- Editing Postfeminist Fiction: Finding the Chic in Lit
In 1994 FC2, an independent publisher of alternative fiction, asked me if I would run and judge a book contest for women writers. This would mean receiving possibly hundreds of book-manuscripts, screening them, selecting ten finalists, carefully reading all of those books, then selecting a winner (or finding an outside judge who would agree to do the job for little or no payment). FC2’s lists had traditionally been male-dominated, so they wanted to discover new women writers who were working in non-traditional forms of fiction. This idealistic goal should’ve made me anxious to dig in and work for the greater good of womankind. But a book contest was not a task I was eager to undertake, for purely selfish reasons, especially with no assistance. So my argument was also idealistic: FC2 could unearth more women writers if it instead produced an anthology which could “discover” 10 to 12 new authors. Creating the anthology could be considered the “screening” stage—we could then begin soliciting book-length manuscripts from these authors for FC2’s regular editorial pool to consider. The director of FC2 agreed, and the project opened. Without any primary goal that the book would compete with a Norton anthology or be an antidote to similar mass market projects, I barely gave a second thought to promotion or marketing or potential reviewers. “Talent search” really was the foremost goal, until the manuscripts started arriving. Then, distracted by hundreds of pages of a vaguely familiar taste or scent of similarity, a second unspoken goal emerged: could this book be different? But what did that mean? No familiar or marquee names? That wouldn’t be a problem—it was FC2 trademark. The fiction inside standing as the marquee name? Was that possible? Perhaps fiction not only unique enough to let this anthology stand above the plethora of women’s-writing anthologies already on the market, but also different from the books by men by which FC2 had earned its reputation. Hadn’t I been taught that women’s alternative fiction had not followed the exact paths of male trail-blazers’ formal [End Page 101] innovation and self reflexive metafiction? With the canon of literature being so prominently male, rebellious women writers really had no tradition to rebel against, so their revolt had to have a different tone than the now historic literary insurrection against the traditional canon. This is why—in answer to many male queries—we reserved this postfeminist book for women writers only. How could we showcase the ways women explore alternative forms of fiction without focusing on women doing it? We weren’t expanding feminism by saying now men were invited into the exploration of female expression experience.
“Why don’t do you an anthology for men only,” male students asked me.
“You mean there haven’t been any yet?” I answered. “How about most of the anthologies since the beginning of time?”
Nuts & Bolts
Our first point of difference came when I decided not to carry the whole responsibility myself (how utterly female of me)—so why not have a male co-editor for a women’s anthology? There were no planning sessions, no discussions of our aesthetic, our agenda, our vision; no marketing blueprint, no publicity plans. Again how utterly female: I didn’t even confer with him when I made the flier and set the reading fee at $5, ridiculously low in comparison to other projects being advertised at the same time. We only wanted to cover production costs—printing and binding—there was no need for a lump sum for an award winner. And no thought given to the possibility of paying the writers; naturally just being chosen would be reward enough. Shame on us for that. But it didn’t keep the submissions away. Roughly 400 of them were stuffed into my mailbox at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In 1995 Chick-Lit: Postfeminist Fiction was released. Because FC2’s initial goals were met—discovering writers and producing a successfully interesting book—Chick-Lit 2 was quickly launched. After Chick-Lit 2 was released in 1996, a...