- “Fighting to create and maintain our own Black women’s culture”:Conditions Magazine, 1977–1990
We wonder where the next meal, job, payment on our college loans and other bills, apartment, the first car, Black Woman-identified bookstore, health center, magazine, archives, bar, record company, newspaper, press, forty acres and a mule, or national conference
are going to come from.
They will come
from us loving/speaking to our Black/Third World sisters, not at white women
They will come from
us taking the Black woman energy presently being used to legitimize your movement
and fighting to create and maintain our own Black women’s culture, our own Black feminist movement,
our own Third World lesbian nation.—Lorraine Bethel, “What Chou Mean We, White Girl?”1
During the 1970s and the 1980s, lesbian-feminists created a vibrant lesbian print culture, participating in the creation, production, and distribution of books, chapbooks, journals, newspapers, and other printed materials.2 Publishers such as the Women’s Press Collective in Oakland, California; Diana Press in Baltimore, Maryland; Daughters Publishing Company, Inc. in Vermont and New York City; and Naiad Books, initially in Reno, Nevada, began operating during the 1970s; in the 1980s, Kitchen Table Press, Aunt Lute, Spinsters Ink, and Firebrand Books joined lesbian and feminist publishing communities. Literary journals like Amazon Quarterly, Sinister Wisdom, 13th Moon, and Chrysalis operated alongside an array of local newspapers and national news outlets [End Page 160] including off our backs and Lesbian Connection.3 Single editors and publishers or romantic couples founded and operated many of these journals; for example, partners Laurel Galana and Gina Covina founded Amazon Quarterly, and partners Catherine Nicholson and Harriet Desmoines founded Sinister Wisdom. Some of the publications, however, engaged an array of women as a collective or in other egalitarian structures. Literary journals offered outlets for lesbian and feminist creative work with language and art. The extensive publication of poetry during the 1970s in feminist and lesbian print culture reflected Audre Lorde’s affirmation that “for women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence.”4 It prompted Jan Clausen to declare, in 1982, that “poets are the movement,” and T. V. Reed to argue that “poems are every bit as dramatic as these demonstrations, or as confrontations with police.”5
This extraordinary output of creative material included a variety of newsletters and at least three periodicals created and produced by African American lesbians. From 1977 until 1983 in the New York City area, a collective of African American lesbians published Azalea, with Joan Gibbs acting as editor or key volunteer throughout the life of the journal. In the San Francisco Bay area, African American lesbians published two periodicals during the 1980s and early 1990s; from 1982 until 1984, Marlene Bonner published Onyx, and, from 1989 until 1993, a group of African American lesbians, including Lisbet Tellefsen, published the periodical Ache.6
In addition to these journals, Conditions, self-described as “a magazine of writing by women with an emphasis on writing by lesbians,” is an important periodical in the history of feminist and African American print culture. Conditions published seventeen issues between 1976 and 1990.7 Initially conceived as a biannual journal, Conditions published annually from 1980 through 1990. Each issue of Conditions contains texts representing multiple genres: poetry, prose, essays, book reviews, and interviews. Four white women (Elly Bulkin, Jan Clausen, Irena Klepfisz, and Rima Shore) founded the journal in Brooklyn, New York; however, in the early 1980s, the editorial collective reconstituted itself from the white founders into a multiracial, multicultural lesbian collective. During the 1980s, Cheryl Clarke, an African American lesbian, assumed crucial leadership roles at Conditions, serving on the editorial collective from 1982 until 1990.
Conditions became a multiracial periodical that provided an important voice and publishing outlet for African American women and lesbians throughout the 1980s. Issues of Conditions represent an intersection of shared concerns among feminists, lesbians, and people of color with roots in transformative activist movements from the 1960s. Conditions addressed topics such as international solidarity, anti-imperialism, AIDS, poverty, racism, friendship, and political action, through fiction, poetry, essays, and book and...