was a threat to the male status quo.
It was not considered "real" poetry by the
male poetry establishment and the publishing network did not consider publishing it.
The need for a women's publishing network was obvious—how else would such
important writing by women be made
Women's poetry generated more
women's poetry. New women poets made
their voices heard by establishing their
own presses. Women's publications printing
women's poetry exclusively grew out of
consciousness-raising groups and women-
writer support groups. Starting locally,
some of these publications and presses
gradually made their publishing services
known across the country.
At first much of women's publishing
was unprofessional by male establishment
standards. Early books, magazines and
newspapers were mimeographed and
stapled but getting the word out overcame
the lack of technical experience. Important
as many present-day feminists feel women's publishing has been, too large a number of women still imagine women's publishing to be a group of poets mimeographing and stapling in someone's basement.
Nothing could be further from the
truth. Women's publishing has grown into
a full-blown professional operation. Books
from women's presses evidence a high degree of technological know-how. Spined,
perfectly trimmed, artistically-designed
books are becoming the rule rather than
the exception. Many are printed in women's print shops which own and operate
modern printing presses.
Although poetry books still dominate the field, new women's publishing
houses cover the full range of fiction, non-
fiction, biography, herstory, reference
materials and non-sexist children's stories.
Generally well written and well put together, these books compare favorably
with paperbacks printed in establishment
Most women's publishing houses are
still small. Largely operating without capital, few can afford to publish more than a
couple of books a year. The majority have
fewer than five books on the market.
The presses that survived the years
of turmoil are publishing a growing num
ber of titles. The Women's Press Collective
in California with 18 titles has sold more
than 60,000 copies of their books. Diana
Press, formerly in Baltimore and now in
California, also has 18 titles in print. Publishing women's novels since 1973, Daughters, Inc. prints four or five books a year.
Ruby fruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown sold
more than 50,000 copies of Daughters before they recently sold it to a trade publisher. Printing only poetry, Alice James
Books in Boston, a publishing co-op, has
over 20 titles on the market. In two years
they sold 4,000 copies of their books to
Probably the best-known is The
Feminist Press, a collective that continues
to fill voids by publishing long out of print
or previously unpublished historical works
of women. Their educational materials and
non-sexist stories for children reflect a
growing demand for non-sexist high school
textbooks which they helped create.
Women's publishing has also had to
overcome a system that was reluctant to
distribute books from feminist publishers.
Since establishment distribution systems
were not receptive to marketing feminist
b_ooks, and regular bookstores did not want
to deal with individual publishers, women
began setting up their own bookstores.
There are now more than 100 women's
bookstores in this country.
In addition, three women started
Women in Distribution (WIND) in order to
handle work from women publishers. After
only two years they are successfully distributing more than 300 women's titles.
Sixty per cent of WIND'S business is with
Feminist magazines and newspapers
have also progressed from the mimeograph
stage into professional operations. Poetry
magazines such as Moving Out and Aphra
have been around almost since the beginning. Others like Chomo Uh, 13th Moon
and Sunbury, with more than three years
of experience, reflect the growing quality
and expanding creativity of women writers.
New magazines and journals cover far more
than poetry. Like women's presses, women's magazines cover the gamut of women's
political and cultural life.
With a broadening berth of women's
publishing experience to draw from, new
journals such as Chrysallis, Heresies, Sinister Wisdom and Conditions have started
production with a high degree of professionalism. Political and cultural journals
like Quest continue to improve, offering a
stimulating analysis of women's political
Women's newspapers range from
radical-feminist to middle-of-the-road, but
they too have grown more professional.
There is great variety in what a women's
newspaper publishes, but all of them cover
news about women that most local newspapers still do not adequately include.
Within the last year women have established Her Say, a national wire service along
the lines of the Associated Press. This has
facilitated immediate distribution of information important to women's newspapers.
Yet despite all of this progress, women's publishing is not always taken seriously; sometimes the perspective of time is
required to recognize a success story.
Guide to Women's Publishing by
Polly Joan/Andrea Chesman can be ordered prior to its January 1, 1977 publication date by writing Dustbooks, P.O. Box
1056, Paradise, Calif. 95969. Soft cover
Polly Joan is a founder of Women Writing
Press. In addition to compiling Guide To
Women's Publishing, she also co-authored
(with Andrea Chesman) the Directory of
Women Writing (1977). Her book of poetry, No Apologies, is distributed through
WIND. She is presently teaching writing
at Tompkins-Cortland Community College.
WOMEN ARE ON THE MOVE
ALL OVER THE WORLD
TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE MASS MEDIA
Media Report to Women tells you monthly what women
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what women are doing nationally and internationally
about the portrayal of women in media, about the news
coverage of women, excessive sex and violence, etc.
Learn what other women are doing — what you can do.
Subscribe to Media Report to Women. Regular price $15
SPECIAL PRICE for women $10 (by personal check or
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Place, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008
ANNUAL DIRECTORY OF THE MEDIA
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An annually-updated directory of feminist media in the U.S. and abroad.
Over 500 entries. Includes special section listing individual media women.
Every entry written by the media, group or individual to assure accuracy.
COVERS: Periodicals .... Presses/Publishers .... News Services ....
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PAGE 12 NOVEMBER 19, 1977 DAILY BREAKTHROUGH