Gender Studies

Honoring Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month, and March 8 is International Women’s Day! This month we are highlighting some recent titles that honor the central but too-often neglected roles women play across history and around the globe.

In Empire’s Mistress Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez follows the life of Filipina vaudeville and film actress Isabel Rosario Cooper, who was the mistress of General Douglas MacArthur, to explore the contours of empire as experienced on the scale of personal relationships.

In Revisiting Women’s Cinema Lingzhen Wang examines the work of Chinese women filmmakers of the Mao and post-Mao eras to theorize socialist and postsocialist feminism, mainstream culture, and women’s cinema in modern China.

Chelsea Szendi Schieder examines the campus-based New Left in Japan by exploring the significance of women’s participation in the protest movements of the 1960s in Coed Revolution.

Samantha Pinto’s Infamous Bodies explores how histories of and the ongoing fame of Phillis Wheatley, Sally Hemings, Sarah Baartman, Mary Seacole, and Sarah Forbes Bonetta generate new ways of imagining black feminist futures.

In Emancipation’s Daughters Riché Richardson examines how five iconic black women—Mary McLeod Bethune, Rosa Parks, Condoleezza Rice, Michelle Obama, and Beyoncé—defy racial stereotypes and construct new national narratives of black womanhood in the United States.

In Relative Races Brigitte Fielder presents an alternative theory of how race is constructed with readings of nineteenth-century personal narratives, novels, plays, stories, poems, and images to illustrate how interracial kinship follows non-heteronormative, non-biological, and non-patrilineal models of inheritance in nineteenth-century literary culture.


In Claiming Union Widowhood Brandi Clay Brimmer analyzes the US pension system from the perspective of poor black women in the period before, during, and after the Civil War outlines the struggles of mothers, wives, and widows of black Union soldiers to claim rights in the face of unjust legislation.

In Black Aliveness Kevin Quashie analyzes texts by of Lucille Clifton, June Jordan, Toni Morrison, Evie Shockley, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others to argue for a Black aliveness that is disarticulated from antiblackness and which provides the basis for the imagination and creation of a Black world.

In The Wombs of Women Françoise Vergès examines the scandal of white doctors forcefully terminating the pregnancies of thousands of poor women of color on the French island of Réunion during the 1960s, showing how they resulted from the legacies of the racialized violence of slavery and colonialism.

Engaging with the work of Black musicians, writers, and women mystics, in Black Utopias Jayna Brown takes up the concept of utopia as an occasion to explore new states of being, doing, and imagining in Black culture.

In Information Activism Cait McKinney traces how lesbian feminist activists in the United States and Canada between the 1970s and the present developed communication networks, databases, and digital archives to use as a foundation for their feminist, antiracist, and trans-inclusive work.

In A Regarded Self Kaiama L. Glover examines Francophone and Anglophone Caribbean literature whose female protagonists enact practices of freedom that privilege the self, challenge the prioritization of the community over the individual, and refuse masculinist discourses of postcolonial nation building.

The “20th Anniversary Reader” of Meridians, edited by Ginetta E. B. Candelario, features thirty of the journal’s most frequently cited, downloaded, and anthologized works since its first issue was published in fall 2000. The forty authors featured in the special supplement are a virtual who’s who of internationally renowned women-of-color scholar-activists (such as Sara Ahmed, Angela Davis, Sonia Alvarez, Paula Giddings, and Sunera Thobani) and award-winning poets (such as Nikky Finney, Laurie Ann Guerrero, and Suheir Hammad).

And check out our Feminist Politics and Women’s Rights Syllabus, one of several staff-curated syllabi focusing on today’s most critical issues.

Q&A with Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez, author of Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper

Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez is Professor of American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, author of Securing Paradise: Tourism and Militarism in Hawai‘i and the Philippines, and coeditor of Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai‘i. Her latest book is Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper, which follows the life of Filipina vaudeville and film actress Isabel Rosario Cooper, who was the mistress of General Douglas MacArthur, to explore the contours of empire as experienced on the scale of personal relationships.

If most people know anything about Isabel Rosario Cooper, it’s that she was General Douglas MacArthur’s mistress. In footnotes to most histories, she is portrayed as a tragic figure, “a beautiful woman who died of heartbreak.” What made you want to tell her story more fully?

This kind of feminine figuration has always served as camouflage for complexity, a shorthand that feeds into and is fed by a colonial fantasy of brown women longing for white men, as well as narrative desire for familiar tropes. This version of Isabel Cooper’s story is not in the footnotes: it is front and center because it’s the comfortable and typical characterization of “women like her.” When I started to dig into the footnotes of MacArthur biographies, I discovered a kind of recursive pattern that boiled down to a reliance on repeated citations of sources that had somehow become authoritative evidence for her story. What became clear was that these sources that were more hearsay or even outright inaccurate had circulated enough times that they had hardened into truth—in particular the version that revolved around the General as her object of yearning and heartbreak had become the standard. The work of postcolonial feminist scholars has taught us that of course there’s something more operating beneath the flattened image of dead, beautiful, heartbroken women, something more than “MacArthur’s mistress.” The short interludes that bothered to portray Isabel Cooper in MacArthur biographies and their suspect footnotes that were cited as evidence didn’t match up to this work.

Empire's MistressThere’s also a way in which stories like hers are dismissed as unworthy in the sense that her biggest known “accomplishment” is sleeping with MacArthur—often read as betrayal at worst, or venal at most—another way to marginalize women’s stories. At the same time, I did not want to dismiss her sexual agency, because to some degree, that was crucial to the kind of power and identity she wielded. From the great work that has been done on the early colonial period in the Philippines, particularly on the “woman question,” we know that the lives of Filipinas were complex, cosmopolitan, and often grappled with the contradictions engendered by the shifts in colonial society. I wanted to tell her story more fully because it deserved to be told with the same kind of effort in terms of research and writing as stories of men like MacArthur, and I felt that it would be a good vehicle to also interweave a parallel account about archives and genres, and the ways in which both open and up and foreclose how we learn to narrate ourselves.

You choose not to structure your book chronologically like a traditional biography. Instead you begin with her relationship with MacArthur and then jump around in time. You also feature documents, pictures and imagined letters and conversations in between your chapters. Why did you choose this structure? How does it help tell Cooper’s story more fully?

It took me a while to figure out how to tell her story. I knew I needed to include elements of biography—because so little of her life is actually known, and the broader historical context of her story is unfamiliar to most readers—so some part of this had to be fleshed out. But I also knew that I didn’t want to present an account that was somehow whole or authoritative or forthright, like an exhumation or an explanation, because I didn’t want to repeat the pattern of how she has been narrated in such an overdetermined way. I did begin with a chronological draft, but this structure felt like it didn’t make room for the ways in which patterns repeated themselves in her life, or how a particular part of her story (the MacArthur interlude) pre-empts others. It felt inert—and so I began with her death, because so much of what is written about her pivots on the suicide of this beautiful woman, and the half-truths or outright lies that adhered to it. I also foregrounded her time with MacArthur in the narrative, a bit perversely, because I wanted to arrest the desire to center MacArthur and frame him as the “reveal” of the story later on in the book. I felt like that the strange enticement of that infamous scandal was not something I wanted the reader to be invested in. The few years of her life during which she associated with MacArthur has come to define her and how she’s narrated: it’s the hook that draws most people to her story, but I didn’t want it operate as the climax of the narrative. It is certainly not the main driving force of her life, even as it is often characterized this way. I try to make the case that this moment is more an effect, rather than a cause.

The overall structure of the book also pulls from the protracted, piecemeal, and interrupted process of my research into her life, and from the sometimes-unexpected and last-minute way that new sources would shift a whole arc I had neatly mapped out. The sparseness and inaccuracy of the existing writing and archival materials on Isabel Cooper resists that neat and orderly biographical narrative: there are so many moments that are lost to history because of lack of documentation, and in her case, contradiction, inconsistency, absence, or outright error in whatever records can be pieced together. So that’s another story in itself: the colonial archive’s promises and secrets. I was struck by how so much of the narrative about her is fictional (in the sense of repeated inaccuracies), and as I dug deeper, how much of this fiction she also perpetrated. It gave me permission to speculate about moments that might not have documentation, or to invent, as she did, stories about herself.

Cooper goes by many different names in her life, from Dimples as a child performer, to Chabing Cooper, Elizabeth Cooper, and Belle Cooper, to a married name of Isabel Kennamer. Why does Cooper constantly rename herself and shift her identity?

To me, this was a strategy that was tied to moments in her life where she was reinventing herself, or starting over. She was someone who had, at a very young age, entered the world of the stage and screen, so taking on roles was a habit she never dropped. It was something she also learned from her mother, to some extent. But she also had really distinct periods in her life: she crossed the Pacific several times, experienced very diverse living conditions, married twice, had affairs, and made big choices about her career. I think renaming herself gave her some modicum of control over conditions that were far beyond her power to manage, and later on, allowed for her to have a clean slate when so much of her past tended to creep up on her unexpectedly due the lingering effects of US imperialism. As a researcher, this made tracking her occasionally tricky: it felt sometimes that these past decisions on her part were also about refusing an easy narration on mine. It forced me to pause and think about what went into her decisions to go by a particular name at different points in her life.

You say that “sex, and lots of it, defined the colonial encounter.” How does focusing on intimate relationships like that of Cooper and MacArthur change the way we view colonial history?

I owe so much of this work to postcolonial feminists who understand the intimate as a site of colonial power, and to work by Philippine Studies and Filipinx diaspora studies scholars in particular who have explored how sex and sexuality operated in the US-Philippine colonial world. My ability to tell Isabel Cooper’s story is built on that foundational research, and my claim is not new. What I try to shed a bit of light on is how the contradictions of American claims to benevolence and discourses of superiority break down when you look at how empire played out through relationships between people. So many of the colonial encounters turned on sex—the archives are filled with both overt confessions, allusions, or outright mentions of sexually transmitted diseases or decisions about the management of sex work. It’s dirty reading at times. I was interested in the messiness of transactions that revolved around sex or were defined through sexual exchange, as well as how the racial carnal desires at the heart of empire shaped relations well after the actual arrangement or encounter occurred. Who had the upper hand in these kinds of arrangements or coercions was not always clear, and that made for a fascinating dynamic to explore. Isabel Cooper operated within this colonial milieu and the ways she understood, navigated, and leveraged it gives us a sense of the push and pull, and the possibilities and limits of human agency and creativity at a more intimate scale of empire.

What can we learn about Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s from Cooper’s story? How does centering the experiences of non-white actors change the way we think about this era and its films?

I don’t know that we learn much more than we already know about how the Hollywood gambit was a story about deep disappointment for non-white actors in the 1940s and 1950s. For all the Anna May Wongs and Philip Ahns who carved out some kind of a career against and alongside the deep racism and sexism that defined Hollywood culture, there were hundreds of aspirants like Isabel Cooper whose willing and strategic self-exoticizations fell far short of any kind of living. It is probably safer to say that Cooper supplemented her income with her film acting roles but supported herself mainly from nightclub work. The casual mention of casting couch culture, or the matter-of-fact ways she tried to position herself for “Oriental” roles or parts for which she could make a racial stretch was evident in the letters that she wrote during that time, as well as in the industry literature itself. In some ways, her experience was more the rule, rather than the exception that gets written about.

How have artists and people of Filipino descent remembered and reimagined Isabel Rosario Cooper? What does her legacy mean to people today?

For most Filipinos, Isabel Cooper first registers as MacArthur’s mistress, with all the titillation and scandal that entails. This is why interest around her endures. In so many ways, this bit of her story feeds into the melodramatic habits that characterizes some of Hollywood/Manila cinema of her time, as well the theater of everyday politics in the Filipino diaspora. She is also known to some extent as a performer on stage and screen. Filipino cinema is just a bit over a century old, so there has been renewed interest in its pioneers—and as a crossover vaudeville star who made a big early impression in the first “modern” Filipino silent films, Isabel Cooper (she went by Elizabeth Cooper in film) is noteworthy.

Over the course of my research and writing, I also encountered visual artists (one of whom I write about), and writers (both fiction and non-fiction) who grapple with the kinds of narratives that adhere to Isabel Cooper. I think she continues to attract this kind of interest because when you dig deep enough, there’s a lot more to her story beyond the superficiality of MacArthur’s mistress that is typically the first draw. I look to these interpretations as retellings that reveal the inadequacy of the “mistress” framework. My purpose in the book is not to supplant or supersede any of these creative encounters with her, but rather to shake up the assumptions that produce a particular narrative account that is a habit of imperial culture, and one that clearly is not enough to contain her.

Read the introduction to Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E21GNZLZ.

 

Guest Post: Max Fox Discusses His Experience Editing Christopher Chitty’s Work for Sexual Hegemony

Today’s post is by Sexual Hegemony: Statecraft, Sodomy, and Capital in the Rise of the World System editor, Max Fox. Fox is also an editor of Pinko magazine, a former editor of the New Inquiry, and translator of The Amphitheater of the Dead. In Sexual Hegemony, Christopher Chitty traces the 500 year history of capitalist sexual relations, showing how sexuality became a crucial dimension of the accumulation of capital and a technique of bourgeois rule. Christopher Chitty (1983–2015) was a PhD candidate in the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

I met Christopher Chitty in 2009, in the context of a student movement against the university as presently constituted. We occupied buildings, issued communiqués and rallied support, statewide at first, then nationally and internationally. I had thought at the start we might not have had a resonant cause, but soon discovered that the financial crisis and ensuing recession ran directly through campuses everywhere. Though supposedly a machine for class stability if not mobility, the university instead was sequestering exotic social villains like credit default swaps and the end of economic growth in our tuition, stabilizing itself by immiserating us. In this, we discovered that the university was not apart from the world but showed us exactly how it worked. 

The university held itself up as a refuge from the market where thought could take place. But the movement against it was my most significant teacher, and Chris personified it for me. And his research into what was revolutionary about the sexual liberation movement addressed another question, one that I hadn’t been able to formulate to myself. I didn’t yet know how to square the obvious shortcomings of the NOH8 era of lobbying for gay rights with the equally plain danger presented by its enemies, but Chris braided the critique. I took our arguments about the bankruptcy of the university seriously, and when I left school and committed myself to building a publishing infrastructure that could support and circulate left thinking outside of an academy that seemed unsupportive at best, it was above all Chris and his work that I had in mind. 

So when he committed suicide, suddenly, in 2015, I almost collapsed. Grieving his death also meant grieving the political coherence that I felt his work had promised me. But it was not just my self concept at risk. His work concerned the meaning of the struggle in which hundreds of thousands had died, and its bearing on the future liberation and survival of everyone else. He had impressed upon me that the losses from the HIV/AIDS epidemic were not just private tragedies but formed a front in the wider war against the global liberation struggle of the 60s and 70s, and so represented a revolutionary legacy which we let fade at our own peril. With these as the stakes, I simply could not let his project end with him. 

So taking on the work felt like no decision at all, though I had never edited such a lengthy text nor did I really see the level of intellectual preparation it would require going in. I had to play a number of different roles — researcher, archivist, fact-checker, copy editor, agent, etc. I drew the line at ghostwriter. Freud mentions in “Mourning and Melancholia” that neurotic identification with the lost object is “the expression of there being something in common, which may signify love.” But however much I loved Chris and however much I wanted to continue living out the aspects we shared in common, this process was a long confrontation with how much he eluded me. 

Chris left numerous versions of the chapters he’d been working on. To adequately present his work I had to dig around in his digital files. I both craved and feared that I would uncover an intact manuscript that neatly presented a polished, compact system. But there were only drafts, notes, incomplete sketches of what even in its unfinished form struck me as monumental. I opened one google doc that promised a full chapter on the American century which stopped loading after the third page. I panicked, afraid that the file had been corrupted somehow, but scrolling to the bottom revealed that he simply hadn’t written any further. It felt like I had lost him all over again. I couldn’t work for the rest of the week. 

Given such a volatile process, it’s not a surprise that it took about five years to publish Sexual Hegemony, though I had had much more optimistic plans. At each step of the way there was a new delicate, unrushable negotiation with his family, the publisher, the collaborators, etc. I was lucky to be graced with a supportive social world. I had generous friends and comrades who offered to let me watch their pet or empty apartment when I had to find a place to focus, and forbearing boyfriends and roommates who put up with what must have been difficult moods for years at a time. I was able to finish it thanks to cheap rent and flexible copywriting gigs I took on to subsidize the work. And the willingness of relative strangers like Christopher Nealon and Courtney Berger to agree to collaborate on such a project with an untested steward like me was an act of faith I can only attribute to the unmistakable power of Chris’s work.

I am grateful for everything that allowed me to share it with readers from a platform that encourages that it will be read. And I am proud that I refused to let mere death prevent his insights from getting out. But how do I register the simultaneous tragedy it represents? I find it very hard not to see him as a casualty of the university which we struggled against together. The fact that I was able to arrange support for my efforts with his work posthumously isn’t a triumph, either, just a story of differently distributed costs. The oblivion still menacing attempts at thinking and writing seriously outside of the academy is a grave political risk as the university now enters an even deeper crisis than the one which brought Chris and I together in 2009. But the fear that gripped me when he died, that he might somehow take the memory of this movement with him, has thankfully abated. Maybe because now the crisis we fought is so endemic as to be unremarkable, our strenuously defended political orientation is more widespread. As I wrestled him these past five years to preserve his legacy in a book, I didn’t anticipate another metamorphosis that continues, though without him. Behind my back grew a movement ready to see itself in him, take his thought, and begin the work of tearing everything down. 

Read the introduction to Sexual Hegemony free online and save 30% on the paperback edition with the coupon code E20HGMNY.

The Most Read Articles of 2020

As 2020 (finally!) comes to a close, we’re reflecting on the most read articles across all our journals. Check out the top 10 articles that made the list, all freely available until the end of January.

Instafame: Luxury Selfies in the Attention Economy” by Alice E. Marwick
Public Culture volume 27, issue 1 (75)

Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin” by Donna Haraway
Environmental Humanities volume 6, issue 1

Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” by Cathy J. Cohen
GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies volume 3, issue 4

Necropolitics” by Achille Mbembe
Public Culture volume 15, issue 1

Radical Care: Survival Strategies for Uncertain Times” by Hi‘ilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart and Tamara Kneese
Social Text volume 38, issue 1 (142)

Solidarity Not Charity: Mutual Aid for Mobilization and Survival” by Dean Spade
Social Text volume 38, issue 1 (142)

Twin-Spirited Woman: Sts’iyóye smestíyexw slhá:li” by Saylesh Wesley
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly volume 1, issue 3

Markup Bodies: Black [Life] Studies and Slavery [Death] Studies at the Digital Crossroads” by Jessica Marie Johnson
Social Text volume 36, issue 4 (137)

The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy” by Allison Carruth
Public Culture volume 26, issue 2 (73)

All Power to All People?: Black LGBTTI2QQ Activism, Remembrance, and Archiving in Toronto” by Syrus Marcus Ware
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly volume 4, issue 2

New Books in December

As we close out 2020, check out our new December titles.

interimperialityWeaving together feminist, decolonial, and dialectical theory, Laura Doyle theorizes the co-emergence of empires, institutions, language regimes, stratified economies, and literary cultures over the longue durée in Inter-imperiality.

Prathama Banerjee moves beyond postcolonial and decolonial critiques of European political philosophy in Elementary Aspects of the Political to rethink modern conceptions of “the political” from the perspective of Indian and Bengali practices and philosophies from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

the colonizing self

Hagar Kotef in The Colonizing Self explores the cultural, political, spatial, and theoretical mechanisms that enable people and nations to settle on the ruins of other people’s homes, showing how settler-colonial violence becomes inseparable from one’s sense of self.

Bakirathi Mani examines the visual and affective relationships between South Asian diasporic viewers, artists, and photographic representations of immigrant subjects in Unseeing Empire, showing how empire continues to haunt South Asian American visual cultures.

Claiming Union WidowhoodBrandi Clay Brimmer analyzes the US pension system from the perspective of poor black women in the period before, during, and after the Civil War in Claiming Union Widowhood; outlining the struggles of mothers, wives, and widows of black Union soldiers to claim rights in the face of unjust legislation.

Weaving together the black radical tradition with Caribbean and Latinx performance, cinema, music, and literature, Ren Ellis Neyra in The Cry of the Senses highlights the ways Latinx and Caribbean sonic practices challenge antiblack, colonial, post-Enlightenment, and humanist epistemologies.

In Utopian Ruins, Jie Li traces the creation, preservation, and elision of memories about China’s Mao era by envisioning a virtual museum that reckons with both its utopian yearnings and cataclysmic reverberations.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Happy 80th Birthday to Esther Newton

Join us today in wishing pioneering anthropologist Esther Newton a happy eightieth birthday. We are proud to have published three titles by Newton and invite you to revisit them in her honor today.

Newton’s editor, Ken Wissoker, shares, “For as long as I can remember, Esther Newton has been a guiding presence in queer anthropology. When I started as an editor, I would sometimes sit with her and Elizabeth Kennedy at talks, watching what she had helped birth in the legendary Mother Camp grow into a major part of the field. Our collaborations on Margaret Mead Made Me Gay and on her memoir My Butch Career are highlights of my time at the Press, books that will carry her work for queer generations to come.

My Butch CareerIn her memoir My Butch Career (2018), Newton tells the compelling, disarming, and at times sexy story of her struggle to write, teach, and find love, all while coming to terms with her identity during a particularly intense time of homophobic persecution in the twentieth century. Despite having written the now-classic text Mother Camp (1972), she was denied tenure twice. But by age forty, where My Butch Career‘s narrative ends, she began to achieve personal and scholarly stability in the company of the first politicized generation of out lesbian and gay scholars with whom she helped create gender and sexuality studies.

978-0-8223-2612-0_prWhile My Butch Career mingles personal reflection on her upbringing, her parents, and her love affairs with her struggle to be recognized professionally, Margaret Mead Made Me Gay (2000) is more of an intellectual memoir that chronicles the development of her ideas from the excitement of early feminism in the 1960s to friendly critiques of queer theory in the 1990s.

978-0-8223-5553-3_prIn 2014, we brought Newton’s book Cherry Grove, Fire Island, originally published in in 1993, back into print in a teachable paperback edition. The book is a cultural history of the gay and lesbian vacation town near New York City, where she herself vacationed for many years. Her ethnography was deeply personal. In an interview with Cultural Anthropology, she recounts, “I gave a book party in the Grove to sell books, but also to do a slideshow, to give something back to the community. What people really were interested in, though, was to go to the index and look for their own names.”

A movie about Newton is in the works. One scene was filmed at the Duke University Press booth at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, where we launched My Butch Career. We can’t wait to see it!

These days Esther Newton is retired and splits her time between Michigan, where she was previously a professor of American Culture and Women’s and Gender Studies, and Florida. She enjoys spending time with family and doing agility training with her dogs. When interviewed for Queer Forty a few years ago, she said, “The second half of life does hold pleasures. We are not as hot as we once were, but we can know the pleasures of long term life partner relationships and friendships. . . . Some of the uncertainty and anxiety of the earlier years do abate. And I have found that there is such a thing as wisdom.”

Esther Newton on motorcycle

Esther Newton, 1967. Photograph by Nancy Rae Smith.

Thank you, Esther, for all the wisdom you have shared through your scholarship, and Happy Birthday!

New Titles in Women’s Studies

Every year we look forward to meeting authors in person at the NWSA Annual Meeting, and we are sad to be missing out on that this year. We know that many of you look forward to stocking up on new books at special discounts at our conferences, so we are pleased to extend a 50% discount on all in-stock books and journal issues with coupon code NWSA20 until November 23, 2020.

View our Women’s Studies catalog below for a complete list of all our newest titles in women, gender, and sexuality studies and across disciplines. You can also explore all of our books and journals in the field on dukeupress.edu. And although you cannot join us in the booth this year, you can listen to a number of our authors discuss their books through our In Conversation series on our YouTube channel.

Editor Elizabeth Ault has a message for everyone who would have attended NWSA this year, with her recommendations of the latest books in women, gender, and sexuality studies.

Editor Elizabeth Ault

Dear NWSA,

I was so looking forward to gathering with you all in the greatest city in the world, Minneapolis, this fall, but it’s not to be. I’m sending solidarity to all the folks who have been doing incredible organizing work there for years before the murder of George Floyd (#justiceforfonglee, #justiceforjamarclarke, #ceceisfree, #cecetaughtme #justiceforphilandocastile) and continue to provide networks of care and support every dang day. 

I am so excited to be in conversation with y’all about the feminist work in Black studies, disability studies, geography, trans studies, queer theory, history, and more that has its home at NWSA. Please sign up for office hours to discuss your work with me here

In the meantime, I know many of you are shopping the sale. Here are some crucial feminist texts that would never have made it to 50% off day in the booth–and you can get them shipped directly to you for 50% off from our website!!!  You’ll see important strands of Black feminist thought and queer theory throughout these books, so I’ve tried to organize them more by method and topic to help you find what you’re looking for. 

I’m writing this in late October and you’ll be reading it on the other side of whatever happens on November 3. Regardless, I’m confident these books have important wisdom to offer us as we move through this extraordinarily painful year, fortified by the work of organizers in Minneapolis and around the world, and by these thinkers and writers. They’re all helping us to imagine the world we want to live in and work to make it possible.

Jih-Fei Cheng, Alex Juhasz, and Nishant Shahani’s AIDS and the Distribution of Crises comes directly out of that scholarly/activist nexus, bringing together insights from a range of fields and positions about the ongoing viral crises that COVID-19 cratered into this winter. Sima Shakhsari’s book The Politics of Rightful Killing looks at transnational online networks of writers and activists to consider how Iranians in the diaspora and Iran itself thought about reconstituting democracy. Jillian Hernandez’s Aesthetics of Excess is right there too, drawing on her work with Black and Latina girls in Women on The Rise in Miami.

Writing in Space

Alongside the amazing art Jillian and her interlocutors at WOTR created, much of which is included in full color in the book, we have some really amazing feminist art books out right now. Lorraine O’Grady’s work was at the center of the mind-blowing, pathbreaking We Wanted a Revolution show at the Brooklyn Museum a few years back, and now she has her own solo show there, accompanied by this new book of her writings about art practice and her vision for a Black feminist art world, Writing in Space. Maya Stovall has been performing and showing Liquor Store Theatre, a Detroit-based art and performance project for several years; her book by the same name considers the project as an ethnographic one reimagining what dispossessed neighborhoods in Detroit might still play host to. Bakirathi Mani’s new book, Unseeing Empire, centers work by South Asian women artists Annu Matthew, Seher Shah, and Gauri Gill to consider how empire continues to haunt South Asian desires for representation and representability.

978-1-4780-0663-3But it’s not just visual arts that are important – feminist approaches to music also play a big role on this list, with books by Maureen Mahon, Shana Redmond, Ren Ellis Neyra, and Xavier Livermon centering the sonic.

And Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Dub is a work of art–no less than an oracle for our times. 

Another oracular work newly available is Jose Munoz’s posthumous Sense of Brown. This book is deep and lasting and Jose’s influence and importance is so clear and undeniable. More theoretical work on this list alongside Jose’s is Cressida Heyes’s book Anaesthetics of Existence, which is really speaking to me as this year continues to take and take. It’s a feminist phenomenology for this moment. Other books theorizing embodiment here include Neetu Khanna’s Visceral Logics of Decolonization, and Naked Agency, in which author Naminata Diabate considers women’s naked protests across Africa and the diaspora as a weighty, powerful form of vulnerable resistance.

naked agency

Diabate’s work is embedded in a long history of such protests–new feminist history work from Brandi Brimmer, Francoise Verges, and Lynn Thomas provides important tools for understanding how we got here, and how things could be different. 

And feminist ethnography has a strong presence on this list too, with nuanced and sensitive accounts of relationality and care in everyday life from Abigail Dumes, Saiba Varma, and Marilyn Strathern

information activism
Click cover image for In Conversation talk with McKinney!

Relations, the topic of Strathern’s capacious theorization, are also at the foundation of Brigitte Fielder’s rethinking of kinship and race. Her book is part of a strong list in queer and feminist cultural and literary studies that includes new books from Jack Halberstam (important queer theory, yes, but also important Kate Bush content!), Bo Ruberg (whose new book series is accepting proposals), Gillian Harkins (why are you still watching To Catch a Predator? I mean, you won’t after reading this book), Cait McKinney (the book we fondly refer to as “how lesbians invented the internet”), Erica Fretwell (She’ll make you care about The Yellow Wallpaper again, through centering the role of SMELL of all things), and Sam Pinto (the definitive take on Sarah Baartman and Sally Hemings that you have been waiting for!!).

That’s a lot of books! There’s so much richness and brilliance here. I’m excited to hear what you think about these books and how they’re informing your own work on twitter and in my office hours. In the meantime, keep well.

If you were hoping to connect with Elizabeth Ault or another of our editors about your book project at NWSA, please reach out to them by email. See our editors’ specialties and contact information here and our online submissions guidelines here.

And don’t forget about our great journals in gender studies, like Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism; the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies; Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies; differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies; GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, and TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. If you don’t have access through your library, ask them to subscribe, pick up a personal subscription, or add a special issue to your sale order!

New Books in November

November is here, and even though we may have the US election and the end of the semester on our minds, there are still new books to celebrate. Check out our November releases. They should all be out before the end of our 50% off sale on November 23, so be sure to check the website frequently. Use coupon code FALL2020 to save.

AnimaliaAnimalia: An Anti-Imperial Bestiary for Our Times is a unique new collection edited by Antoinette Burton and Renisa Mawani. The contributors analyze twenty-six animals—domestic, feral, predatory, and mythical—whose relationship to imperial authorities and settler colonists reveals how the presumed racial supremacy of Europeans underwrote the history of Western imperialism.

In Aesthetics of Excess: The Art and Politics of Black and Latina Embodiment, Jillian Hernandez examines how cultural discourses of aesthetic value racialize the bodies of women and girls of color by Analyzing the personal clothing, makeup, and hairstyles of working-class Black and Latina girls.

Liquor Store TheatreIn Liquor Store Theatre, artist and anthropologist Maya Stovall uses her Liquor Store Theatre conceptual art project—in which she danced near her Detroit neighborhood’s liquor stores as a way to start conversations with her neighbors—as a point of departure for understanding everyday life in Detroit and the possibilities for ethnographic research, art, and knowledge creation.

Mimi Sheller’s Island Futures: Caribbean Survival in the Anthropocene delves into the ecological crises and reconstruction challenges affecting the entire Caribbean region, showing how vulnerability to ecological collapse and the quest for a “just recovery” in the Caribbean emerge from specific transnational political, economic, and cultural dynamics.

Militarized Global ApartheidCatherine Besteman offers a sweeping theorization of the ways in which countries from the global North are reproducing South Africa’s apartheid system on a worldwide scale to control the mobility and labor of people from the global South in her new book Militarized Global Apartheid.

In Biopolitics of the More-Than-Human: Forensic Ecologies of Violence, Joseph Pugliese examines the concept of the biopolitical through a nonanthropocentric lens, arguing that more-than-human entities—from soil and orchards to animals and water—are actors and agents in their own right with legitimate claims to justice.

For a Pragmatics of the UselessFor a Pragmatics of the Useless by Erin Manning draws on the radical black tradition, process philosophy, and Felix Guattari’s schizoanalysis to explore the links between neurotypicality, whiteness, and black life.

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Courtney Berger’s Sale Recommendations

Fall-sale-2020-BlogOur Fall Sale continues through November 23. Are you still thinking about what to buy? Executive Editor Courtney Berger shares her recomendations today. 

CBerger_webAs always, there’s a super-abundance of exciting new books to recommend; it’s always a struggle to pick just a few. But, here are some recent titles that I’m excited about.

You may already have José Esteban Muñoz’s The Sense of Brown in your shopping cart. (And, if you don’t, you probably should.) Along with it, grab a copy of Race and Performance After Repetition, which features performance studies scholarship inspired and influenced by Muñoz’s work. Volume editors Soyica Diggs Colbert, Douglas A. Jones, and Shane Vogel have brought together an impressive set of contributors to focus on the relationship between race and temporality in performance, pushing past the trope of “repetition” to consider pauses, rests, gaps, afterlives, and other forms of temporal interruption.

Infamous BodiesAnother one of my top picks: Samantha Pinto’s Infamous Bodies: Early Black Women’s Celebrity and the Afterlives of Rights. Focusing on five iconic Black women from the 18th and 19th centuries–Phyllis Wheatley, Sally Hemings, Sarah Baartman, Mary Seacole, and Sarah Forbes Bonetta—Pinto shows how Black women’s public presence was key to the establishment of many of the tenets of Western liberalism (freedom, rights, consent, agency). Through her provocative and engaging reading of these women’s lives and continued legacies, Pinto also reveals how the forms of pleasure, risk, violence, desire, and ambition that these women experienced can offer powerful models of political embodiment and vulnerability that remain relevant today.

animal-trafficPerhaps you got sucked into Tiger King this spring? Then take a look at Rosemary-Claire Collard’s Animal Traffic: Lively Capital in the Global Exotic Pet Trade, which delves into the multi-billion dollar world of the exotic pet trade. Following the commodity chain from the capture of parrots in Central America to the sale of monkeys at auctions in Idaho and Alabama to attempts to rehabilitate and reintroduce animals to the wild, Collard turns the notion of the lively commodity on its head, showing us how animals come to seem as though they don’t have their own lives apart from their connection to human economic and social structures. A perfect book for undergraduate courses.

978-1-4780-0828-6I can’t stop talking about Cait McKinney’s Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies. Focusing on the community-oriented information networks founded by lesbian feminists in the 1970s, McKinney digs into the unglamorous and behind-the-scenes labor that goes into political activism, from entering information into a database to keeping call logs at a lesbian hotline. McKinney tells the stories of these information activists, highlighting their resourcefulness and their willingness to learn and implement new media technologies in ways that comported with a feminist commitment to craft, collectively organized work, and expediency. McKinney also attends to the trans-exclusionary attitudes that informed many of these projects and the ongoing challenges of addressing histories exclusion. This is a book for queer activists, librarians, indexers, technology geeks, lovers of the card catalog, archivists, media studies scholars, and everyone in between. (You can also check out my interview with Cait here.)

The Occupied ClinicIf you’re looking for a beautifully written ethnography to teach in the spring (or just to inspire your own writing), you should get a copy of Saiba Varma’s The Occupied Clinic: Militarism and Care in Kashmir. Varma recounts the complexities of mental health and humanitarian care in Indian-occupied Kashmir, site of the longest running military conflict in the world.  Through the stories of patients, clinicians, and NGO workers, Varma shows us the subtle, indirect, and unintentional ways that militarism and the logic of emergency suffuse clinical and humanitarian care practices, from the medical use of electroshock therapy to the use of clinics as sites of counterinsurgency interrogation. Varma’s writing is both gripping and poetic.

Resource RadicalsAnd, finally, for those of you who are interested in the relationship between radical politics and environmentalism, I recommend Thea Riofrancos’ Resource Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador. Riofrancos traces the tensions and conflicts that have arisen within the left in Ecuador over resource extraction, and she brings to light the forms of social resistance that have arisen in the wake of widespread dispossession and capitalist expansion.  Riofrancos’s book is the latest installment in the Radical Américas series.

Use coupon code FALL2020 to save 50% on all of these titles and any other in-stock book and journal issues. This afternoon we’ll share editor Elizabeth Ault’s recommendations.

New Books in October

As the days cool and leaves turn so should your new book pages! This month our new book titles will go great with your favorite hot drink.

sentient fleshExamining black performance practices that critique Western humanism, R. A. Judy offers an extended meditation on questions of blackness, the human, epistemology, and the historical ways in which the black being is understood in Sentient Flesh.

In Sensory Experiments, Erica Fretwell examines how psychophysics—a nineteenth-century scientific movement originating in Germany dedicated to the empirical study of sensory experience—became central to the process of creating human difference along the lines of race, gender, and ability in nineteenth-century America.

Brigitte Fielder presents an alternative theory of how race is constructed in Relative Races with readings of nineteenth-century personal narratives, novels, plays, stories, poems, and images to illustrate how interracial kinship follows non-heteronormative, non-biological, and non-patrilineal models of inheritance in nineteenth-century literary culture.

The Sense of Brown, which he was completing at the time of his death, is José Esteban Muñoz’s treatise on brownness and being as well as his most direct address to queer Latinx studies. Joshua Chambers-Letson and Tavia Nyong′o have edited the book and written an introduction.The Sense of Brown

Lyle Fearnley situates the production of ecological facts about the likely epicenter of viral pandemics inside the shifting cultural landscapes of agrarian change and the geopolitics of global health in the timely new book Virulent Zones.

Amalia Leguizamón reveals how the Argentine state, agribusiness, and their allies in the media and sciences deploy narratives of economic redistribution, scientific expertise, and national identity as a way to gain the public’s consent to grow genetically modified soybeans despite the massive environmental and social costs in Seeds of Power.

Drawing on ethnographic research with policy makers, politicians, activists, scholars, and the public in Manchester, England, Hannah Knox in Thinking Like a Climate confronts the challenges climate change poses to knowledge production and modern politics.

Wild Things with border In Wild Things Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which the wild—a space located beyond normative borders of sexuality—offers sources of opposition to knowing and being that transgress Euro-American notions of the modern subject.

Saiba Varma in The Occupied Clinic, explores spaces of military and humanitarian care in Indian-controlled Kashmir—the world’s most militarized place—to examine the psychic, ontological, and political entanglements between medicine and violence.

With Cowards Don′t Make History, Joanne Rappaport examines the work of a group of Colombian social scientists led by Orlando Fals Borda, who in the 1970s developed a model of “participatory action research” in which they embedded themselves into local communities to use their research in the service of social and political organizing.

Vanessa Freije explores the causes and consequences of political scandals in Mexico from the 1960s through the 1980s in Citizens of Scandal, showing how Mexico City reporters began to denounce government corruption during this period in ways that defined the Mexican public sphere in the late twentieth century .

In Building Socialism, Christina Schwenkel analyzes the collaboration between East German and Vietnamese architects and urban planners as they attempted to transform the bombed-out industrial city of Vinh into a model socialist city.

Political theorist and anticapitalist activist Sabu Kohso uses the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster to illuminate the relationship between nuclear power, capitalism, and the nation-state in Radiation and Revolution, showing how nuclear power has become the organizing principle of the global order.

blackdiamondqueens In Black Diamond Queens Maureen Mahon documents the major contributions African American women vocalists such as Big Mama Thornton, Betty Davis, Tina Turner, and Merry Clayton have made to rock and roll throughout its history.

Ethiraj Gabriel Dattatreyan in The Globally Familiar examines how the young men of Delhi’s hip hop scene construct themselves on- and off-line and how digital platforms offer these young men the means to reimagine themselves and their city through hip hop.

In essays addressing topics ranging from cinema, feminism, and art to hip hop, urban slums, and digital technology, Sujatha Fernandes in The Cuban Hustle explores the multitudinous ways ordinary Cubans have sought to hustle, survive, and create expressive cultures in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

In Genetic Afterlives, Noah Tamarkin illustrates how Lemba people in South Africa give their own meanings to the results of DNA tests that substantiated their ancestral connections to Jews and employ them to manage competing claims of Jewish ethnic and religious identity, African indigeneity, and South African citizenship.

Shane Denson examines the ways in which computer-generated digital images displace and transform the traditional spatial and temporal relationships that viewers had with conventional analog forms of cinema in Discorrelated Images.

Media Primitivism by Delinda Collier finds alternative concepts of mediation in African art by closely engaging with electricity-based works since 1944.

writing in spaceWriting in Space, 1973-2019 gathers the writings of conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady as edited by Aruna D’Souza, including artist statements, scripts, magazine articles, critical essays on art and culture, and interviews.

Acknowledging the difficulty for artists in the twenty-first century to effectively critique systems of power, in The Play in the System Anna Watkins Fisher theorizes parasitism—a form of resistance in which artists comply with dominant structures as a tool for practicing resistance from within.

Filled with advice from over fifty contributors, this completely revised and expanded edition of our popular book The Academic’s Handbook guides academics at every career stage, whether they are first entering the job market or negotiating post-tenure challenges of accepting leadership and administrative roles. The volume is edited by Lori A. Flores and Jocelyn H. Olcott.

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