Kitchen Table Press by Clare Geraghty
Sibéal is pleased to welcome this week's blog from Clare Geraghty, a Phd Candidate in the Department of Spanish, Portugese and Latin American Studies at UCC.
On January 21st 2021, Kamala Harris made history by becoming the first female, Black, Asian American Vice-President of the United States. For many, it was a welcome moment of joy and hope during a particularly bleak January. Harris’ victory has led me to reflect on some of the Black feminist leaders who broke barriers for women’s rights in the US, paving the way for future generations. I would like to share with you the story of the Kitchen Table Press.
In October 1980, Black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde was talking on the telephone with Barbara Smith, who was also a feminist activist and writer. Smith was teaching classes on Black women writers at Emerson College, Boston. She never knew in advance what she would be able to teach that semester, due to the books she wanted her students to read being ‘dependably out of print’ (Smith, 2018). Smith explains that ‘People did not care because they [women writers of colour] were considered to be marginal and unimportant writers’ (2018). The aligning of marginality with the experiences of women, and particularly women of colour, has not ceased, by any stretch. In her insightful and enjoyable book, Space Invaders, Nirmal Puwar uses the term ‘somatic norm’ to describe the phenomenon whereby ‘the particular masquerades as the universal’ (2004). The idea that the experiences of cisgender, straight, white men are somehow universally representative, and that any other experiences are somehow ‘niche’, is one that prevails today. During this historic phone call, Lorde decided it was time to take action, stating: ‘We really need to do something about publishing’ (1989). Smith and Lorde could see that the key to shifting narrow, stereotypical representations of Black female experiences was being able to diversify the narrative. For groups who have historically been erased, the opportunity to control the message had, and still has, transformative potential.
Kitchen Table Press became the first printing press which exclusively published works about and by women of colour. The Encyclopaedia of African American writing identifies its co-founders as: Rosie Alvarez, Helena Byard, Leota Lone Dog, Alma Gomez, Hattie Gossett, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, Ana Oliveira, Smith, and Susan Yung (2018). In 1986, the press published the Freedom Organising Pamphlet series, which included the mission statement of Black lesbian feminist organisation The Combahee River Collective. The ideas presented in this foundational text are just as timely and insightful today, and serve to reinforce the absolute necessity of intersectionality in all feminist activism: ‘If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression’ (215). The intersecting axes of race and gender cannot be viewed in isolation, and they combine to disproportionately impact those who reside at this junction. I regularly return to this quote as a clear and concise explanation of the need for solidarity and coalition formation that does not attempt to homogenize diverse experiences.
To consider the importance of diversity in publishing is to question how knowledge is constructed and produced. There are crucial conversations to be had around which knowledge forms are upheld as representative and which are not. The Kitchen Table Press enabled the publication and dissemination of works that are still considered landmarks, such as This Bridge Called my Back: Writings by Radical Women of Colour and Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. These writings have inspired countless activists and writers to challenge hegemonic ideas around gender and race. As Smith asserts, ‘Until this society completely transforms itself, and justice for all people prevails, there will undoubtedly be a need for a Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press’ (1989).