LTD: Yes, I founded Aqueduct Press explicitly to publish feminist science fiction. For me, though, “feminist science fiction” is a broad term that includes science fiction, fantasy, and fantastic literature written from a feminist perspective. All of these are contested terms, open to interpretation, and “feminist” covers a broad spectrum. For this reason, Aqueduct’s authors are not all entirely comfortable with one another. And admittedly, one of our authors couldn’t be called (or even considered) a feminist by any stretch of the imaginations. But categorizations don't much interest me. I’m actually more interested in what I call the “grand conversation” of feminist science fiction—viz., the way the work Aqueduct publishes is in conversation with other work of feminist science fiction. (An essay of mine, available for download from my website < http://ltimmel.home.mindspring.com/genealogy.html> as well as in the slim volume titled The Grand Conversation, explains this notion in depth.)
NA: Why sci fi feminism?
LTD: Oh, for several reasons. First, feminist science fiction has played an important role in helping me think about feminist issues and theory, and I’ve adored reading it since I first discovered it in the late 1970s. Second, it’s what I write myself. Third, there was a nasty rumor going around in the late 90s that feminist science fiction was over. I wanted to show that feminist sf was not only still breathing, but even thriving and developing. And fourth, I saw a need that wasn’t being met by twenty-first-century publishers, who in their changed corporate circumstances now find a good deal of very fine work not commercially viable.
NA: Who are some of the science fiction poets you publish?
LTD: Our largest poetry collection, The Moment of Change edited by Rose Lemberg, a feminist speculative anthology with an unusually diverse selection of poets, includes work by well-known writers like Ursula K. Le Guin, Delia Sherman, Theodora Goss, Amal El-Mohtar, Vandana Singh, Nisi Shawl, Greer Gilman, Sonya Taaffe, Athena Andreadis, Jo Walton, and Catherynne M. Valente, as well as a couple dozen lesser-known poets. We’ve also published another smaller anthology, edited by Theodora Goss, Voices from Fairyland: The Fantastical Poems of Mary Coleridge, Charlotte Mew, and Sylvia Townsend Warner that comprises poems by those three writers, fascinating essays by Dora Goss about each of these poets’ work, and poems by Dora responding to that work. We’ve also published an epic poem by Anne Sheldon (The Adventures of the Faithful Counselor) and single-author collections by Liz Henry (Unruly Islands), Lesley Wheeler (The Receptionist and Other Tales), and Anne Sheldon (The Bone Spindle). Some of the small single-author short fiction collections we’ve published have included poetry in addition to prose stories (by Eleanor Arnason, Kim Antieau Sheree Renee Thomas, Rachel Swirsky). Poetry, like science fiction, has always been an important genre for feminists, and feminism in the 1970s and 80s would have been impoverished without the poetry of Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Marge Piercy, and June Jordan, to mention just four poets that helped sustained me throughout those decades.
NA: How many books do you publish each year?
LTD: It varies a bit from year to year, but something in the neighborhood of ten (including our small books).
NA: I am a fan of one of your authors, Chris Barzack, whose new book, Birds and Birthdays, is just out from Aqueduct. I think Barzack walks a line somewhere between sci-fi and fiction. I guess I think of him more as a magical realist. Do you agree? Or am I defining sci fi too narrowly?
LTD: The issue you raise is complicated and could be addressed from a number of angles. Like many writers in the genre that is often referred to as “sf/f/h” in order to include titles identifiable as science fiction, fantasy, and horror, Chris writes beautiful and interesting prose. I’ve noticed that some readers (particularly those who seldom read sf/f/h) believe that beautiful and interesting prose can’t possibly be sf/f/h, and that for them, a respectable literary term like "magical realist" might help them get around the contradiction in their thinking. In fact, Chris’s work fits very comfortably into a region of the genre known as “fantasy.” (One of the most widely-respected authors currently inhabiting that region is Kelly Link.) Magical realism is a pretty well-defined style of writing that I don't believe Chris’s work can be pigeon-holed into. My own sense is that the stories in Birds and Birthdays resemble the fantastic work of Angela Carter (who also wrote science fiction), while some of his other stories make me think variously of Carol Emshwiller, Shirley Jackson, and sometimes Kelly Link.
Perhaps I should add that there are basically two different ways authors come to be identified as sf/f/h genre writers. One way has to do how they are positioned institutionally—by publishers, booksellers, and critics—into a marketing category. X is “literary,” Y is “sf/f/h.” Since Chris’s short fiction tends to appear in genre publications (often distinguished by its prose quality) and his novels are published as genre YA, he’s been institutionally categorized as a sf/f/h writer. The second way authors come to be identified as sf/f/h genre writers is through their use of and engagement with the narrative conventions and tropes of sf/f/h. Chris’s work can definitely be identified as sf/f/h because of the way it converses with other work of sf/f/h.
NA: I see on your website, there is a literary magazine called Cascadia Subduction Zone. Is that published by Aqueduct? Could you say a few words about that?
LTD: Yes, Aqueduct publishes the CSZ four times a year. We have just completed our second year of publication. Issues are available in both print and electronic editions, and we make all our back issues available for free download six months after initial publication.
I had two reasons for starting the CSZ. First, I felt a burning need to address the gender imbalance that women writers face. Just as literary review publications severely underrepresent work by women (as shown by the recent VIDA studies), so do sf/f/h review publications. Reviews of fiction tend to be of work published by men. N(iall Harrison, the Editor-in-Chief of Strange Horizons, has produced some revealing graphics that show just how underrepresented work by women is in sf/f/h review publications.) The CSZ’s policy is to review work by both men and women—only reversing the usual priority that tacitly considers work by men of greater importance and interest than work by women. Similarly, our reviews and essays and creative work are by both men and women—but again, with priority given to pieces written from a feminist point of view, which makes sense to us because all of the magazine’s editors are feminists. In this way, we hope to begin to redress the problem of gender imbalance and draw attention to work that is not getting the attention it deserves.
Second, I adore essays, particularly long essays, and I wanted to create more space for them in the world. I sometimes think I love essays almost as much as I love fiction.
I’d like to add here that although Aqueduct publishes the CSZ and I’m the publisher of Aqueduct Press, I’m just one of four editors of the CSZ and thus just part of the collective, consensus-driven process in producing it. Aqueduct simply handles the business side of it (which at this point also includes partially subsidizing it, in order to keep subscriber costs down).
NA: And there is also The Aqueduct Gazette? And a blog?
LTD: The Aqueduct Gazette is currently in hiatus. I'd like to bring it back, but I'd need some volunteer help to manage that. The Gazette is basically a newsletter that combines news about Aqueduct's books and authors and some independent content-- a mix of promotion of Aqueduct's books and serving the broader interests of Aqueduct's audience. The blog is a larger version of that—but a version that I hope encourages the development of community. Many of those who regularly visit the blog are people who attend WisCon, the splendid feminist science fiction convention held in Madison, WI every Memorial Day weekend. Some are people who love Aqueduct's books and authors. Still others are sf/f fans who tend to be politically progressive and sympathetic to feminist values.
NA: Could you describe some of the happiest or proudest moments for the press? Feel free to provide links to reviews, events, awards, readings, etc.
LTD: I’ve been fortunate to enjoy many such moments. Several of our books have won major awards or been nominated for them. The second book we published, Gwyneth Jones’s novel Life, won the Philip K. Dick Award (which I had the honor of accepting in her stead at the awards ceremony) and was short-listed for the James Tiptree Award, which recognizes fiction that seeks to expand and explore our understanding of gender. Ursula Le Guin’s Cheek By Jowl won the Locus Award; Helen Merrick’s The Secret Feminist Cabal won the William Atheling Award and was short-listed for both the Hugo and—despite its being nonfiction— Tiptree Awards. Nisi Shawl’s Filter House won the Tiptree Award. Vandana Singh’s Distances won the Carl Brandon Society’s Kindred Award and was also short-listed for the Tiptree. Andrea Hairston’s novel Mindscape won the Carl Brandon Society Kindred Award and was short-listed for both the Dick and Tiptree Awards, and her novel Redwood and Wildfire won the Tiptree Award. Perhaps my proudest moment was seeing Andrea wearing the Tiptree Award tiara while delivering her Guest of Honor speech at WisCon last May. (WisCon is a fabulous feminist science fiction convention. A photo of Andrea wearing the Tiptree tiara can be found on the front page of the Jame Tiptree, Jr. Award website <tiptree.org>.)
A more private proud moment occurred during a panel at Readercon last summer, when Andrea Hairston, Brit Mandelo, and I discussed Joanna Russ’s classic How to Suprress Women’s Writing, with considerable audience participation. One of Russ’s chapters talks about how the seeming anomalousness of women’s writing contributes to the dismissal of work by women—an anomalousness that stems from the lack of institutional memory, which persuades each new generation of women that they are pioneers and loners, mere voices crying in the wilderness. One of my goals for Aqueduct is to emphasize the continuity of feminist sf—to insist on an immense context within which new writing needs to be understood to be fully appreciated. As I mentioned earlier, many people, some of them critics, had in the 1990s asserted the death of feminist sf. Aqueduct defies that assertion. We publish new feminist sf every year—work that is in lively, sometimes contentious conversation with what is now a large body of work. None of us needs to reinvent the wheel this time around.
NA: What aspects of publishing and editing do you enjoy most? Least?
LTD: I most enjoy editing and editorial conversations with the authors. It is a joy to me to help authors make their work the best it can be, and a deep pleasure to bring attention to work that would otherwise not be noticed. I also enjoy writing royalty checks. The aspects of publishing I least like is writing and sending rejections and drafting contracts. (I can’t think of anything more tedious than writing contracts.) I do these unpleasant tasks as conscientiously as I can, because they must be done, but without pleasure. The end result—beautiful books launched into the world—makes even the most tedious moments of drafting contracts worth it.
NA: I would love to close with a poem from one of your authors.
LTD: For this, I’ve selected Liz Henry’s “Mother Frankenstein,” from her collection, Unruly Islands:
Mother Frankenstein swollen lightning
stitching needles where my lips kiss
in your smoke-ghost skull where axons
open fire with past love letters electric
little histories of the alphabet gathered
in your pathetic apron's outwash plain,
Wars and arrows, night-knives, night blind star
nights of murdered poets unburied
scars stitching scars on your skin my lips kiss
plague-fury, forced survivors of a shipwreck
end of the world lost word lined up singers
sad stitch and mouth raw mothers of sorrow
More than sorrow or grief - exhaustion,
roseblown the words of dead friends cuneiform
Mother Frankenstein your full lighthouse tower -
flash in the raincloud from the empty tower -
masts cut away from the arc of your rainbow cut sailropes,
worm finger death curve of the wreckage of fists
cleared for later deciphering by a panel of experts,
tireless antmouth of your computers' calculation,
machinetooled fingers swollen from salt tangled
dishwater tears working writing battery
beyond the power of life to give charge
Child grown in there still in the ricket trap
daring to carry iron famine's rusty womb quilt scraps,
scuttling beetle limb bicycling in the full belly
knees life machine shipwreck piston
under your apron, under the crying breasts
longing for the knife-child who will empty the grey tower
emerging like the prow of a ship through fog,
painted wavemilk churn in the oiled gearteeth,
gun-child descending the stairs to the flaming torches,
memory's oilstained workbench and the thigh-vise grip of birth,
the moon's handfuls of nothing throwing craters of light in our faces
Your hand stitched to mine pulled me to the trenchmouth
buried in cataracts caliche bulldozed by tanks
and the blind hand dowsing artesian graves
found its original wrist: I can't see
the stone in my own eye, enough burial for forever,
Trumpet call of lightning to reanimate millions,
bring back those soldiers so they could kill, and kill, and go home
to their wives and mothers who are now ready to kill in turn
until the earth's scabbed graves are clean of soldiers and there are only
handfuls of nothing and craters of nothing cradling skeletons
with guitars, the ghosts of machine guns, ghost song,
Well of the dead, I would take you into my belly
Athena Diomedes would be with me clutching an embryonic boulder
to swallow the dead and bring them shining whole into all time,
stitches straining to burst with the bowling ball weight of the guilt
of futile miscarriages tumbling in cataracts in a stochastic tapestry,
I would leap into the night, iridium flash, verso of the meteor's flight,
unintentional handful of nothing and words and the workbench of memory,
Mary mother of Frankenstein you give me your blackened tooth's unwatched star,
your handfuls of stigmata, your soldier ants slicing the moon's andalusian eye,
your body's machinery in the bonefrost of lost desire and a kiss of loving betrayal,
the memory of your pellucid eggshell trembling in the corpus luteum of my fists
-- Liz Henry
L. Timmel Duchamp, familiarly known as “Timmi,” is best known as the author of the five-volume Marq’ssan Cycle (which won special recognition from the James Tiptree Award jury), consisting of Alanya to Alanya (2005), Renegade ( 2006), Tsunami (2007), Blood in the Fruit (2007), and Stretto (2008) and the founder and publisher of Aqueduct Press. She is the author of two collections of short fiction: Love's Body, Dancing in Time (2004), which was shortlisted for the Tiptree, and Never at Home (2011), and co-author, with Maureen McHugh, of a mini-collection, Plugged In (2008, published in conjunction with the authors’ being GoHs at WisCon). She has also edited several anthologies and has published a good deal of reviews and criticism. Some of her short fiction and essays are available on her website .
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here.