Speaking on the phone together in 1980, Audre Lorde said to Barbara Smith, “We really need to do something about publishing.” A year later, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press was founded by Lorde, Smith, and other Black feminists after a meeting of African American and African Caribbean women in Boston. They made the radical and brave decision to publish writings only by women of color, and over the next 20 years, their publications included Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology in 1983 and the second edition of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color in 1984. Kitchen Table also published chapbooks, political pamphlets, and short story collections. In contrast to commercial publishers, Kitchen Table allowed women of color to retain control over their writings (including the covers of their books) and they traveled to feminist conferences to do outreach and promotion. Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Black feminist poet, writer, educator, and the founder of BrokenBeautiful Press, talks about Kitchen Table’s legacy on her own work.
Q: Barbara Smith writes: “We chose our name because the kitchen is the center of the home, the place where women in particular work and communicate with each other.” How did you choose the name BrokenBeautiful Press?
When I was in college and creating the first set of magazine collage books of my own poetry that would be the first products of BrokenBeautiful Press I was organizing the poems I had been writing in my short life, and not surprisingly a great mass of my poems were love/praise poems to Black women…my mother, my sister, my grandmothers, Amadou Diallo’s mother and more and more. And so for that collection (with a beautiful brown cover like my own skin), I sought a word for what I was working through about the experiences and presence of Black women in the world, or at least in my world. And I had to push some words together. The title ended up being brownsweetbrokenbeautiful. That idea that the oppression we experience, our falling apart, our trauma that we are working through has a dynamic relationship with the beauty of our healing presence on this planet really struck me, so I named the press BrokenBeautiful, which of course could be a way of describing a conversation around a kitchen table, complicated and miraculous like us.
Q: Smith goes on to say: “We also wanted to convey the fact that we are a kitchen table, grass roots operation, begun and kept alive by women who cannot rely on inheritances or other benefits of class privilege to do the work we need to do.” In BrokenBeautiful’s mission statement, you write: “BrokenBeautiful Press is based on the basic assumption that love, knowledge and inspiration are renewable resources for revolution that we produce together everyday. Use this site to make love as community, creativity, interaction, knowledge and growth. We are dedicated to the visibility of love as something that we are always making (and therefore which is neither scarce nor for sale).” Can you talk about the synchronicity here?
You’ve got it! BrokenBeautiful Press is actually a cyber/multimediated/hybrid/multi-community accountable KITCHENTABLE. A structure of wood and wisdom. A gathering space designed to support the creative genius of oppressed communities with a set of resources incompatible with capitalism: our love, each other, our love for each other.
Of course. I should say that for me, BrokenBeautiful Press is unabashedly a tribute to and an afterlife for impact Kitchen Table Press has had on my heart.
Here is the origin story: The energy that led me to create BrokenBeautiful Press came from a moment when a mentor of mine, black feminist literary scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin at Columbia University brought one of the Freedom Organizing Series pamphlets to her graduate seminar that I had shamelessly begged my underclass-woman-behind into. Those pamphlets were like some kind of talisman from a former life that clicked all my fascination and intensity into place. I don’t know how to describe it, over and over again I am living out a thank you to Farah for letting me know, to Barbara Smith for first having the idea and for all the authors and Kitchen Table Press staff for making it happen. Those pamphlets hold a sacred space on the top shelf of my altar.
After seeing those brightly colored, adinkra-printed 8-by-11 folded cardstock pamphlets with the simple revolutionary pins attached (proclaiming in block letters “BLACK FEMINISM LIVES!” or “We Cannot Live Without Our Lives”), I couldn’t look at piece of paper without knowing that I was supposed to publish in that form. I became obsessed. The brilliance of their act to create an accessible, attractive form for essays, speeches and poems of women of color feminists was so simple and priceless. When I went home to Atlanta for the summer my next two steps were to put in my hands every Black Arts movement booklet in the extensive collection of the Special Collections library at Emory University and then at the records of Broadside Press (a crucial press of the Black Arts Movement and Audre Lorde’s first publisher) to see the mechanics of how another press did it.
And then I felt ready…so I got a fellow nerd with infinite software transferal skills to install Quark on my laptop and when laid out the first booklets, bright blue, bright green, bright brown, the awesome men of color in the copy center in the basement at my school didn’t even charge me to print, fold and staple them! Freedom is free.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a queer black troublemaker and a black feminist love evangelist. In 2011 she was awarded a trophy for being “Too Sexy for 501-c3.” You can find her in Durham, NC or in a purple and turquoise RV roaming the country for LGBTQ Black Brilliance or at alexispauline.com.
Jade Brooks is a queer, anti-zionist Jew who lives in Durham, North Carolina, inspired daily by the bravery of the people in the South. She is an aspiring revolutionary publisher and does editing work for make/shift magazine and Duke University Press. She came up in the blackberry wilds of Oregon—by way of the dusty, crooked bookshelves of the one and only City Lights.