Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press
The nation’s first all-female literary outlet and the first national advocacy organization operated by nonwhite and lesbian women, Kitchen Table / Women of Color Press expands the outreach of feminist fiction, pamphlets, and art. Discussed in the late 1970s by the black lesbian poet Audre Lorde, the Chicana author Cherríe Moraga, and the black lesbian activist Barbara Smith, the idea originally focused on a literary journal or another periodical rather than a publishing firm. Smith was a particularly vocal critic of exclusive school curricula that omit or discredit writings other than those of a white, middle-class male Protestant canon. To end exclusionary policies in schools, college curricula, and libraries, the editorial staff met in New York City on Halloween 1980. They decided to form a publishing house and, the next year, went into production.
Shortly before her death from cancer Lorde wrote of the “othered” author’s fear of leaving no evidence of thought on important issues. She declared nonwhite and lesbian authors’ writings as “part of a continuum of women’s work, of reclaiming this earth and our power, and knowing that this work did not begin with my birth nor will it end with my death” (Lockett, 39). Because of the relevance and authenticity of such female writings and scholarship, the consortium, aided by the Laguna Sioux author Paula Gunn Allen, turned niche marketing of “othered” writings into a revered vehicle for formerly suppressed or ignored writers. Through the print versions of works by the lesbian poet Cheryl Clarke, the radical philosopher and teacher Angela Davis, the Jewish writer Evelyn Torton Beck, the Japanese poet Mitsuye Yamada, and the lesbian short story author Hisaye Yamamoto, Kitchen Table / Women of Color Press issued perspectives and experiences that had previously failed to reach readers, teachers, students, and researchers.
In 1981 the editors Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa realized a breakthrough in feminist literature with a best-selling anthology/textbook, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Composed of the prose and verse of third world American authors, the book won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. The firm, which moved to Albany, New York, in 1984, continued meeting the needs of nonwhite feminists with Mariana Romo Camona and Alma Gómez’s collection Cuentos: Stories by Latinas (1983), Barbara Smith’s anthology Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (1983), Barbara Omolade’s It’s a Family Affair: The Real Lives of Black Single Mothers (1986), Lorde’s I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities (1986), Yamamoto’s award-winning Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories (1988), and Lorde’s Need: A Chorale for Black Women’s Voices (1990). With a list of successes to their company’s credit, Smith accounted for strong readership as evidence of the staff’s perceptions of reader need: “I believe all the books we have published have made a difference in people’s lives” (Giddings, 26). The publisher Andrea Lockett agreed that books by nonwhite and lesbian authors were “so liberating and freeing—there was finally an alternative view of women’s lives” (Brownworth, 10). During the staff’s 15-year anniversary celebration in 1996, a $40,000 grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation along with $260,000 from the Union Institute Center for Women, the Sister Fund, and other philanthropic sources helped to keep the Brooklyn office afloat and the press’s backlist in print.
Brownworth, Victoria A. “Who Will Publish Our Books? Lesbian and Feminist Presses Imperiled by Industry Crunch,” Lambda Book Report 5, no. 11 (May 1997): 10.
Giddings, Paula. “Book Marks,” Essence 19, no. 11 (March 1989): 26.
Lockett, Andrea. “Sister Difference: An Audre Lorde Memorial Conversation,” Belles Lettres 8, no. 4 (Summer 1993): 39.
Moraga, Cherríe, and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. New York: Kitchen Table / Women of Color Press, 1981.
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