Q&A: Wilson Leads the Feminist Press

by
Jennifer Baker
10.11.17

In July writer, activist, and media commentator Jamia Wilson was named the new executive director and publisher of the Feminist Press (FP), a forty-seven-year-old nonprofit known for highlighting feminist perspectives and prose. Located at the City University of New York, the press has published books by writers such as Shahrnush Parsipur and Ama Ata Aidoo and public figures such as Anita Hill and Justin Vivian Bond. Wilson previously worked as the executive director of Women, Action, and the Media, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, Elle, Bust, and many other publications. As she becomes the youngest person and first woman of color to direct the Feminist Press, Wilson discusses her aims to advance the press’s mission.

How has your experience helped you prepare for this new role, and what do you hope to bring to the Feminist Press? 
I grew up reading FP books that I borrowed from my mother’s shelf, like I Love Myself When I Am Laughing: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader and But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies. These books taught me about my literary and activist lineage and helped provide a road map for the present and the future. I’m honored to work with FP’s intergenerational team to both enliven and deepen our intersectional vision of publishing unapologetic, accessible texts and multiplatform content that inspire action, teach empathy, build community, and shift culture. FP will continue to deepen our engagement with communities of color, indigenous folks, the LGBTQ community, and the disability community. Representation matters, but it must be coupled with systemic change. We will elevate and amplify the voices of the most marginalized members of our community because we know that none of us are free unless we all are.

How do you plan to apply your knowledge and experience in the social justice field to the job of executive director and publisher?
My engagement as a movement maker and media commentator brings FP closer to our community. It helps us connect with new readers because we’re involved in conversations out in the world and contributing to the cultural narrative via social media; TV; at conferences, panels, and marches; and in movement spaces. Until more gatekeepers do the work to disrupt habits and practices of patriarchy, economic injustice, and white supremacy in the publishing industry, we won’t transform our cultural narrative. My goal is to help contribute to the movement to put these values into active practice at all levels of our organization and work overall.

In this political and social climate, what kinds of books are pushing this conversation forward and promoting action?
This has been a consistent part of FP’s mission, and that’s why we’re prepared to speak truth to power through our books and voices in the midst of attacks on free expression and the rise of authoritarianism, misogyny, and racial violence. We publish books other publishers deem “too risky,” “controversial,” or “radical.” We’ve made efforts to lift up queer voices with our Amethyst Editions imprint and women and nonbinary folks of color with our Louise Meriwether Prize. Our nonfiction books are mainly activist-based. We resist the reinforcement of respectability politics, as well as the promotion of narratives that appear to promote social progress but only in a way that’s palatable or validating to oppressive power structures—and only at the price of continuing to marginalize communities that are often silenced, invisible, or undermined. Some of our recent titles include Brontez Purnell’s Since I Laid My Burden Down, a novel about growing up gay in 1980s Alabama, and Juniper Fitzgerald and Elise Peterson’s forthcoming How Mamas Love Their Babies, a picture book that shows how diverse mothers work in different ways to take care of their children, from domestic labor to sex work.

What kinds of books have been most influential to you personally?
The books I’m most enamored with have moved my heart in both personal and political ways. As my feminist foremothers taught us, “The personal is political.” I’m both an activist and a writer, and these identities have affixed themselves upon my soul. I love fiction, especially dystopian fiction, but I’m mostly a reader of nonfiction, historical fiction, legal history, and memoir. Although I tend to lean towards writing grounded in “truth,” I’m finding I’m even more drawn to this genre in the “post-truth” era.

There has been an increase in online-only feminist publications. Do you foresee potential partnerships to bring further visibility to FP’s work?
We reach out to writers or artists who have gotten their start online if we’re interested in creating a book with them, like with Makeda Lewis’s Avie’s Dreams: An Afro-Feminist Coloring Book and The Crunk Feminist Collection. Many of the feminist writers and artists we work with have robust online communities and serve as natural ambassadors for their labor and wisdom. We have other upcoming collaborations with the Well-Read Black Girl Festival, Soul Camp, the Together Live tour, the SisterSong conference, Howard University, and the March for Black Women. We want to be a part of feminist conversations on- and offline and to lift up remarkable and stunning storytelling.   

 

Jennifer Baker  is a publishing professional, the creator and host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, a contributing editor at Electric Literature, and the social media director and a writing instructor for the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. She is the editor of the forthcoming short story anthology Everyday People: The Color of Life (Atria Books, 2018).