In 2009, the poet Monica A. Hand asked for definitions of “female aesthetics.” While there are no actual definitions of female aesthetics or woman aesthetics, there are working definitions of feminist aesthetics. I was intrigued by this notion of the female (vs the woman, aka l’écriture féminine and Hélène Cixous’s writing from the body) and what an aesthetics of female would like and who could who would claim this aesthetics. A bit later, I put together a panel on Twitter to discuss this concept, and I invited some of the participants from that panel as well as some additional people I thought would have something interesting to say, to have an informal symposium discussion via email. What followed was a series of questions, speculations, ponderings, and anecdotes with Racquel Goodison, Monica A. Hand, Patricia Spears Jones, Ruth Ellen Kocher and Tracy Chiles McGhee from August 13 to 20, 2009. The Conversant has agreed to publish that conversation in two parts. – Metta Sáma
Starting with our May 2013 issue, The Conversant will be publishing excerpts from HER KIND, a digital literary community powered by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. In order to introduce that series, we have asked HER KIND’s editors, Rosebud Ben-Oni and Arisa White, to answer the following question:
Could you describe your goals for HER KIND (the publishing context out of which it comes, its relation to VIDA, the types of discussions you seek to promote, people you hope to publish, etc.)?
Arisa White: I wanted HK to be a container—a space where we were creating a literary community of sorts. So VIDA is known for The Count, for the hard numbers that show the gender disparities in the literary world, and I wanted HK to be a counterpoint to that. For myself I need to see solutions to the things I find unjust—alternative visions for thriving that are not rooted in an oppressive paradigm. Because what that tells me is that we are creatively and resourcefully using our imaginations to bring about change.
Here is space for women writers to express themselves and their relationship to the written word, the written world, to articulate the textual bodies that we are.
While developing HK with Rosebud and Cate, my goal was to create a literary environment for play, spontaneity, and intellectual curiosity, where speaking freely is welcomed. Rosebud and I come up with crazy-interesting, and sometimes off-the-cuff themes, to let people know we want to be surprised and shaped by the content that comes our way. And for me it was a matter of how to do that without making anyone feel like they had to have a degree, a book, an award, a particular hue, or know someone in order to be published.
Rosebud Ben-Oni: Working with Arisa is half dance-party and half reflecting out on a sea of all seasons—HK has put a weight on my shoulders that I like. I want the kind of discussions that I at one time or another could not initiate or even join. On my mother’s side, which is Mexican, there is mostly oral history; listening to my mother and her 6 other siblings tell me of the things that happened to them, I’ve found if I put it all together that, rather than straight history, I know more about each individually. Contradictions burst with their own truths. My father’s side, which is Jewish, might come from a written-word history, yet due to his personal history, a lot has been lost. When I was a child, I could not initiate a conversation with him, or my mother, whom he’s entrusted with the better part of his life, his childhood. I knew there was a war (the Shoah), that my paternal grandfather had been married before, that he was much older than my grandmother and died while my father was a child. That my father grew up in hospitals watching him die. That he was poor. He told these things to my mother, and only her; I had to respect that she is his keeper. But I felt very incomplete, like I would never know my father, that he’d remain a mystery. For a long time I walked around with that burden on my shoulders. In college I discovered other young women who could not initiate or join certain conversations, for similar or different reasons.