Lori Aurelia Williams has been one of my favorite authors since high school, when I was lucky enough to stumble across When Kambia Elaine Flew In From Neptune. Williams' debut novel was a poetic, mesmerizing story of a working-class family in Houston. It also was the rare story to deal with sexual abuse in a believable yet unexploitative manner, as the narrator slowly discovered that her friend, the title character, was being prostituted by her guardian. Williams went on to write sequel Shayla's Double Brown Baby Bluesand additional novel Broken China, and while the latter drew controversy for its depiction of teenage motherhood and stripping, I admire both of those works as well.
So it was that I approached Maxine Banks is Getting Married with astronomical expectations. Williams' first published book in five years, Maxine Banks features
a seventeen-year-old protagonist, her oldest yet and arguably her
strongest. Seeing her friend Tia's (a character from Williams' first
two books) happiness at marrying her longtime boyfriend, Maxine
suspects that marriage is the answer to her own life's inadequacies.
After all, she loves her sweetheart, Brian... and hates living with her
hypercritical mother and her mother's many abusive lovers.
Well, it's Women's History Month, and that can only mean one thing: It's time to freak out about what's happening to dudes.
As anyone who consumes regular doses of media well knows, discussions of how far women have come often devolve into hand-wringing over the plight of men faster than you can say "Men's Rights Activist." And media coverage of two new books that were released, oh so felicitously, at the beginning of this month typify this zero-sum attitude. The books have mirror-image titles: Kay S. Hymowitz's Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, and Dan Abrams's Man Down: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt that Women are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else. And their premises, too have some overlap: Both make the case that women have had unprecedented and remarkable strides and successes in everything from education to employment to self-esteem to, uh, competitive eating.
I noticed the book immediately: a colorful, unmistakably travel-esque picture topped with a billboard that evoked both Broadway and freeway diners, staring out from a new display in my much-loved young adult section. But the best part? The display was for LGBTQ fiction.
Kominsky-Crumb. Gloeckner. Barry. Satrapi. Bechdel. Some of the most well-renowned contemporary female comic artists are all featured in the book Graphic Women: Life Narrative & Contemporary Comics by Hillary Chute, published by Columbia University Press. Chute, an associate professor at University of Chicago (and who helped edit Art Spiegelman's MetaMaus), has written one of the only books out there that specifically looks out how female comic artists tell their story through comics. (And it features a killer cover design by Israeli comics artist Rutu Modan.)
VIDA: Women in Literary Arts recently released several large pie charts comparing how women and men are published in some of the largest literary magazines—who's reviewing books, whose books are being reviewed, and who's being interviewed. Out of 40 charts, women outnumbered men on only two of them.
I started this series with a strained and cheesy Doctor Who reference, and today's title was me finishing with one ("Silence in the Library," for those playing at home). Let's try and move on from my sparkling wit to discuss which kinds of books and writers get to grace bookshelves, and the social and economic processes governing this. Who gets published and who does not? Whose work gets preserved? Who gets into libraries and bookstores? Who gets to be an icon?
Any moment in time is the history others might look back on. I want to look to the writing happening, and the reputations being shaped, right now. Who do you think are going to be today's feminist literary icons in future eyes, and who ought to be? And what is the point of having icons?
I can't predict the future—no, really, it's true!—so I can't tell you who are going to be recognized as great writers with feminist consciousness or consciences. I can, however, tell you who I like, and who represents the kind of expression I'd like to see more of in time to come.
We've mostly talked about established icons of feminist interest, but now I want to look to a legacy that hasn't quite taken shape yet. Over the course of this week, we're going to talk about the how icons get to be icons, and Sookie, with her world of glitter, wisps of the unknown, and pushing boundaries, is the perfect character with which to start. The protagonist of the Southern Vampire Mysteries throws up a number of questions around the kinds of characters one sees represented, and what one might be looking for in a feminist character.
The first time I read of a queer critique of gay marriage was in the article "Queers on the Run" in Bitch #47, the Action issue. Maybe this position has not gained much media coverage (or maybe I was just guilty of not thinking critically of the movement around gay marriage) but activist filmmakers Eric Stanley and Chris Vargas's argument that same-sex marriage should not be the ultimate goal for the queer community was deeply illuminating to me.
I am wary when I walk into bookstores these days, because I don't need to dip into the horror section to find books that scare me. I take a look around at the white faces on the covers and think about how I'm not encountering books about people like me. Except, given how popular the whitewashing of covers is just at present, maybe I am and just don't know it.
Whitewashing book covers, representing non-white characters as white* on covers, is a publishing practice which has become disturbingly common.