Don't get me wrong, reader, I genuinely felt excited when asked to contribute to the Switchback Blog v2.0 (is that what we're calling it? I suppose I am), but in this moment of writing, approximately six hours before I've promised our editor that I would have it sent over, I feel hesitant—well, terrified—yet to decide what it is that I'd like to say. It is my instinct to just immediately apologize about the tangles of thought and text to follow, the lack of focus and resolution with which I will write about the situations of small press publishing and of women, the axis at which these subjects meet. But, then, what am I apologizing for? This is the internet. We've all seen the bullshit that goes on here. (Can I say bullshit?) I will, as a matter of course, apologize for the egregious use of commas and run-on sentences…but I won't really mean it.
In the past few days when considering my potential subject matter, I knew that I could, and regardless, likely would, default to gushing about what Switchback means to me, what I know it to mean to our authors and readership, and in the broader realm of publishing. And do not fret, fair reader and fellow lover of Switchback, that moment in this frenzied, eleventh hour editorial, is sure to come. But not before I attempt to work a few things out in my own head and simultaneously here in front of you.
I recently spent a weekend volunteering at Gender Matters, a conference organized by Governors State University and hosted by DePaul. Because the conference was quite small, I was able to sit in on a handful of presentations, ranging from masculinity in food culture and gendered social media strategy to American clothing designer, labor union organizer, author, and all-around badass Elizabeth Hawes and feminist pedagogy.
The speakers in the latter panel, a pair of high school teachers, discussed their pedagogical methods of introducing texts of feminist and queer theory and literature into their syllabi (albeit at University of Illinois' Laboratory High School) and I was rather enchanted by their passion and their extremely positive, though anecdotal findings. Of course I am in love with this notion at a theoretical level after having dissecting it, as with anything, discovered the flaws and limits of their presentation. An editorial for another time.
It is not enough to simply add women writers to our catalogs or reading lists, nor is it enough to rely upon the feminist motivation of teachers and editors. In stopping here, we run the risk of reifying a capital-I-Ideology, an essentialized Feminism and insisting upon continuing a debate around the already problematic notion of representation within a canon (which woman writers do you choose to represent all of womanwriterkind?) both of which are inherently oppressive and exclusionary acts that put feminists and women to work on a project of historical self-justification, while the problem of current publication and readership persists. Granted, we at Switchback love to have our collections taught as texts in classrooms, as we love every chance we have to provide our authors the opportunity to be read by a larger audience, completely and utterly deserved.
What the VIDA statistics prove, to nothing less than scandalous effect, is something that we at Switchback, we as people who advocate feminism, already know. This is not to say it is less appalling, less frustrating, or less unjust. It is to say that we should be ever more acutely aware of the importance of the mission of Switchback and other independent publishers and journals, to make space for women and minority writers (the fabulous Roxane Gay initiated a count for writers of color in 2012, check it out over at The Rumpus). In creating and maintaining this space, we can retrieve agency and attempt to tip the scales within an industry and academy that continues to sustain itself in a vicious, socially-stratified circle. This is, obviously, no small task. This remains, obviously, abstract, rhetorical.
In the spirit of my Tuesday evening, which will be spent at The Vic Theatre with Patti Smith, who is—no—not the most clear cut, or even willing, feminist icon, but is, nevertheless, an artist who refuses to compromise or be classified, but has remained relevant across decades, genres, and even genders. In what follows, Smith makes a handful of luminous, though simple, comments about the ethics and urgencies of the artist.
We can build a good name. We can continue to make and promote beautiful books that we know to be significant. We can continue to forge connections with writers, readers, and organizations to create a robust, diverse, and active community. We can continue to delight in our projects, quote lines of our books to each other with stars in our eyes, all the while knowing full well the ramifications and political latitudes that these texts must reside along and recognizing that things can be really fucked up, too.
Nicole Faust is the Distribution Manager for Switchback Books. She is a Master's Candidate at DePaul University in the Interdisciplinary Studies program, where she studies literature and feminist theory. She works, begrudgingly, for Chicago-based startup Groupon, Inc. She should have a prepared professional bio by this point in her life, does not.