HYSTERIA, a new anthology about writing the female body from Lucky Bastard Press (http://www.luckybastardpress.com/our-books.html), is a collection of poetry, microfiction, lyric essays, and hybrid pieces from women and nonbinary authors on the experience of living in the female (or nonbinary) body. Contributors include Rita Dove, Natahsa Trethewey, Patricia Smith, Francesca Lia Block, Lynn Melnick, Lesléa Newman, Lizi Gilad, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Randon Billings Noble, Dorothea Lasky, Minal Hajratwala, Ivy Alvarez, M. Mack, Dena Rash Guzman, Kia Groom, and many other literary stars as well as emerging authors from all walks of life, writing in a diverse array of genres and styles.
We had the opportunity to ask editor E. Kristin Anderson some questions about this unique publication.
Jenn Monroe: What was the inspiration for this anthology? Why did you feel it was important to collect these poems, these female voices, at this time.
Kristin Anderson: The inspiration actually came from some experimental poetry I was writing using the packaging material from a box of Tampax. I figured I’d write some tampon poems. And others wanted to write tampon poems. And when I talked to Allie Marini, who co-founded Lucky Bastard Press, about the idea of a period anthology, she liked the idea, but also thought we should open it up more. Why not talk about all the taboos we live with when we live in a female—or nonbinary—body?
Interestingly enough, since completing the submissions and most of the editorial for the anthology, we’ve seen a lot go on in the feminist community. Like the tampon tax issue. I mean, we know (or at least I’d heard) there’s a “pink” tax for a lot of female products like razors and shaving cream—but this “tax” is just a price hike, inclining us pay more for using products designed for us. (I swear, I’ve even seen “Bic for her” pens. And I keep wanting to buy them for someone as a joke, but they are EXPENSIVE.) Taxing feminine hygiene products, though? Gross.
So I think it’s always important to collect this kind of writing. We are constantly fighting uphill, on the verge of a backslide when it comes to women’s rights.
JM: With that level of openness in terms of theme, how did you decide to undertake the call for submissions so you would not be inundated with poems focused on one aspect of taboos and not on others? What was your plan to encourage diversity in the poems and the poets?
EKA: We fully intended, when we started the project, to put out a wide call for submissions. But after some heavy soliciting, we shared a soft call for HYSTERIA in a few closed Facebook groups, like the Binders Full of Women Poets. It quickly became clear that we weren’t going to need a more public call.
One really fantastic thing about sharing the call in a closed, safe space like Binders was that we completely avoided submissions from men’s rights activists and anti-feminists. (I have heard from other editors of feminist publications that this is a constant problem.) We also had just so much talent, and lots of great information, which lead to conversations both “behind closed doors” and in the open. On hearing that my initial call came off as cissexist, I was able to revise it to make sure that trans and nonbinary people knew they were welcome to submit. (We ended up getting some great work from that group.)
I also was able to post on the thread with the initial call with things like “I have more period poems than we can handle, but I really would love some work from Middle Eastern women. Where are the hijab poems?” Or I could say “I really, really, really, really, really want something about Judy Blume in this book.” And these pieces showed up in my inbox. It was pretty amazing.
I do think, though, that with an anthology like this, solicitation was super important. We wanted to make sure that, no matter what the slush looked like, we had a wide variety of poets from different backgrounds—ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity. Even in terms of style, influence, topic. I read a ton of “Best American” anthologies as well as contemporary literary mags when I was on the soliciting phase. I wrote so many names on sticky notes and wrote emails to those names. I wanted diversity, I wanted big names, but I also wanted poets who knew how to throw a punch.
JM: How did you make your pitch to this group of diverse, famous/infamous poets? Did it take much encouraging to get them to say yes? Were you nervous?
EKA: Basically, I just sent the call out to people I respected (and/or their agents). I figured that the worst case scenario was that they’d say no. There were a couple folks that I thought we almost had “on the hook” but who eventually said no. And there were a few who got back to me and asked me to write back with specific poems I might like to reprint, so we did that. But, for the most part, it was a simple yes/no situation. (And, yeah, I definitely sent out a few nudge, nudge emails.) But, you know, I’ve learned that we’re all people. And, sure, I’m crazy excited to have an anthology out with some serious literary dynamos in it. But I’m also excited to be providing a platform for writers who are publishing for the first time (or who haven’t published much yet). Ultimately, I think this book has a lot of heavyweights—ones that you’ve heard of and ones you’ll soon be discovering.
JM: Did any of the submitted poems surprise you, and change, in anyway the parameters of the anthology? If so, which and in what ways?
EKA: A lot of the submissions surprised me. I think sometimes because our community is deceptively small, so I knew a lot of the authors submitting—either as close friends or “in passing” on the Internet or somewhere in between—and there were surprises from them, both in terms of style and in things they were willing to talk about. Or just finding out that someone had experienced something I had no idea about—and that they were sharing it with me for the first time as a submission. I think there’s something about creative writing that does that for us. It creates a conversation that we can enter and sit down in, however uncomfortable.
JM: What are your hopes for this anthology? What do you want to happen as a result of it being in the world?
EKA: I think every poem/piece of writing does create a bit of a ripple. But I’m hoping that a book like HYSTERIA is so full of ripples that it creates a flood. We need this book. It becomes more and more apparent to me every day (no matter where you stand as a democrat (or hopefully anywhere on the political spectrum), um, the “woman card” comment? Nope.) I want to see this book not only open conversations on womanhood and women’s rights, but also conversations on intersectionality. White feminism doesn’t do us any good. Trans-exclusive feminism is a crock of shit. Feminism isn’t just about fixing shit for white, cisgender ladies. It’s about fixing shit for everyone. It’s about equity. And it’s about making the world better for our kids. (I say this as a non-mom, childless by choice. The book is dedicated to my niece. I have a nephew, too. He likes pink cat plushies as much as his NASCAR toys.) I also hope that we can get this book into libraries, even high school libraries. Sure, there are a lot of swear words and sexy things, but teens get that. It’s in their lives. They need and want real talk. I live in Texas. I love Texas. I’m scared for Texas, though. I’m scared of the anti-women’s-rights policies that can and will affect our teens. I hear stories from girls who grew up here, as old as 45 and as young as 18, and what they got for sex ed. So much nope, y’all. So much nope.
JM: What advice would you give someone who wants to collect and publish work that gives underrepresented topics/subject/people a louder voice?
EKA: Just do it. Don’t let anyone tell you no. I think underrepresented voices hear a lot of no. I’m a white woman and I have a certain amount of privilege. I know that this is not the case for some of my peers who get told no even more and who often are turned away because of their ethnic/racial background. (I have heard stories that would make your skin crawl.) I was lucky in that I network pretty well and found a publisher for this project fairly quickly (I was not an editor at Lucky Bastard when the took HYSTERIA on—they tricked me into joining the ed board later). But I think that if we keep pounding down doors, someone will let us in. If a project is worth doing, fucking do it. I have other things I’m working on, that I’m still pounding on doors for. I know they’re worth doing. Let’s do it, you guys.
JM: What, if anything, would you do differently looking back on this experience?
EKA: One thing I really would have liked to do is open the call wider via places like duotrope.com and NewPages.com. Because I think we might have gotten more work from specific minority groups that I didn’t have much access to through my own social networks. But we did a lot of soliciting to make sure that we were representing as many voices as possible. And our choice to not call outside of specific Facebook groups (like Binders) was deliberate, as I mentioned above. I was able to spend my time reading submissions from solicited authors and the immense talent found in Binders and similar groups rather than deal with harass-y emails. And, again, the Facebook method also allowed for something unique—any time I felt like I needed something I wasn’t getting in my inbox (poems from transwomen or genderqueer individuals, something about quinceañeras) I could update the call and anyone following that thread could think about what they were submitting or who they might know with something to submit.
I’m doing another anthology this year with ELJ Publications, and it’s open to all gender identities, and we’ll be calling for subs in all the usual places. So I’m looking forward to seeing how (or if) that is a different experience.
JM: Are there any readings/events/etc. planning around HYSTERIA?
EKA: I am personally hoping to have an event here in my home of Austin, TX sometime in July. I’ve approached Malvern Books (Hello, Malvern!) about putting together a launch and I’ll be sure to publicize the details widely when we have everything nailed down. So keep an eye on my Twitter (@ek_anderson) and blog (ekristinanderson.com) for those details as they emerge. I think that Lucky Bastard co-editors, Allie Marini and Brennan DeFrisco, have also talked about hosting an event in the Bay Area as well. Honestly, we’d love to see lots of events, all over—I’ve heard rumor of a Midwest HYSERIA reading!—organized by lots of our contributors. And we definitely have something up our sleeve for an off-site at AWP next year. HYSTERIA is coming, and I don’t think y’all will be able to avoid the impact.
HYSTERIA Contributors: E. Kristin Anderson,Gayle Brandeis, Allison Joseph, Christine Heppermann, Lynn Melnick, Lizi Gilad, Lisa Marie Basile, Kia Groom, Laura Cronk, Alison Townsend, Amy King, Kirsten Smith, Aricka Foreman, Dena Rash Guzman, Kate Litterer, Paula Mendoza, Sara Cooper, Kirsten Irving, Erika T. Wurth, Natasha Trethewey, Kelli Russel Agodon, Kenzie Allen, Rita Dove, Francesca Lia Block, Patricia Smith, Lesléa Newman, Erin Elizabeth Smith, Tatiana Ryckman, Janna Layton, Mary McMyne, Sarah Lilius, Jennifer MacBain-Stephens, Elizabeth Onusko, Katie Manning, Sandra Marchetti, Sarah Ghoshal, Ivy Alvarez, Heather Kirn Lanier, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Jessica Morey-Collins, Sally Rosen Kindred, Laurie Kolp, Gabrielle Montesanti, Sonja Johanson, Meghan Privitello, Deborah Bacharach, Juliet Cook, Sarah Henning, Trish Hopkinson, Alina Borger, Christine Stoddard, Hope Wabuke, Nicole Rollende, Roxanna Bennett, MK Chavez, Catherine Moore, Jesseca Cornelson, Karen Paul Holmes, Lisa Mangini, Shevaun Brannigan, Martha Silano, Jen Karetnick, Emily Rose Cole, Sarah Kobrinsky, Addy McCulloch, Mary Lou Buschi, Sarah Frances Moran, Ellen Kombiyil, Shanna Alden, Julie “Jules” Jacob, Ariana D. Den Bleyker, Sheila Squillante, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Randon Billings Noble, Mary-Alice Daniel, Sarah J. Sloat, Minal Hajratwala, Shikha Malaviya, Elizabeth Harlan-Ferlo, Leila Chatti, Sarah B. Boyle, Jennifer K. Sweene, Nicole Tong, MANDEM, E.D. Conrads, Samantha Duncan, Susan Rich, Kristen Havens, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Hila Ratzabi, Joanna Hoffman, Elizabeth Hoover, Letitia Trent, Camille-Yvette Welsch, Erin Dorney, Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick, Anna Leahy, Majda Gama, Erin Lorandos, Amy Katherine Cannon, Nicci Mechler & Hilda Weaver, Mary Stone, Jessica Rae Bergamino, Jennifer Givhan, Hilary King, Sara Adams, Bri Blue, Vicki Iorio, Natasha Marin, Tanya Muzumdar, Miranda Tsang, Jessica L. Walsh, Lucia Cherciu, Melissa Hassard, Nora Hickey, Dorothea Lasky, Siaara Freeman, Deborah Hauser, Suzanne Langlois, Eman Hassan, Amber Flame, Lisa Eve Cheby, Soniah Kamal, M. Mack, Teresa Dzieglewicz, Geula Geurts, Jennifer Martelli, Carleen Tibbetts, Katelyn L. Radtke, Cleveland Wall, Stacey Balkun.
JENN MONROE is author of In Anticipation of Grief (Red Bird Chapbooks) and Something More Like Love (Finishing Line Press). She was founder and editor-in-chief of the recently closed literary blog Extract(s): Daily Dose of Lit. She teaches writing for New England College and Southern New Hampshire University and blogs at the (very) new Write Run/Run Write. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and their daughter.
E. KRISTIN ANDERSON is a multi-Pushcart-nominated poet and author who grew up in Westbrook, Maine and is a graduate of Connecticut College. She has a fancy diploma that says “B.A. in Classics,” which makes her sound smart but has not helped her get any jobs in Ancient Rome. Once upon a time she worked for the lovely folks at The New Yorker magazine, but she soon packed her bags and moved to Austin, Texas where she works as a freelance editor and writing coach. Wearer of many proverbial hats, Kristin recently took a position as Special Projects Manager at ELJ Publications and is a poetry editor at Found Poetry Review. Kristin co-edited the DEAR TEEN ME anthology (based on the popular website) and is the editor of the forthcoming anthologies HYSTERIA: Writing the female body and COME AS YOU ARE, an anthology of writing on 90’s pop culture. As a poet, Kristin has been published in many magazines including Juked, [PANK], Asimov’s Science Fiction, Hotel Amerika, Room and Cicada and she has work forthcoming in Indianola Review, The Boiler, and Quaint. Kristin is the author of seven chapbooks of poetry: A GUIDE FOR THE PRACTICAL ABDUCTEE (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014), A JAB OF DEEP URGENCY (Finishing Line Press, 2014), PRAY, PRAY, PRAY: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press, 2015), 17 DAYS (ELJ, 2015), ACOUSTIC BATTERY LIFE (ELJ, 2016), FIRE IN THE SKY (Grey Book Press, 2016), and SHE WITNESSES (dancing girl press, 2016). She hand-wrote her first trunk book at sixteen. It was about the band Hanson and may or may not still be in a notebook in her parents’ garage. She blogs at EKristinAnderson.com and is currently trying to trick someone into publishing her full-length collection of erasure poems based on women’s and teen magazines.