Titles for the Times: Ten Books On Race, Police, and Black Lives Matter

52 years ago, Bob Dylan first recorded his monumental “The Times They Are A-Changin.'”

Come gather ’round people wherever you roam

And admit that the waters around you have grown

Accept it soon, you’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’, you could sink like a stone

For the times, they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters, beyond your command

Those lyrics are eerily current, as the people around you and I are protesting with signs that say BlackLivesMatter, as police violence continues to be peeled back and exposed by social media, as “privilege,” “gentrification,” “racist,” and “immigrant” become either fighting words or words of conversation, depending on the circles in which you find yourself.

As par for the course, many independent publishers have been producing books for these conversations for years, and even more have been published this year. No matter what circle you find yourself in, these can help to soothe the argument and continue the conversation.

Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority, Tim Wise, City Lights Publishers, January 2012: Ydearwhiteamericaou could say that Tim Wise was “woke” before that term was around. In this provocative work, Wise speaks out against the assumption that white culture is the norm. Written with Obama in his first term, this book is perhaps even more relevant now w
ith the current political and social environment. As Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow says, “What Tim Wise has brilliantly done is to challenge white folks . . . to see that they have a responsibility to do more than sit back and watch, but to recognize their own role in co-creating what is either a fair, inclusive, truly democratic society or a society that is predicated on indifference towards those who are labeled as ‘others.'”

freedom

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, Angela Davis, Haymarket Books, February 2016: Need your racial justice titles with a heavy dose of feminism and historical context? Look no further
than Angela Davis’s most recent title, where she digs into the connections between struggles against state violence and oppression throughought history and around the world in her essays, interviews, and speeches. BUST says of the title that, “Davis delivers a rooted history with directives for seeing modern events in context. Yes, freedom is a constant struggle, and here, Davis reminds us we have the tools to act, react, and keep pushing onward.”

 

From #BlackfromblackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Haymarket Books, February 2016: Where haven’t Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and her timely book been in the past year? Salon, Democracy Now!, the Los Angeles Times, and now required reading at Virginia Union University for all incoming students this fall are just a handful. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor teaches at Princeton University, and she analyzes the historical and contemporary ravages of racism and structural inequality, including mass incarceration and Black unemployment. She argues for the necessity of BlackLivesMatter for Black liberation.

 

Picturing Children: National Museum of African American History and Culture, Marian W. Edelman, D Giles Limited, July 2016: picturingchildrenThe Smithsonian is getting in on the conversation too: The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens to the public on September 24, and as part of the launch, the museum’s founding director, Lonnie Bunch, is overseeing the publication of a special series of photography books with photos from the museum’s collection. The fourth title in this series is Picturing Children, and it features stunning images of America’s past and present racial tension and hope are reflected in the faces and actions of children, as NPR’s All Things Considered reported on July 30.

Michelle Obama herself referenced one of the photos (a child touching President Obama’s hair) in her speech to the DNC on July 25, saying “We know that our words and actions matter not just to our girls, but to kids across this country. Kids who tell us, ‘I saw you on TV,’ ‘I wrote about you at school.’ Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope, and he wondered ‘is my hair like yours?’”

Talking Black, Talking Back, John McWhorter, Bellevue Literary Press, January 2017: Finally, we have a title that is a celebration of Black English and an argument for its legitimacy. talkingbackAs James McWhorter says, “To me, Black English is like a clockwork or an engine, a system every bit as coherent as Latin or Chinese. But to most Americans, Black English Means error.” McWhorter fights the stereotype, gives you some approachable grammar lessons, and changes our definitions of “correct language” in the process. Look for Talking Black, Talking Back from Bellevue Literary Press in January 2017.

 

The Black History of the White House, Clarence Lusane, City Lights Publishers, January 2011: Once again hitting thblackhistorye right notes, first lady Michelle Obama ruffled feathers in her DNC speech, noting that “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.” Subsequently, NPR called in Clarence Lusane, author of The Black History of the White House to comment on the first lady’s speech: “. . . what Michelle Obama was attempting to do was to draw that link to show that it isn’t just what’s going on in the White House now and isn’t it great that there’s a black family there, but there’s a much longer history that needs to be appreciated.” If you want to know the underbelly of American history that likely wasn’t blared in your high school textbook, take a look at The Black History of the White House.

The Breakbeat Poets, Edited by Kevin Coval and Quraysh A Lansana, Haymarket Books, April 2015: Spoken word and hip hop inspired poetry has sparked the BlackLivesMatter Movement with creativity and passion. As Danez Smith says in his provobreakbeatcative “Dear White America,”

“I have left earth to find a land where my kin can be safe. I will not rest until black people ain’t but people the same color as the good, wet earth, until that means something, until our existence isn’t up for debate, until it is honored & blessed & loved & left alone, until then I bid you well, I bid you war, I bid you our lives to gamble with no more.”

With poems by Ocean Vuong, Danez Smith, Kevin Coval, Chinaka Hodge, Aracelis Girmay, and so many more, The Breakbeat Poets is your anthology for the times. They can’t stop, nor will they.

The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World, Dave Zirin and John W.
Carlos, Haymarket Books, February 2013:
With the Rio Olympics over and American media obsessing over the embarrassment of Ryan Lochte, a johncarlosbook about an Olympian taking a stand decades ago, doing something that matters, might be what you need. From the 200-meter run medal podium in 1968, John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s Black Power Salute incited controversy, career fallout, and stirring visual reminder of the times. In his book co-written with Dave Zirin, John Carlos gives the details behind that moment and how it affected his life. And Carlos is still talking today. On August 18, he told NPR’s Morning Edition, “If you’re famous and you’re black, you have to be an activist.”

racismThe ‘R’ Word, Kurt Barling, Biteback Publishing, May 2016: Is the word “racism” even something we can continue to use? What good is it doing us? Kurt Barling, professor of journalism at Middlesex University in London explores the notions of racism and oppressor language in our changing world.

 

 

Writing On The Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Edited by Johanna Fernandez, Mumia Abu Jamal, City writingonLights Publishers, June 2015: The last title to round out our list comes from a writer currently serving his time in prison for being convicted of the murder of a police officer in 1981. Journalist and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal has perhaps the most unique perspective on violence, racism, and the police force. In Writing on the Wall, he delivers 100 previously unpublished essays on community, politics, Rosa Parks, Ferguson, and more. In the words of Cornel West, “[Mumia Abu Jamal’s] writings are a wake-up call. He is a voice from our prophetic tradition, speaking to us here, now, lovingly, urgently. Black man, old-school jazz man, freedom fighter, revolutionary—his presence, his voice, his words are the writing on the wall.”

 

 

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Will Evans of Deep Vellum Tells The Rumpus “Translators are the missing link”

It’s hard to imagine a day in the life of Will Evans. He almost singlehandedly runs Deep Vellum—one of the few publishing houses in the country that publishes exclusively translated works. He is integral to building and connecting the emerging literary community in Dallas, where he is also opening an independent bookstore called Deep Vellum Books.

“I met Will at the Dallas Book Festival, where he was clearly in his element as a force of literary energy…engaging in conversation continuously with a community that had its hooks in him, and vice versa,” writes Graham Oliver in his introduction to the interview with Evans for The Rumpus, published August 24.

Since its founding in 2013, Deep Vellum has published works from award-winning authors spanning the globe, including Sergio Pitol’s The Art of Flight, Lina Meruane’s Seeing Red, and Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83. “I have to round out the world. I haven’t published from everywhere yet,” Evans says. “I need a Japanese book, a Turkish book, an Italian book, a German book. For me, one of the reasons I choose books is based on diversity and diversity comes in all those forms: language, region, country, gender, etc.”

As a non-profit organization, Deep Vellum eGrambraces a publishing philosophy that is “about connecting authors and readers.” Deep Vellum addresses the desperate need for more international books. Evans says, “Translators are that missing link.”

Though Deep Vellum often faces skepticism from members of the publishing industry as a translation publisher based in Dallas, Evans is confident in their mission. “I’m hungry,” he says, “I’m voraciously waiting for these books, so if I can create some of that sense in myself, maybe I can create it in readers too.”

Within Dallas, Deep Vellum is gaining traction and becoming a key figure in the city’s developing literary community. “I set up Deep Vellum to be Dallas-specific because no one took Dallas seriously in Dallas, let alone anywhere else,” Evans says, “but in Dallas at least, the conversation’s changed, and I’m not taking all the credit, but I’m trying to be a part of it…Part of my identity for Deep Vellum has been Dallas on purpose, to help make Dallas a better place to live, to make it more of the place I want to live.”

Coming out this month from Deep Vellum is Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, and translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman, a harrowing novel exploring the violent reality many native Mauritians live that the tourists never see.

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13 Translated Books by Women You Should Read

As Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Hillary Clinton, Yusra Mardini, and many more are teaching us, girls run the world. August is Women in Translation Month, and we’re celebrating the powerful and innovative works of some incredible international writers. While women have been rocking the literary scene since, well, the literary scene began, they are overwhelmingly less likely to have their work translated into English than men. According to PEN America, only thirty percent of English translations published each year are written by women. Want to help correct this travesty? Buy some books.

Here are eleven titles in translation—from comedy to graphic novel to historical fiction and more—by contemporary and classic women authors from all around the world. Here’s your chance, do your part, and read.

Abahn Sabana David by Marguerite Duras (Open Letter, June 2016, Translated from French by Kazim Ali) is a short novel that opens on two Communists, Sabana and David, who have been ordered to kill a Jewish man named Abahn. The book is driven by dialogue, as Abahn, Sabana, and David discuss their roles and motivations in the plotted murder, set to take place at the nearing sunrise. Clocking in at 108 pages, Abahn Sabana David has been compared to the work of Samuel Beckett, in its experimentation with ideas of human existence and suffering. It’s absurdist and powerfully self-aware, a brief encounter that will leave you reeling for days afterwards. “Timely and timeless,” the Chicago Tribune said of the novel, “it shows, among other things, how absurd and damaging it can be to live in terror.”

The Attempt by Magdalena Platzová (Bellevue Literary Press, May 2016, Translated from Czech by Alex Zucker) is a reimagining of the 1892 assassination attempt of Henry Clay Frick, an American magnate and art-collector, by activist Alexander Berkman, as told by a fictional historian. As the historian, Jan Schwarzer, researches more and more about the events surrounding the assassination, he finds himself caught in the middle of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s a tale to please all readers, from lovers of literary fiction to history buffs to social activists. This is Platzová’s second book to be translated into English after her 2014 novel Aaron’s Leap, and Publishers Weekly raved that “Platzová is on a roll.”

Before by Carmen Boullosa (Deep Vellum Publishing, August 2016, Translated from Spanish by Peter Bush) is the story of a young woman revisiting her childhood, which was plagued by a dark and inexplicable fear. It’s as much a coming-of-age novel as it is a ghost story. Boullosa’s delicate narrative touch makes Before the modern day equivalent of Turn of the Screw or The Yellow Wall-Paper. With each memory the narrator reveals, a new mystery unfurls—is her childhood home haunted? Why does she refuse to acknowledge her mother, Esther? Boullosa is a master of the plot-twist, too, and the shocking conclusion will leave you gasping for breath. This is a hot title for an eerie summer read, appearing on Literary Hub’s “13 Books You Should Read This June.”

Bye Bye Blondie by Virginie Despentes (The Feminist Press at CUNY, July 2016, Translated from French by Siân Reynolds) is a dark comedy for anyone who wants their romance with a side of eyeliner-wearing, cigarette-smoking, metal-banging punk aesthetic. Despentes, a filmmaker and former sex worker, grounded the novel in her own experience of being admitted to a mental institution at age 15. The book critiques the double standards of sexuality and teenage rebellion in men and women as it examines the relationship between two doomed lovers, Gloria and Eric. It’s raw and unnerving in all the right ways, and despite its politically-charged subject matter, Despentes maintains a dry wit through the novel that keeps it from veering into bleak nostalgia. A review by Parul Sehgal in the New York Times captured Despentes’s intensity best, saying, “Despentes’s work is all untramelled id — fractious, noisy, unafraid of embarrassment and impossible to contain.”

A Greater Music by Bae Suah (Open Letter, October 2016, Translated from Korean by Deborah Smith) is a heart-wrenching novel of the two love affairs a young Korean writer experiences while living in Germany. After falling into an icy river, halfway between life and death, the narrator revisits a series of memories that move between the hazily-defined present and three years ago, when she first moved to Berlin. Read this book if you want to feel all of the emotions. A Greater Music will grab you by the heartstrings and play you like a harp, in the best of ways. It riffs on music, language, and literature while delivering a gut-punch of an ending. Bae Suah was nominated for the 2016 PEN Translation Award, and her second novel, Recitation, will be out from Deep Vellum Publishing next January.

Killer Deal by Sofie Sarenbrandt (Stockholm Text, June 2016, Translated from Swedish by Paul Norlen) is a pulse-racing crime novel that follows Inspector Emma Sköld as she attempts to solve a series of increasingly brutal murders occurring at open house showings in the upper-class suburbs of Stockholm. Swedish crime novels have been gaining in popularity since Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo first rocked the U.S. literary scene in 2008, and whether you’re a longtime fan of the genre or a recent convert, Killer Deal should be the next read on your list. Between the thrilling action scenes and tense emotional turns, Sarenbrant’s brilliant writing makes a 400-page novel speed by. It’s more complex than most crime novels, adding a political charge that Publishers Weekly called “an absorbing addition to Sweden’s fictional portraits of a welfare-state society gone hopelessly wrong.”

One of Us is Sleeping by Josephine Klougart (Open Letter, July 2016, Translated from Danish by Martin Aitken) is a novel about the things in life we take for granted—childhood, family, love—and how quickly they can fall apart. One of Us is Sleeping follows an unnamed narrator as she returns home to care for her cancer-stricken mother, in the wake of a failed relationship. Klougart has been called Denmark’s Virginia Woolf, and it’s easy to see why. Her writing is poetic and sensitive, what Publishers Weekly called a “beguiling conjuring of consciousness,” digging deep to the core of universal themes and human psychology. Klougart has won multiple awards for her writing, including the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize, one of the most esteemed Scandinavian book awards, but this is the first time her writing has been translated into English.

The Party Wall by Catherine LeRoux (Biblioasis, July 2016, Translated from French by Lazer Lederhendler) is a collection of stories that interweave to become a single novel about biology, identity, and the gray areas found in between. The book is broken down into four parts, each about a different pair (a mother and son, a brother and sister, two sisters, and a political couple) who has to grapple with a sudden revelation. LeRoux’s narrative abilities are impressive, and you’ll often find yourself pausing to marvel the control she has over both the smallest details and largest arcs. This is LeRoux’s debut novel, and it was named an Indies Introduce Pick for Summer/Fall 2016.

The Passport by Herta Müller (Serpent’s Tail, August 2016, Translated from German by Martin Chalmers) is a haunting novel about a small German village in Romania caught in between two worlds: the stifling Communist dictatorship of Romanian Nicolae Ceaucescu, and the glittering promises of the Western World. When the village miller applies for a passport to West Germany, the dreams and desperations of the town and its history collide. Müller, who was forced to leave her native Romania under similar circumstances, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009, and The Passport is an example of her prowess. Müller’s language is at once sparse and poetic, each word complicating the plight of the forgotten village.

Seeing Red by Lina Meruane (Deep Vellum Publishing, February 2016, Translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell) is an autobiographical novel detailing the narrator, a woman also named Lina, as she confronts her new blindness in the wake of a stroke. The novel is based on Meruane’s own loss of sight, but contains fictionalized elements and intense lyrical insight. It’s easy to empathize with Lina’s struggles against dependence—both physically and psychologically—on her partner, Ignacio. As a review in the Los Angeles Times said, “[Meruane’s] uncompromising vision and piercing prose are reasons to celebrate the long overdue appearance of this bracing voice in English.”

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press, November 2015, Translated from Spanish by Christina MacSweeney) is an experimental romp through the life of Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, an auctioneer who sells the teeth of celebrities from Plato to Virginia Woolf. When Sánchez’s son steals the teeth of Marilyn Monroe straight from his mouth, the auctioneer sets off to reclaim his dentures and his glory. Written in four parts, The Story of My Teeth was originally commissioned by an art gallery, to be read and discussed by workers in a Mexican juice factory and later become an installation. The latter third of the book includes a series of photographs each accompanied by a quotation by everyone from H.G. Wells to Voltaire. It’s intriguing, searingly witty, and the kind of book that will change the way you read. Since its publication last November, it’s topped just about every round-up list created, from the New York Times Book Review’s “100 Notable Books of 2015” to NPR’s “Guide to 2015’s Great Reads.”

 

Is fiction not your style? Check out some of our less-traditional picks, including a translated manga memoir and a feminist reading of the Qur’an!

 

What is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy by Rokudenashiko (Koyama Press, May 2016, Translated from Japanese by Anne Ishii) is a graphic novel adaptation of the true story of the arrest and trial of Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi. Megumi Igarashi, who also goes by the name Rokudenashiko (a word which roughly translates to “good for nothing”), is known for her bright, cheery cartoons and sculptures of vaginas which challenge the censorship and taboo around female genitalia. When Rokudenashiko started a croudfunding campaign to build a kayak molded from a 3-d scan of her own “manko,” she was arrested for distributing pornographic images. What is Obscenity? illustratively explains the permeating sexism in society and the joys of embracing and celebrating your own body. A review in the Huffington Post praised how “through it all, Rokudenashiko has kept a tone of playfulness and resilience, showing there is nothing more threatening than a girl who is willing and ready to play rough.”

Women in the Qur’an: An Emancipatory Reading by Asma Lamarbet (Kube Publishing, May 2016, Translated from French by Myriam Francois-Corrah) challenges both liberal Western and conservative Islamic views on feminism and Islam. Highlighting the spiritual and humanistic messages that make up the core of the Qur’an’s teachings, Lamarbet acknowledges the oppression of women in the name of religion at the same time that she time rejects Western values as the sole means of liberation. Women in the Qur’an is as much a spiritual and historical text as it is manifesto, recreating women’s liberation an act of devotion. The book is accessible to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and should be required reading for feminists (and politicians) worldwide.

Find out where to purchase Abahn Sabana DavidThe AttemptBefore, Bye, Bye, BlondieA Greater MusicKiller DealOne of Us is SleepingThe Party Wall, The PassportSeeing RedThe Story of My TeethWhat is Obscenity? and Women in the Qur’an here on the Consortium website!

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Foreword Reviews Celebrates 15 Years of Radical Publishing from Haymarket Books

9781608463954“Socialism is not a dirty word anymore and we’re happy to be a socialist publisher,” says Haymarket editor Julie Fain.

Over the last fifteen years, Haymarket Books has seen the tides of political thinking change, beginning in an era where a hint of socialism would instantly ignite rage and fear, to our current election cycle with Bernie Sanders unapologetically running for the Presidential nomination as a Demo9781608465644cratic Socialist. On July 7, Foreword Reviews to talk about Haymarket’s work over the last fifteen years, and where they’re going.

Haymarket has seen a surge of interest as progressive movements have gained momentum in the U.S. “People are more open to radical politics, questions of race and gender and criminal justice are on the table like they have never been at least in a generation,” says Fain.

“To publish at Haymarket, a book has to speak to people who are doing something to change society,” says Fain. Haymarket publishes all genres, from social theory to poetry, novels, and even children’s books.

Following their increase in s9781608465620ales, Haymarket is trying to intentionally direct their growth. One book playing a key role in their strategy is The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. Fain says, “It’s a really great way of reaching young people, reaching a wider audience, reaching people who are doing important cultural work.”

Always speaking to the times, Haymarket has two titles that are hitting many required reading lists for Black Lives Matter: Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis and From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.

9781608466191Looking ahead to more groundbreaking, question-posing titles, Haymarket has two books coming out by award-winning writer Arundhati Roy. Things that Can and Cannot Be Said, which she wrote in collaboration with John Cusack, documents their journey to meet Edward Snowden and the conversations that followed. It will be available starting October 4, 2016. Her collection of essays The End of Imagination will be available August 16, 2016, where for the first time ever, five of her books of essays will be bound together in one volume. We can’t wait to see these books on your shelves and in the streets.

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Brooklyn Magazine Covers Emily Books’s Splash Into Publishing

Problems What was the last book about a heroin addict that made you laugh out loud? And, as the reader, the more flaws this character uncovers, the more you liked her.

This book is Problems by Jade Sharma, brought to you by Emily Books. On July 5, Brooklyn Magazine profiled the founders of Emily Books, Emily Gould and Ruth Curry, to learn about their history and artistic vision as they launch their new imprint with Coffee House Press this summer.

Coffee House Press managing director Caroline Casey said, “As a publisher, we prefer a messy and ambitious book to a cautious and extremely competent one.” These kinds of books are par for the course in Emily Books’s list.

Since they started in 2011, Emily Books has gathered titles written “by women and gay men and gender outsiders—or people who had transgressive, interesting, weird personalities,” Gould says.

Problems is the first book to come out of this new collaboration with Coffee House. Curry says, “I read [Problems] and thought, ‘I do have the vision and enthusiasm to make this stand out in a crowded marketplace.’ I got the book. I knew what she was going for, and I felt really confident I could help her get there.”

Emily Books began in 2011 with e-books only, offering a monthly subscription service and selling individual e-books. At the time, nothing like Emily Books existed.

I'll Tell You In PersonCurry and Gould say that at the beginning, “We were thinking, ‘Well, we have nothing to lose…We started the business with nothing, and we still run the business on a total shoestring. We’ve never paid ourselves. And we can do whatever we want. So when you start from that vantage point, there are a lot of tradeoffs—but the upside is total freedom.”

One subscriber at a time, Gould and Curry built an audience for Emily Books. Their reader-base rallied around them, and they had a strong Kickstarter campaign. From this success came their partnership with Coffee House, entrance into print, and Problems.

We’ll see what else Emily Books has in story on October 4, when their second title I’ll Tell You In Person by Chloe Caldwell comes out. We hear it’s darkly humorous. We can’t wait.

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Hyper-Realized: An Interview With Jewelle Gomez

 

Interview by Cassidy Foust

Recently, at WisCon 40 (a feminist sci-fi and fantasy convention in Madison, Wisconsin), we had the opportunity to sit down with the phenomenal Jewelle Gomez, author of The Gilda Stories, which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year with City Lights Books! Jewelle Gomez talks vampires, community, and radical change in this interview.

CBSD: The Gilda Stories was one of the first stories that was a vampire story that wasn’t just about vampires. Why not just make it realistic fiction?

JG: Well, the first Gilda Story I wrote is really a story about retribution, and about a woman being harrassed on the street, and then she kills the guy.  And then I realized, “well, that was interesting,” but what I really wanted to write about was women feeling powerful. . . I wanted to write more about that character. Then I thought, well, maybe she’s a vampire, because then she can travel through time and she can be part of culture and yet apart from cultures. And I was very interested in an African American character, specifically a woman, being a part of history, and not only a slave (which is what she starts out as) but as a person who is acting on their own terms. Having her be a vampire made it possible for her to see time, see life over time, and to struggle with how to be powerful without being exploitative. Gilda’s growth over time was emblematic of the things that I hope for in any oppressed community—the opportunity to gain power without becoming oppressive yourself.  We’re still trying to get to that.

CBSD: One of my favorite things about The Gilda Stories is the way the long timeline allows for that complexity. It shows how different groups shift in social hierarchies, from their inception (or “discovery,” in the case of the vampires) to their acceptance, to their rejection.

JG: Exactly. That’s one of the things I was hoping to do. We only get a snapshot of the culture if we live to be ninety—such a tiny little snapshot. There’s the one line in the novel, in which the original Gilda says, “The real gift is to see people over time and still want to make a world.” Because people are really disappointing. Ha! And I think that’s what anyone who’s an activist, at their core, has to understand. People are really disappointing, but our role is to keep being activists. You have some gains, and that will be lovely, and some setbacks, and that will be disappointing, but at the heart of it, as activists, our role is to keep doing what we do. It does not stop at, “oh, I got what I want. I got marriage, so now I’m happy.” (I don’t know why you’d be happy with that, but, you know.)  Well, how is that person over there doing? And then knowing you have to protect those people. The rights, when you get them, they don’t stay. You have to protect them. Because you really want a shift in the culture, not just a law here and a law there.

CBSD: How did you first get started working with City Lights, and what has your experience with them as a publisher been?

JG: I knew City Lights already because I knew San Francisco, and of course everybody knows them, and I had a kind of friendly relationship with them already. I think they saw the political perspective that it had, and it really fit in with their kind of progressive, thoughtful publishing history. . . It’s been heaven. Having an independent press is really amagildazing for me. When I was first trying to get Gilda published, all of the commercial presses and the sci-fi presses turned it down. It was too … something. I don’t know. One letter from one of the editors at one of the mainstream presses said, “Gilda is a lesbian, she’s black, and she’s a vampire. That’s too confusing.” And my thought was, well, I’m two of the three… I don’t think confuse people. (I didn’t say which two of the three I was.) Twenty-five years later to have an important press like City Lights to reissue, for me, was such an honor. The team was so great, and they set up readings for me, a tour up the coast, and helped me figure out how to do the Twitter, and I know I’m not their only author! They still gave me everything they could possibly give me. . . How  lucky can a girl get?

CBSD: What has touring been like?

JG: I didn’t go “on the road,” per se [for The Gilda Stories‘ first publication]. With City Lights, this year, I really just had to say, “I think I want to go here,” and then they’d find a bookstore for me. Along the tour, I would ask, “Who here has read Gilda before?” And I got all of these stories—you know, “I was in graduate school,” or “I was giving birth to my first child, and I was trying to distract myself” … and I said, “Gilda’s good, but I don’t know if she can distract you from labor!” But people had all kinds of stories they wanted to tell me about where they were when they first met her, and that was very sweet.

CBSD: What’s next?

JG: Once I’ve gotten this Gilda launched, probably this winter I’ll start again. I have about five chapters… it’s not a prequel—somebody called it an “intra-quel,” because the chapters take place between the chapters of the current novel. I try to track more of Gilda’s emotional growth . . . I love being able to think about Gilda as a human. I mean, she’s not mortal, but she is a human being, hyper-realized, so everything she feels is huge.

CBSD: That sounds fascinating. We can’t wait to see where Gilda goes next!

The Gilda Stories: 25th Anniversary Edition is available now from City Lights Books. Find out where to purchase this and other titles here on the Consortium website.

 

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Why Not Fantasy?: An Interview With Sofia Samatar


Interview by Cassidy Foust

Recently, at WisCon 40 (a feminist sci-fi and fantasy convention in Madison, Wisconsin), we had the opportunity to sit down with the phenomenal Sofia Samatar. In addition to being a WisCon Guest of Honor, Sofia Samatar is the author of The Winged Histories and the World Fantasy Award-winning A Stranger in Olondria (both from Small Beer Press). Sofia Samatar talks the power of fantasy, rewriting tradition, and putting yourself out there in this interview.

 CBSD: So why sci-fi/fantasy?

SS: I have asked this question a lot. I’ve tried to find various answers to it, and none of them have been satisfactory. In fact, I did a whole dissertation on fantasy in the work of Taib Saleh, who’s a Sudanese novelist, trying to see if I can get closer to that question, “why fantasy?” One way of answering the question might be “why not fantasy?” Fantasy is older than realism, has a much longer history in oral traditions. “Why realism?” might be the actual question we should ask people. But that’s not entirely satisfactory to me. You could also say, well, I’m this person from a mixed background, you know, Somali and Swiss-German Mennonite, that you don’t see a lot of, and that it maybe encourages me to imagine other ways of being. That’s another way of answering, and that also doesn’t satisfy me. So none of the answers are good enough.

CBSD: That’s an answer in and of itself. One goal you’ve talked about, specifically in The Winged Histories is to counteract the conventional war-mongering of fantasy that isn’t really questioned. Do you see sci-fi and fantasy moving in this direction?

SS: I think that there is a strong feminist tradition in fantasy and sci-fi, and there are a lot of women in the genre who have been questioning that war-mongering for a long time. They don’t tend to be as highly popular as the ones that are not trying to think about war in ways that challenge its primacy and challenge  its necessity. The stories that challenge that narrative tend not to get as much attention. They might be there, and I might not know.winged histories

CBSD: How did you start working with Small Beer Press?

SS: When first I decided I wanted to start getting A Stranger in Olondria published, I started looking for an agent.  And I kept trying for five years, and I couldn’t get one. I just wasn’t really that aware of the independent press world. . . [but] I loved the kind of books that Small Beer did, and I knew that our sensibilities were really similar.  And so, at WisCon, I went to the Small Beer table in the dealers room and I spoke to Gavin Grant and I said, “Hey, I wrote this novel!” And he didn’t look thrilled.  I think that’s probably not the only time he’s heard that! But he said, “Send me three chapters,” so I did, and then it went on from there. They were the first publisher that I talked to, because they were at the top of my list, and it worked out, and it has been great. They’re amazing.

CBSD: Can you give us any sneak-peeks into what you’re working on now?

SS: Sure! I’m working on a very different kind of book now. It is a hybrid text combining fiction, history, and memoir, based on a historical event: the migration of Mennonites from southern Russia to what is now Uzbekistan in the 1880s. So, a little different, but still sort-of fantastical. It’s many of the same preoccupations of A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories – about migration and borders and history and memory, but this time looking at them in a more recognizable world.

The Winged Histories is available now from City Lights Books. Find out where to purchase this, A Stranger in Olondria, and other titles here on the Consortium website.

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