The Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Final Research Paper & Slides For LGBTQ Historic Site

The Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Final Research Paper & Slides For LGBTQ Historic Site

 

Sofia Safran

Professor Gieseking

AMST 409 Queer America

Final Paper

Due May 10, 2017

 

Setting the Kitchen Table and its Place in History

 

Introduction

 

In her book Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, author Audre Lorde wrote of the inequality among disenfranchised people and people in power: “Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world.”[1] In Lorde’s eyes, this education came about through the spread of ideas through books. However, with a largely white and male dominated publishing industry in the 1980s, it was difficult to get the ideas and voices heard from those of disenfranchised groups, such as people of color, women, those belonging in the LGBTQ community, and those who provided intersectional combinations of the three. How, then, could education—and eventually equality—occur?

To address these issues, Lorde, along with author and activist Barbara Smith, created the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, a lesbian feminist press that published only works by women of color. Because of its devotion to intersectionality, commitment to social justice, promotion of voices of marginalized groups such as lesbian women of color, and its legacy in the publishing industry today, I argue that Kitchen Table and the site of its founding are important and should become a historic site.

 

Kitchen Table: A History

 

The history of the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press is scattered. Even the in most seemingly comprehensive accounts of Kitchen Table’s beginnings, important dates and other details are lost in the midst of a longer explanation for the Press’ intentions and actions. In 1980, poet Audre Lorde told author Barbara Smith, “We really need to do something about publishing” while they were both in Boston on Halloween for a poetry reading.[2] By “publishing,” Lorde was referring not only to the American publishing industry as a whole, but also the smaller Women in Print movement.

At this time, racism and homophobia in the publishing industry, as well as the Women in Print movement, were clear. The Women in Print movement sought to unite feminist presses and booksellers alike in order to better spread feminist ideals to the public. However, these feminist ideals were largely white and straight. Smith explains that she and other feminist and lesbian of color writers “knew [they] had no options for getting published except at the mercy or whim of others–in either commercial or alternative publishing, since both [were] white dominated.”[3] In addition to rarely being published, Smith also notes that even published works by women of color (including African American, Native American, Latina, and Asian American women) were “barely noticed by literary and academic establishments, let alone by the general reading public.”[4] Therefore, it was necessary to diversify the movement by giving disenfranchised yet intersectional lesbian women of color an avenue through which they could share their ideas and be noticed.

While the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press was formed in the fall of 1980, it was not officially announced until 1981. The announcement of the Kitchen Table was seen as the high point of the 2nd Annual National Women in Print Conference, a gathering at which feminist publishers and booksellers held panels and discussions about feminist issues in the publishing industry.[5] Additionally, it was not until two years later in the spring of 1983 that the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press began its publishing operations with an edition of Cheryl Clarke’s Narratives: Poems in the Tradition of Black Women, which had originally been self-published by the author.[6] [7]

When Kitchen Table was founded, it had “no start-up capital… no significant grants by major foundations. No corporate donations of equipment. No wealthy patron in the wings.”[8] Additionally, the nonprofit press was not only founded by Smith (who did all of her work for no pay), but also operated in her home with a “paid staff that never numbered more than three.”[9]

Despite their minimal funds and lack of staff, the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press prospered throughout the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s. Kitchen Table published fifteen works from 1983 until 1992, including works by Audre Lorde herself (such as I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities), and Mitsuye Yamada’s Desert Run: Poems and Stories. [10] Additionally, Kitchen Table also published Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzalúa’s anthology, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, a text that they picked up from Persephone Press after they were forced to close in May 1983 due to the financial hardships associated with running an independent lesbian feminist press.[11] At this time, it was not uncommon for independent presses in the market in which Kitchen Table and Persephone were operating to go out of business. Due to the market’s niche with the smaller group of people active in the feminist movement rather than the general population as a whole, business was more difficult. The closure of Persephone Press allowed Kitchen Table to pick up and continue publishing some of their books—bettering their own business.

According to author Kristen Hogan, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press’ dedication to women of color helped to keep them afloat. She notes that Matt Richardson, a representative for Kitchen Table at the American Booksellers Association (ABA) Convention in 1993 explained that the conversation then among feminist publishers and booksellers was, “Let’s talk about our survival, and not, our survival depends upon having an accountability around race and racism.”[12] For Kitchen Table, Richardson continued, “If we suddenly lost an antiracist focus, then our publishing would be in danger. Our economic survival depended upon being clear about that in ways that theirs [white feminist bookstores] didn’t.”[13]

Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press continued printing and selling texts by lesbian women of color with the help of a network of volunteers until 1994. It was then that Smith began to collaborate with Jamie M. Grant of the Union Institute Center for Women, expressing her “need to develop Kitchen Table into an independent, fiscally sound nonprofit.”[14] Grant, a white lesbian activist, was fully aware of the importance of race in Kitchen Table’s functioning: “Kitchen Table’s strength has always risen from the foundation that its work is defined by women of color, for women of color. As a in a predominantly white-led institution, I understood that our role would be to preserve that strength by providing access to whatever avenues of support we could find.”[15] Grant was optimistic about this new structure, noting that her goal was to usher Kitchen Table “safely into the next century,” and that support from the Union Institute had already tripled its capacity.[16] Unfortunately, however, this endeavor was ultimately unsuccessful and the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press did not make it to the next century—it ceased operations a year later in 1995.[17]

 

Topics and Trends in Literature

Within my research on the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, several topics appeared frequently throughout the literature. First and foremost, there was a distinct emphasis on Kitchen Table’s commitment to social justice. Next, and in conjunction with that, was their dedication to making sure that lesbian women of color’s voices were heard and able to empower other disenfranchised women. Lastly, these trends are explored in their relationship with Kitchen Table and its place in the Women in Print movement as a whole.

The Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press’s commitment to social justice in its publishing endeavors are mentioned to some extent in the majority of my sources, but can most be clearly seen in the piece “African American Women in Defense of Ourselves.” This statement from The Black Scholar speaks out against the confirmation of African American Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. It details his confirmation as a disservice to African Americans in the United States, as he was accused of sexually harassing an African American professor named Anita Hill.

The statement claims that his appointment would both be used to “divert attention from historic struggles” for African Americans and further the country’s legacy of not taking “the sexual abuse of Black women seriously.” [18] While perhaps not written by the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the statement contains a footnote that it is available to order as a poster published and distributed by Kitchen Table. Because the Kitchen Table sold it as a poster, it is evident that the Press supported the statement’s sentiments, and it gives an insight into the Press’ political leanings and the varieties of publishing work that they did.

Social justice is also extensively covered in Audre Lorde’s essay, “The Uses of Anger.” While the co-founder of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press never mentions the nonprofit organization outright in her essay, it is easy to see its fundamental ideals for social justice and racial equality in her writing. Lorde notes, “Women responding to racism means women responding to anger, the anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and coopting.”[19] She explains that she has seen time and time again the implication that “racism is a Black women’s problem, a problem of women of Color, and only we [black women] can discuss it.”[20]

Thus, it is here that we see her motivation for helping to create Kitchen Table: to use the press as a tool to respond to and fight against racism, to give women whose voices might not otherwise be heard the chances to speak out. She notes, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is any of you.”[21] With this in mind, the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press becomes an even stronger means of freeing women of color from their shackles through the use of print.

Through this printing of feminist literature, and subsequent distribution to feminist bookstores, the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press not only allowed lesbian women of color’s voices to be heard, but also allowed disenfranchised women around the world to hear them. “By ensuring easy accessibility of feminist literature,” Hogan explains, feminist bookstores and publishers (such as Kitchen Table) provided “the necessary theoretical ballast for feminist action.”[22] Furthermore, she notes that in the case of “Third World Countries,” it was the duty of publishers such as Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press to make their “feminist literature affordable, so that the fledgling feminist movements in most of these countries can acquire greater momentum than they would otherwise be able to do.”[23]

The themes of social justice and empowerment through allowing disenfranchised voices to hear each other and be heard at all are echoed in the literature that discusses the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press’ place in the Women in Print movement. Lootens praises the movement, mentioning that feminist presses’ (such as Kitchen Table) “work exists in the context of an activist movement; if there were no such movement, nobody would buy the books” and that “the Women in Print movement is not only surviving but expanding”[24] because of this.

Meanwhile, other literature points to the Women in Print movement’s pitfalls. Grant notes the racism in the movement, explaining that while “white feminist communities have eagerly taken up the books of the press… and yet barely noticed the years of personal sacrifice and unwaged work by women of color that have sustained this resource.”[25] Smith, on the other hand, ties the movement’s success and shortcomings together when she explains that “freedom of the press belongs to those who own the press” and that this is “even truer for multiply disenfranchised women of color who have minimal access to power… except what we wrest from an unwilling system.”[26]

 

Discussion: Arguments for Site Inclusion

The site of the founding of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press should be a historical one for two main reasons. First, without the establishment of Kitchen Table, the state of diversity and inequality in American publishing would not be as diverse as it is today. Second, Kitchen Table, unlike other defunct lesbian feminist presses of the time, lives on through the work of other individuals in the present day. Last, Kitchen Table also allowed for the initial and continued publication of feminist texts and feminist authors who are still read today.

Unfortunately, when looking at the statistics, it is clearly visible that diversity in publishing is still a major issue. Of the Top 100 Bestsellers of 2016, people of color wrote 16 books. Of those 16, only 4 were written by women—all of whom were straight.[27] With this, it is not unreasonable to conclude that marginalized groups, such as LGBTQ women of color, are not getting their voices and heard by the American public nearly as loudly as the other 84 straight white cisgender authors on the list.

In an NPR article from 2016, novelist Angela Flournoy (a woman of color) commented on this issue. When asked about “the extent to which writers of color are asked in interviews about publishing’s diversity gap,” she responded, “I think it’s an undue burden for the writer of color that’s just trying to get people to care about their book as much as other people’s books, to then also be the one to have the answers.”[28]

The statistics are there to provide concrete evidence of the lack of diversity. In 2014, Publisher’s Weekly, a magazine targeted at those in the literary industry, conducted a survey on salaries and demographics in the publishing industry. The survey found that 89 percent of participants identified as white.[29] In 2015, publisher Lee & Low Books responded to this by starting an increasingly well-known study on staff diversity in the publishing industry, known as the “Diversity Baseline Survey.” The findings here reinforced the harsh lack of diversity: of the over 40 publishers and review journals that participated, 79 percent of people in the industry as a whole identified as white. Furthermore, of those same people, 88 percent identified as heterosexual, 78 percent identified as cis-women, and 21 percent identified as cis-men. [30]

While Flournoy points to the inequality in race, Author and activist Sarah Schulman, who identifies as a lesbian, discusses the inequality for the LGBTQ community. In an interview with Andrea Freud Lowenstien, she explains that despite being published in the “mainstream press,” her sexuality causes her to be seen as “a deviant person” rather than a “valued” one. She notes, “Reviews that I now get say things like ‘This isn’t a gay book, this is a universal book.’ That’s called a good review; because if it was a gay book, there’d be something wrong with it. How I have experienced … my life… and how all the people who I love… have experienced … their lives, is not a valid perspective in the mainstream world.”[31] Although this interview took place in 1990 when Kitchen Table was still up and running, we can see from the aforementioned statistics that the sentiments still greatly apply to the industry today.

Why is there so much disparity in the publishing industry? Shulman revisited the issue of LGBTQ inequality in publishing in her 2007 article, “The Invisible Lesbian.” She explains that conservative culture of the 1990s created a pushback to the work done to bring “modern lesbian literature” to the “cultural inroads” by Kitchen Table and other lesbian feminist presses, as well as the feminist and lesbian movements as a whole, in the 80s.[32] Schulman also notes that “niche marketing,” which arose in the 90s, “continues to keep lesbian literature from being considered an integrated part of American letters.”[33]

In terms of racial inequality in the industry, Publisher’s Weekly points to the “entrenched leadership that includes few people of color, low starting salaries and unpaid internships that together discourage minorities from applying to entry-level jobs, and not enough effective outreach to minorities.” However, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press provided the beginning of the long process of diversification in the publishing industry by acknowledging that while women of color are disenfranchised, their voices deserve to be heard just as much as anyone else’s—and we would be much further behind than we currently are if not for their work and the inspiration they provided to future generations.

While Kitchen Table ceased operation in 1995, its legacy clearly continues today—specifically through publicist Kima Jones and an organization called Kitchen Table Literary Arts. Jones is a queer woman of color and the owner of a publicity company. According to NPR, she is “an expert in culturally specific marketing.” Her company, Jack Jones Literary Arts, attempts to give writers from disenfranchised groups a leg up: “the agency partners exclusively with writers who have been historically underrepresented in publishing.”[34] With a 95% of her clients being writers of color, it is a business model much like that of the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.

The Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press’ legacy continues additionally through an organization known as Kitchen Table Literary Arts. The organization that honors Kitchen Table in name and mission: their website explains that they “work to discover and develop new poets, writers, and readers through workshops, seminars, and showcases that investigate the intersections of our past and present voices by featuring the work and experiences of contemporary women of color writers and poets.”[35]

Finally, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press deserves recognition as a historic site because of its contributions to the corpus of LGBTQ and feminist literature. The aforementioned and highly influential This Bridge Called My Back is currently in its fourth edition, and, according to professor and author Teresa de Lauretis, expanded the intersectionality within the feminist and Women in Print movements by making “available to all feminists the feelings, the analyses, and the political positions of feminists of color, and their critiques of white or mainstream feminism.”[36]

 

 

Conclusion

With the state of diversity in publishing still being an issue today, it is important that we recognize the women who spearheaded the effort to diversify it. The Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press’ commitment to bringing diversity and intersectionality to publishing, particularly with lesbian women of color, helped to bring the industry to the point at which it stands today. As is clear, however, from recent statistics, their mission is not yet complete. In order to continue this mission, as well as bring recognition to the particularly marginalized and silenced group of Black lesbians, it is important to recognize the space in which they got their start.

While we do know that Kitchen Table was conceived in Boston and moved to New York several years later, more research must be done in order to decide where exactly to place its historical monument. I believe that the marker should be in Boston, and with the help of Barbara Smith, the correct location can be found. Should the marker become a reality, I propose the following as its inscription:

 

Welcome to the birthplace of the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. You may be surprised to hear it, but you are standing near an important site in LGBTQ history. It was here in 1980 that Barbara Smith and Audre Lorde decided to “do something about publishing,” to ensure that straight and lesbian women of color’s voices were no longer silenced because they did not have the virtue of being spread to wide audiences via a mass medium. This was part of a wider movement, the Women in Print Movement, which called to bring more women into the highly male publishing industry. Notable works published by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press include This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, and Audre Lorde’s I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities. An entirely volunteer run operation with minimal capital, Kitchen Table worked tirelessly for fifteen years, before it shut down operations, to fight for diversity in the United States publishing industry. While they were successful at planting the seeds, this is unfortunately a problem still faced today.

 

 

Bibliography

“African American Women In Defense of Ourselves.” The Black Scholar 22, no. 1/2 (1991): 155–155.

 

Baker, Jennifer. “First Diversity Baseline Survey Illustrates How Much Publishing Lacks Diversity.” Forbes. Accessed May 1, 2017. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferbaker/2016/01/26/first-publishing-diversity-baseline-survey/.

 

Bianco, Marcie, and Nathaniel Frank. “Can Sarah Schulman Win Mainstream Success With The Cosmopolitans?” Slate, March 17, 2016. http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2016/03/17/sarah_schulman_s_novel_the_cosmopolitans_should_win_her_mainstream_success.html.

 

Grant, Jaime M. “Building Community-Based Coalitions from Academe: The Union Institute and the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Transition Coalition.” Signs 21, no. 4 (1996): 1024–33.

 

Ho, Jean, and owner of publicity company Jack Jones Literary Arts. “Diversity In Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers — Marketing Matters, Too.” NPR.org. Accessed April 30, 2017. http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/08/09/483875698/diversity-in-book-publishing-isnt-just-about-writers-marketing-matters-too.

 

Hogan, Kristen. The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

 

“Kitchen Table Women of Color Press | Lesbian Poetry Archive.” Accessed May 5, 2017. http://www.lesbianpoetryarchive.org/node/87.

 

Lefevour, Mary Kay. “Persephone Press Folds.” Off Our Backs 13, no. 10 (1983): 17–17.

 

Loewenstein, Andrea Freud, and Sarah Schulman. “Troubled Times: Andrea Freud Loewenstein Interviews Sarah Schulman.” The Women’s Review of Books 7, no. 10/11 (1990): 22–23. doi:10.2307/4020814.

 

Lootens, Tricia. “Third National Women in Print Conference.” Off Our Backs 15, no. 8 (1985): 8–26.

 

Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. The Crossing Press Feminist Series. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984.

 

———. “The Uses of Anger.” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, no. 25 (1/2) (n.d.): 278–85.

Low, Jason T. “Where Is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results.” Lee & Low Blog, January 26, 2016. http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/.

 

Milliot, Jim. “The PW Publishing Industry Salary Survey 2015: A Younger Workforce, Still Predominantly White.” PublishersWeekly.com, October 16, 2015. /pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/68405-publishing-industry-salary-survey-2015-a-younger-workforce-still-predominantly-white.html.

 

“Mission.” The Kitchen Table  Literary Arts Center. Accessed May 1, 2017. http://www.kitchen-table.org/mission.html.

 

Moraga, Cherríe, and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Expanded and rev. 3rd ed. Women of Color Series. Berkeley, CA: Third Woman Press, 2002.

 

Noble, Barnes &. “The Top 100 Bestsellers of the Year.” Barnes & Noble. Accessed May 10, 2017. https://www.barnesandnoble.com/b/the-top-100-bestsellers-of-the-year/_/N-1p4d?page=2.

 

Schulman, Sarah, and Marissa Martinelli. “The Invisible Lesbian.” Slate, October 31, 2007. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/book_blitz/2007/10/the_invisible_lesbian.html.

 

Smith, Barbara. “A Press of Our Own Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 10, no. 3 (1989): 11–13. doi:10.2307/3346433.

 

Teresa deLauretis. “The Technology of Gender.” Feminist Communication Theory: Selections in Context, 1987, 221.

 

[1] Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, The Crossing Press Feminist Series (Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984).

[2] Barbara Smith, “A Press of Our Own Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 10, no. 3 (1989): 11.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Tricia Lootens, “Third National Women in Print Conference,” Off Our Backs 15, no. 8 (1985): 23.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Kitchen Table Women of Color Press | Lesbian Poetry Archive,” accessed May 5, 2017.

[8] Jaime M. Grant, “Building Community-Based Coalitions from Academe: The Union Institute and the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Transition Coalition,” Signs 21, no. 4 (1996): 1022.

[9] Ibid. 1023.

[10] “Kitchen Table Women of Color Press | Lesbian Poetry Archive,” accessed May 5, 2017.

[11] Mary Kay Lefevour, “Persephone Press Folds,” Off Our Backs 13, no. 10 (1983): 17

[12] Kristen Hogan, The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016). 92.

[13] Ibid. 93.

[14] Jaime M. Grant, “Building Community-Based Coalitions from Academe: The Union Institute and the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Transition Coalition,” Signs 21, no. 4 (1996): 1024.

[15] Ibid. 1027.

[16] Ibid. 1023.

[17] Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Expanded and rev. 3rd ed, Women of Color Series (Berkeley, CA: Third Woman Press, 2002).

[18] “African American Women In Defense of Ourselves,” The Black Scholar 22, no. 1/2 (1991): 155–155.

[19] Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger,” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, no. 25 (1/2) (n.d.): 278.

[20] Ibid. 279.

[21] Ibid. 285.

[22] Kristen Hogan, The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016). 122-3.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Tricia Lootens, “Third National Women in Print Conference,” Off Our Backs 15, no. 8 (1985): 22.

[25] Jaime M. Grant, “Building Community-Based Coalitions from Academe: The Union Institute and the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Transition Coalition,” Signs 21, no. 4 (1996): 1024.

[26] Barbara Smith, “A Press of Our Own Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 10, no. 3 (1989): 11.

[27] Barnes & Noble, “The Top 100 Bestsellers of the Year,” Barnes & Noble, accessed May 7, 2017

[28] Jean Ho, “Diversity In Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers — Marketing Matters, Too,” NPR.org, accessed April 30, 2017.

[29] Jim Milliot, “The PW Publishing Industry Salary Survey 2015: A Younger Workforce, Still Predominantly White,” PublishersWeekly.com, October 16, 2015

[30] Low, Jason T, “Where Is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results,” Lee & Low Blog, January 26, 2016.

[31] Andrea Freud Loewenstein and Sarah Schulman, “Troubled Times: Andrea Freud Loewenstein Interviews Sarah Schulman,” The Women’s Review of Books 7, no. 10/11 (1990): 22–23

[32] Sarah Schulman and Marissa Martinelli, “The Invisible Lesbian,” Slate, October 31, 2007.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Jean Ho, “Diversity In Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers — Marketing Matters, Too,” NPR.org, accessed April 30, 2017.

[35] “Mission,” The Kitchen Table  Literary Arts Center, accessed May 1, 2017.

[36] Teresa deLauretis, “The Technology of Gender,” Feminist Communication Theory: Selections in Context, (1987). 221.

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