Now in its 45th year, the Feminist Press is pushing the boundaries of what “feminism” means. Not dedicated to any one genre, the house publishes international fiction and nonfiction, activist-driven nonfiction, new American novels, and reprints of classic feminist works.
“Our mission is to publish cutting-edge voices on the margins of the dominant culture, to lift up fantastic literature by women,” says executive director Jennifer Baumgardner. “Our staff is dedicated to books that can shift culture and create revolutions.”
Which is why, Baumgardner says, she and her colleagues at the press are “over the moon” at the opportunity to publish Sarah Schulman’s The Cosmopolitans (Mar.), her 10th work of fiction and, Baumgardner says, a breakout book.
The novel, a modern retelling of Balzac’s Cousin Bette, is set the Greenwich Village of 1958. It tells the story of Earl and Bette, two neighbors who were brutally ejected from their homes and made their way to the haven of New York City. A central character of the book is New York itself—a vanished New York that current economics has rendered historic. “We were most drawn to Schulman’s central philosophical premise that suffering—far from making us better—makes us all worse,” Baumgardner says. “It’s also just a lush, funny, poignant, vivid page-turner. Its themes include alienation, marginalized populations, class, and queer lives.”
Shulman, a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at the City University of New York and the recipient of numerous prestigious prizes, says that publishing a book never gets easier. Her first novel, written in 1982 when her day job was waitressing, was rejected 31 times. “The kindest rejection came from an editor at Doubleday who praised the writing, but said he was concerned that the lesbian content would ‘offend librarians,’” Shulman says. The novel, The Sophie Horowitz Story, was eventually published in 1984 by a small lesbian press in Florida and sold almost 10,000 copies, “including to many librarians,” she says.
Another house favorite at the press, and also New York–centric, is a food memoir from Chef Rossi, The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi (Nov.). Rossi (she uses one name only) is a self-taught cook who now owns a highly successful catering company in New York. Rossi calls herself “the anti-chef”: no pretension, no complicated recipes, just fun, fast, and fabulous food. “I think I was the only kid in high school who had a Yiddish/ Jersey/ Southern accent and a passion for tandoori chicken.” Rossi grew up “lowly” orthodox (her family kept the meat and dairy dishes separate at home, but ate the fish sandwich at McDonald’s). She has parlayed her Hungarian Yiddish roots into a quest to make food that challenges traditional expectations.
The book has a feminist bent, of course, though this is an undercurrent and an unspoken slant. “We know foodies will love the book because it is the best kind of food memoir. It goes beyond the cooking or the eating, and gets to the heart of Rossi and her world,” says Julia Berner-Tobin, assistant editor at the press.
Chef Rossi will be on hand to sign copies of The Raging Skillet today, 2–3 p.m., at the Feminist Press booth (640A). Tomorrow, 2–3 p.m., Schulman, making her debut appearance at BEA, will sign copies of The Cosmopolitans at the booth.