"We Recognize and Aim to Foster Feminism in All its Manifestations, Waves, and Expressions." A Chat with Monica J. Casper of TRIVIA
Monica J. Casper, Head of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona, has published five books and numerous articles, is co-editor of TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism, and is a managing editor of The Feminist Wire. Her creative writing has appeared in Mojave River Review, Slow Trains, Vine Leaves, The Linnet’s Wings, and elsewhere. Born and raised in the Midwest, she currently resides in Tucson with her partner, daughters, and two canines. For more information, visit www.monicajcasper.com.
Interview by Alicia Cole
How did TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism originate?
TRIVIA: A Journal of Ideas was born in 1982 as a print journal, co-founded by Lise Weil and others. Its focus was radical feminism, specifically a version of feminism grounded in recognition of planetary demise and worldwide misogyny. In 2004, in a sign of the times, TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism (re)emerged as an online journal, still operating under the original editors.
In 2011, I assumed editorial leadership of TRIVIA, along with colleagues at Arizona State University where I was then teaching; this followed an announcement by Lise that TRIVIA would likely die if a new leadership team could not be recruited. Julie Amparano, my original co-editor, and I submitted a proposal to Lise expressing a feminist vision for TRIVIA that also encompassed reaching younger readers and writers, leveraging our place at the U.S./Mexico border, and broadening the journal’s definitions of and relevance to diverse sexualities, bodies, and feminisms. Lise accepted our proposal and here we are—with a redesigned website and new editors. (Lise has recently launched a new journal, Dark Matter: Women Witnessing.)
After our first issue, which was strategically focused on Southwestern Voices, Linda Van Leuven (LVL), a sociologist and writer based in Long Beach, joined our editorial management team and has been instrumental in helping to shape TRIVIA’s vision. We also work with a diverse editorial collective, including some of TRIVIA’s original folks such as Lise Weil, Betsy Warland, and Harriet Ellenberger. In 2012, when I moved to the University of Arizona, the journal traveled with me and is now housed in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies with some funding provided by the University. We continue, however, to be an all-volunteer enterprise.
More information about our history can be found here.
Why TRIVIA? What does it stand for? What connotations are you aiming for specifically?
The word trivia derives from ‘tri-vium,’ or crossroads, and was one of the names of the Triple Goddess. Women’s lives are often relegated to the margins, seen as trivial. Hence, the name TRIVIA re-appropriates meanings to reflect the journal’s place as a crossroads where women’s ideas and experiences can assume their original power and significance. Of course, the name also reflects TRIVIA’s history, and early issues are an archive of twentieth-century feminism. (One of my goals is to work with the University of Arizona Libraries to create a digital archive of all the early print journals, so these can be indexable and searchable for scholars and readers.)
In its current manifestation, we see TRIVIA as embodying an expansive definition of feminism as an evolving, life-affirming, dynamic praxis with a rich, lively, contested history. Though we honor the journal’s history within radical feminism, we recognize and aim to foster feminism in all its manifestations, waves, and expressions. We seek diversity and multiplicity in our offerings, and we hope to cultivate an audience among feminists of all persuasions. We also aim to provide a platform for women’s voices and experiences, consistent with the journal’s original intent. Women’s voices matter.
To a large degree, what drives us as editors is the burning question, What is radical now – in the 21st century, when misogyny and racism are as vigorous as ever, and neoliberalism has (re)shaped how we relate to one another?
Why is feminist publishing important?
So many reasons! The annual VIDA count tells us a great deal about the exclusion of women writers from reviews and publishers’ lists, while the Op-Ed Project shows us just how narrow is the range of voices we see and hear in mainstream media. Women – and especially women of color – do not yet have a full seat at the publishing table. This is not to suggest there aren’t some women who have made it, but overwhelmingly on the big issues of our times, we are hearing from white men. As if only David Brooks and Paul Krugman, for example, have informed opinions worth listening to. And thus, we are not hearing a full range of perspectives and stories that matter, from the diversity of people who populate our world.
To offer a particularly urgent and poignant example, on the killing of Michael Brown and the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, the mainstream media has been fixated on questions of Brown’s criminality. We are seeing the same response in reaction to the fatal shooting of twelve-year old Tamir Rice by Ohio police. A Black child is murdered, and mainstream media (especially right-wing media) jumps very quickly to the victim’s alleged criminality; and when that doesn’t work, to the criminality of the child’s parents. This suggests that we need perspectives and voices that represent a full range of humanity, that can also recognize a full range of humanity. Feminist writing and publishing – and specifically anti-racist feminist writing and publishing – is essential to better diagnoses of our times.
What of your own journey to feminism publishing? How did it lead you to TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism?
Well, I operate with a very broad definition of feminist publishing. My first book, The Making of the Unborn Patient, was published in 1998; it offered an explicitly feminist sociological response to a new reproductive technology, prenatal surgery. So on one hand, you could say I’ve been engaged in feminist publishing for two decades. On the other hand, part of my definition of feminist publishing is accessibility and reach; while my first book won awards and is used in classrooms, over the years I have found myself wanting to write and speak across different platforms. As a sociologist and feminist committed to social change, I’m deeply interested in publishing my own work in venues with reach and impact, as well as mentoring other writers to do the same. So when Tamura Lomax, co-founder of The Feminist Wire and a former doctoral student at Vanderbilt University where I used to teach, approached me about being part of TFW, of course I said yes. I knew with her involvement it would be a successful enterprise, and I was also compelled by a vision of anti-racist, anti-imperialist feminist publishing. Since joining the collective, TFW has morphed in a multitude of ways, and now Tamura, Darnell Moore, and I are managing co-editors and business partners. And The Feminist Wire has more than a million readers annually!
TRIVIA is a smaller enterprise, but I was attracted by the opportunity to save a historically important feminist journal and also to foster a space for women’s literary voices. In the past several years, I’ve been rediscovering my own literary voice, with creative nonfiction work and fiction. I welcomed the opportunity to engage with other writers and to encourage submission and publication of women’s voices. One of the best parts of TRIVIA for me – and also for my co-editors – is reading the submissions, talking about them, feeling the power of women’s writing, and sharing stories and ideas that might not otherwise see the light of day.
How has feminist publishing changed and grown since launching TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism?
There have been massive changes since TRIVIA was first launched online in 2004. Most significantly, the past decade has seen a proliferation of feminist publications. Some, like The Feminist Wire, publish far more regularly than TRIVIA, which has been on a twice-yearly schedule. This means that readers’ attention spans have grown shorter. Often as readers we want relevant content and we want it quickly. Some publications with daily schedules can do this. Others, such as TRIVIA, cannot. Different journals meet different needs. At TRIVIA, we hope there are readers who appreciate literary content that isn’t necessarily grounded in up-to-the-minute happenings, that is reflective of women’s lives where and how they are lived. At the same time, I understand that these differences in expectations of relevance may be why TRIVIA has just 1,013 Facebook likes (which is twice the number we had when we inherited the journal), while The Feminist Wire has more than 54,000 Facebook likes.
What internal adaptations have you noticed within the feminist publishing community?
I’m not sure this falls into the category of adaptations, but we are increasingly caught up in conversations about monetization. Like many feminist projects, TRIVIA and The Feminist Wire rely on invisible, free feminist labor. Neither is a paying market, and with few exceptions (e.g., TFW’s annual poetry contest), we do not charge readers for submissions. However, this means that at both journals, we are all very tired. And some of us who are able to pay out of pocket to produce the journals and leverage our institutional support. But this is not sustainable (which I’ve written about), and increasingly, we are uncomfortable with not paying authors. Feminist praxis should mean that women are paid for their work. So we are embarking on monetization strategies and trying to do so in ways that do not contradict our mission, which includes remaining accessible to readers and writers. How, we are asking ourselves, do we capitalize (pun intended) on marketing practices while also intellectually and politically offering critiques of those same practices? Fortunately, we are not alone in these conversations. For example, I have talked with Lisa Bowden of Tucson-based Kore Press about these issues, and we try to pay attention to information coming from VIDA, Hedgebrook, She Writes, and other feminist communities on this topic.
What changes are you looking forward to in the future?
In terms of the publications I edit, greater sustainability – both financial and in terms of our own physical and emotional health. In terms of the wider domain of feminist publishing – more voices, more diversity, and more content not just at our own sites, but elsewhere too. More women writers, editors, and publishers at mainstream news media, shaping public opinion, telling the stories that haven’t been told, and helping to create a more progressive world. Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking we’re in a good place because, for example, gay marriage is a thing now (although I’m glad it’s a thing). We are not in a good place. This most recent election starkly revealed the misogyny and racism that continue to misshape people’s lives, along with deeply embedded economic injustices that prevent human flourishing. We need a diversity of people – and not just white men – to write and talk about issues such as anti-Black state violence, immigration, police violence, the prison industrial complex, militarization, sexual assault, domestic violence, child hunger, and a host of other issues that define our contemporary moment.
How do you personally interpret theme when selecting an issue’s contents?
This is an interesting question, because I’ve never ‘personally’ selected a theme. I work in partnership with my colleagues at TRIVIA and The Feminist Wire, and we collectively determine themes for issues and forums. For example, at TRIVIA, shortly after taking the helm, Julie, LVL, and I sent a memo to our editorial collective and advisory board asking what themes they’d like to see. Our “Death,” “Preoccupation,” and “Animal Instincts” issues all emerged from this poll.
What other feminist publications would you recommend reading?
Certainly The Feminist Wire, especially for anti-racist perspectives and the voices of women of color. I also appreciate Crunk Feminist Collective, Feral Feminisms, Hysteria, and FemSpec. I frequently tune in to Black Girl Dangerous, Feminist Frequency, and Leaving Evidence. In the realm of academic/scholarly publications, I like Scholar & Feminist Online and ADA: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology.
You’ll notice that my answer includes online publications, blogs, and academic journals; again, my definition of feminist publishing is broad. And as a scholar and department head, I’m especially interested in expanding the scope of what counts as ‘acceptable’ publishing by academics. In an era in which universities (including my own) are touting the importance of community engagement, it is imperative that we recognize the many spaces and places intellectuals work. How can there be vital public intellectualism and community engagement if scholars are rewarded only for publishing in exclusive print journals that few people read and talking only to each other?
Alicia Cole, a writer and editor, lives in Lawrenceville, GA, with a menagerie of animals. As well as writing literary, speculative, YA and children’s poetry and short fiction, Alicia works for Rampant Loon Media as a copyeditor and proofreader, and volunteers at WonderRoot, an arts advocacy organization in Atlanta, GA. She has written for motionpoems and Bitch Magazine. Updates on her writing and editing can be found at: www.facebook.com/AliciaColewriter.