Belladonna* Collaborative is a literary collective that seeks to empower experimental, adventurous, and exciting feminist writing.
We got to interview the group about its press, its goals, and its unique stance on publishing and the writing process.
What is Belladonna* and why should our readers know about it?
Belladonna* Collaborative is a feminist avant-garde hub of literary activity, founded in 1999 by Rachel Levitsky. Belladonna* began as a reading and salon series at Bluestocking’s Women’s Bookstore on New York City’s Lower East Side. In June 2000, in collaboration with Boog Literature, Belladonna* began to publish commemorative ‘chaplets’ of the readers’ work. For many years now, Bill Mazza has been our designer for these artifacts and today the series has reached #199. In 2006 with Litmus Press we formed Venn Diagram Productions and published several full-length books together before moving on to independently publish titles from Lila Zemborain, R. Erica Doyle, Carla Harryman, and many more.
The Belladonna* mission is “to promote the work of women writers who are adventurous, experimental, politically involved, multi-form, multicultural, multi-gendered, impossible to define, delicious to talk about, unpredictable and dangerous with language.” We are influenced by feminist writers who in uncompromising ways commingle their visions and politics to create risky, exciting works that examine gender, race, sexuality and class especially at the level of language and language structures. We publish works that that aren’t easily categorized and that resist prescriptive modes.
Since we are a volunteer-powered collaborative, and by nature horizontally structured, we work to remain conscious of our realities as individuals and as a community. Discussions and negotiations of self-care and labor are freely mixed with those of politics and aesthetics. We also support each other by creating a variety of spaces (from bookstore readings to intimate apartment salons) to discuss, read and perform new and in-progress works.
What inspired the start of this press, and what trajectory has it gone on since its creation? Is the state of the organization what you planned, or have there been changes in expectation, mission, or otherwise along the way?
Rachel started Belladonna* in response to a NYC literary environment dominated by men. Since those early days, Belladonna* has changed shape many times, perhaps most significantly when we became a Collaborative in 2010. The membership of the group has shifted since then, expanding and contracting but staying at about ten members. Recently, Saretta Morgan has taken on the role of Program Director, Chialun Chang has moved into a leadership position in our studio space as Marketing & Outreach Coordinator, and Krystal Languell is Development Director. Of course these are overly formal titles and each person’s tasks run the gamut from more to less glamorous. Recent shifts more clearly demarcating individual responsibilities have been a welcome intentional change. The mission remains the same!
How do you involve intersectionality, inclusion, and open-mindedness in your work and your organization?
Thanks to our status as a non-profit, we are able to serve as a fiscal sponsor for like-minded, politically involved organizations who do not have that federally approved status and we recently entered into our first sponsorship relationship.
We also collaborate frequently with organizations such as the Asian American Writers Workshop, The Poetry Project, Cave Canem, and others, co-presenting events for which we share in curatorial decision-making. One such example took place in March 2015—AAWW provided the venue and invited prose writer Dorothy Tse; Belladonna* invited Cathy Park Hong, Michael Leong, and Betsy Fagin. (It’s possible Cathy’s invitation came from both organizations mutually.) We published chaplets from Tse and Leong, and brought copies of Fagin’s Belladonna* book, all of which were available alongside Hong’s titles stocked by AAWW. Collaborative events like this one make new conversations possible.
What are your hopes for the future of Belladonna*?
Further on in the future, we’re interested in returning to the bilingual publication model for book-length translation (Lila Zemborain’s Mauve Sea-Orchids sets our precedent in this area, as well as a few more recent chaplets, including work by Zhang Er and Yu Wang). In 2017, we’ll release Uljana Wolf’s Subsisters (translated by Sophie Seita) in a bilingual edition. And we continue to publish first books by under-published women writers, with Astrobolism from Caroline Crumpacker forthcoming in Fall 2016.
In terms of structure, we are seeking to secure stable funding for a fairly-compensated administrative position, and hope to have made significant process toward this goal by next year.
You can find out more about Belladonna* on its website.