Activist-Scholar of the Month
I am the English Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies Librarian. Feminist, racial justice, and queer movements shape my practice of meeting with students, faculty members, and community researchers one-on-one and in classrooms to build their critical research skills.
I want researchers to be aware of who is shaping our understanding of information and how – for example, how search engines, databases, publishers, and distributors make the machinery of information more or less visible – in order to both be savvy researchers and advocate for more just information resources. As librarians order print and ebooks to support researchers in their areas, we become aware of patterns and issues in how information is published, distributed, and described.
Describe any current research projects.
My book manuscript in process, Accountable to Each Other: The Feminist Bookstore Movement, 1970-2007, maps a history of the feminist bookstore movement in the U.S. and the transnational alliances among bookwomen. At their height, there were around 125 feminist bookstores in the U.S. and Canada. This number, and the feminist bookstore vehicle the Feminist Bookstore News, published and edited by bookwoman and book industry maven Carol Seajay, allowed the feminist bookwomen to influence publishing by proving a market for feminist books, to influence reading practices through newsletters and section titles, and to influence feminism by making space within bookstore collectives and events series for discussions of antiracist and lesbian feminism.
This history of the bookstores invites us not to imagine a future time with more feminist bookstores, but rather to learn from their movement making skills and struggles to ask now: How do we support and find and learn how to read the literature that will change us and sustain our movements? And how do we learn about and with each other to be allies with each other?
Are you involved in any community organizations in Austin?
I recognize and celebrate the work community organizers have done to build vital and innovative identity studies programs at universities, and I always enjoy collaborating with community organizers to connect the overlapping university and Austin communities. I have recently collaborated with organizers at allgo: statewide queer people of color organization, Mamas of Color Rising, and the Transgender Jail Project.
Favorite news source:
What is the last book you’ve read?
I’ve recently read two transformative books. Cave Canem fellow Saeed Jones’ When the Only Light Is Fire (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2011) breathes a shimmering vision that shapes Black and queer and southern and poetic life. Oonya Kempadoo’s All Decent Animals (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2013) weaves together a throng of characters in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad against a vibrant emotional backdrop of UN offices – the characters offer a sharp analysis of why there are so many in Trinidad, Carnival, and the modern AIDS epidemic.
Favorite restaurant in Austin:
The Chilantro food truck – kimchi fries with tofu.
One activist you look up to:
So many. One is Urvashi Vaid who continues her decades of activism and writing in service of interwoven racial justice and queer movements. She recently published a collection of her essays and speeches, Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics (Magnus Books, 2012).
She is director of the Engaging Tradition Project at Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, where she continues her work examining how tradition is used by and against movements for gender and sexuality justice. I saw her speak at the 2010 Lesbian Lives of the 1970s conference at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and hers is one of the pictures of activists I have at my desk to keep me going.
What is the most pressing issue our social justice movements face right now?
I’d say collaboration and communication across movements. I’m excited about the work that organizations like Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation (that’s the new name of the former Applied Research Center) and the Workers Defense Project are doing around cross-movement collaboration.