Q: As you recount in your dissertation, Kitchen Table circulated a letter entitled “Alternative Publishing Makes a Difference,” which actively encouraged academics to assign books published by alternative presses and ask their university libraries to order them (Gumbs, p. 475). Is there a movement to support alternative publishing today and/or do we need one?
I think that today publications like Mosaic, American Book Review and Make/Shift () actively work to support independent publishing and of course publishers themselves like Redbone Press and City Lights, but of course we need a movement. We always need a movement, because we need ourselves and each other and we ARE a movement. I would love to see more academics actively thinking about the publishing means of production when they think about what they are assigning in their courses, allowing our syllabi to not only say something about the range of ideas that are important to us, but the forms of idea sharing that we value and need for the future of discourse.
And people underestimate how excited university librarians are to get suggestions about what books to order. They love it! Imagine a person who loves books so much that the live among them all the working day. Now imagine that person with such access to books, such motivation and such expertise that they have actually already read almost every book they have ever heard of…think of how valuable it is to learn about not only new books, but new emerging book sources?!!! Swoon!
Q: I learned from your writing that Barbara Smith and Kitchen Table Press were committed to keeping all of their publications in print (Gumbs, p. 40) which you articulate as being a radical act of black mothering. Can you explain why keeping black feminist texts in print has been so historically important and how (if?) that’s shifted in the current digital landscape?
Child! I dare you to find a Black feminist book published more than 3 years ago available to Kindle. Kitchen Table Press was founded in part to keep two crucial texts Home Girls and This Bridge Called My Back in print for a movement and a future that needed them. Post-Kitchen Table, despite brief reprints, both of those books are out of print again (though I’ve seen that they are available in underground PDFs online). Trust and belief that those texts, which are not as accessible as they should be, would not even be accessible to the extent that they are today without the years that Kitchen Table kept printing them, [which wasn’t done] for the profit margin but on General Principle (or as we say GP).
More recently RedBone Press (by the way, I would say that BrokenBeautiful Press and Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind is a living legacy of Kitchen Table Press that transforms digitally and experientially beyond the form of the press and Lisa Moore’s RedBone Press is the living legacy of Kitchen Table Press that honorably actually retains the form of the press) republished Joseph Beam’s In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology and Brother to Brother for the exact same reasons that Kitchen Table kept This Bridge and Home Girls in print: because these books save lives, because they are necessary for the movement we are making and the world we deserve. It meant something for me to be able to hand my chosen brother Matthias his own copies of those books when he was coming out. It meant something for him to be able to hold onto the weight of that book and stay up reading it. There is not a digital form right now that could have replaced what that meant for us both.
At the same time, yes. We do have to be more and more creative about how we keep our brilliance in circulation. The approach that I take with the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind is alchemical and maybe intentionally backwards. My approach is to bring the texts I find to be crucial to life in ritual, in a completely different and analog form, like the after-school program, the afternoon walk, summer revival experience, the replay event, the kiss. I want to put these knowledges back into our bodies, in our spiritual transmissions to our loved ones. My work is directed towards putting this book brilliance into a place where it can never be stolen, like an aural tradition, bone memory activated, to put it so deep in our love that capitalism can never steal it from us again.
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.