Jennifer Baumgardner’s new ‘LIBER’ journal bridges women’s history and contemporary feminism

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Jennifer Baumgardner is a writer, activist, filmmaker, speaker, and former editor of Millisecond. Today, she is the editor-in-chief of the women’s book review and editor of Dottir, an independent feminist press. (Courtesy of jennifer baumgardner)

Jennifer Baumgardner, founder and editor of LIBER: A feminist review, believes that a literary magazine can be a place where women’s history intersects with today’s most pressing feminist debates. The bimonthly print publication, also available online, calls this ambitious mission a way to engage with “the web of perspectives, priorities, and entry points” of contemporary feminist theory and practice.

Visually stunning, the magazine offers book reviews, new fiction, poetry, and long essays to subscribers. The content encompasses the personal and the political. Poetry editor Katha Pollitt selects new works by famous and emerging poets.

Although the magazine is new (its first issue came out in early 2022), it has already attracted contributions from notable writers like Catharine Stimpson, Chris Kraus, Alicia Ostriker, Laurie Stone, and Michelle Tea.

Baumgardner, writer and documentarian, publishes BAST through her feminist imprint press daughter. Formerly editor of The Women’s Review of Books, and director of La Prensa Feminista (and former editor of Millisecond.!), is enthusiastic but realistic about the challenges of creating and promoting a publication dedicated to books, language, popular culture, and progressive social change.

Baumgardner and senior editor Charis Caputo sat down with Millisecond. contributor Eleanor J. Bader in late summer to discuss BAST—which means ‘book’ and ‘free’ in Latin— and its objectives for the Magazine.

Jennifer Baumgardner's new 'LIBER' journal bridges women's history and contemporary feminism %E2%80%98Liber Marries Womens History and Contemporary Feminism
Jennifer Baumgardner's new 'LIBER' journal bridges women's history and contemporary feminism

Eleanor J Bader: What was the impetus to start BAST?

Jennifer Baumgardner: I edited Women’s Review of Books from 2018 to 2022, and Charis and Katha worked with me for most of that time. WRB was founded and housed in the Wellesley Centers for Women, but in the last 15 years or so, it was owned by Old City Publishing, basically two gentlemen in Philadelphia who own a bunch of magazines, including American Poetry Review and Women’s Art Journal. They were charming and never interfered editorially, but they controlled the design and therefore the aesthetic.

When Charis and I decided it was time to leave WRB, we couldn’t let go of the idea of ​​starting our own publication and focusing on the parts of the job we loved, including design. We believed there was a need for more feminist writing, especially in print that you can get your hands on.

We put sensors in our circles to see what people thought of the idea. There was a lot of enthusiasm. Of the hundred or so writers we initially contacted, most said they would subscribe to it, write for it, or both. That gave us the push to create BAST.

The history of women is being lost. Think of the dozens and dozens of feminist and lesbian feminist publications from the 1970s and 1980s whose output is not archived, cataloged, or even part of an online network for researchers or readers. We would like to help correct this omission.

jennifer baumgardner

Bader: Why did you decide to merge archival materials and historical reflections together with newly written pieces?

baumgardner: The history of women tends to be lost and rediscovered years later. These rediscoveries are important, but sometimes when history is recovered and circulated, it becomes watered down, incomplete, oversimplified, or blurred, like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photo. But historical documents or first-person accounts, complicated as they are, are often fascinating and enlightening.

We want BAST having an archival element, a way for feminists to engage with narratives that aren’t romanticized or turned into something they weren’t. Some of the recent writing and other media about the Jane Collective in pre-Roe Chicago exemplify these distortions.

Right now, the history of women is being lost. Think of the dozens and dozens of feminist and lesbian feminist publications from the 1970s and 1980s whose output is not archived, cataloged, or even part of an online network for researchers or readers. We would like to help correct this omission. We’re trying to be another brick in the building of feminist history and we’d love to serve as a kind of archival hub.

Bader: Do you request contributions for the Magazine?

Baumgardner: We make. We have five or six people whose work we love, who we know we can count on, and who contribute to the most problems, like McKenzie Wark, Noelle McManus, Kathleen Rooney…and Charis! We also get a lot of launches over the transom.

Also, there is serendipity. For example, our proofreader, Larissa Melo Pienkowski, is also a literary agent. She introduced us to one of her authors, a Brazilian poet named Aline Mello. Katha accepted new poems from Aline, and in a later conversation we recognized that Aline had a great story to tell about what it’s like to be an undocumented MFA student after DACA. Aline wrote a wonderful essay about this in the fall issue of BAST.

Sometimes, like with Aline, serendipity works. Sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes the submitted work requires a lot of surgery, but I like to be open-minded about new writers. It’s worth the risk.

Charis Caputo: We want an interesting mix of writers. I recently graduated from NYU’s MFA program in creative writing, so I’m engaged with a lot of younger writers.

Jennifer has a large cohort of her peers, as well as second-wave-era writers she worked with at the WRB, Feminist Press, and Millisecond.—BAST is committed to including different generations of feminists.

Bader: BAST includes many non-binary and trans writers as a matter of course. Is this intentional?

Baumgardner: Yes. People are, of course, biological creatures, but we don’t use the words “feminist” or “woman” in a way that reduces these categories to a few body parts. This allows us to use our platform to look at the socializing, deep-seated misogyny that surrounds all things feminine. We refuse to get into the old and obvious debate about who is a woman or generalizations about the female experience. Essentialist gender arguments get a lot of ground, in spaces identified as feminist and in, like, Tucker Carlson. We do not want or need to repeat them.

Instead, we publish work that explores the philosophical and political opportunity that non-binary or trans perspectives offer to feminist theory.

caputo: An implicit position of BAST it is that we do not believe that essentialism is valid. There are no ironclad definitions of what it means to be a man, a woman, or a person of another gender.

Bader: How have readers responded to the magazine so far?

BaumgardneA: Some of the pieces we’ve published have been polarizing, which opens up the debate. We are happy about this. In general, however, the magazine has been very well received and comments have ranged from positive to enthusiastic. People seem happy to read it. It’s visually readable, which helps!

Still, we have to scale if BAST it will be sustainable. We now have a distributor and several large independent bookstores across the country stock the magazine (such as Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, Powell’s in Portland, and Skylight in Los Angeles).

Whether we can grow to where it needs to be is an open question. We pay our writers, artists, and staff, except me and Katha, so we must have enough subscribers, both individual and institutional, to allow the magazine to pay for itself. If this does not happen, we will have to face the fact that this experiment was not successful. For now, however, we are happy to create a properly designed feminist print publication.

caputo: From the beginning, we knew we wanted to include many different perspectives and be a great feminist tent for as many people as possible. This is both an opportunity and a challenge.

Feminism has somehow gone mainstream. Certainly, I grew up taking it for granted. Then when I started working with Jennifer, I realized that she didn’t have a lot of knowledge, especially about the second wave. It’s important to me to bring my generation (I’m 32) into the conversation. This is a paper that BAST can play, helping unite generations. To do this, people need to know BAST it exists, so we have to find new and better ways to promote it.

Bader: I don’t envy you. These are difficult times, between COVID and a seemingly widespread economic downturn. Do you have a strategy to make this move forward?

Baumgardner: First, Charis is correct that feminism has gone mainstream to some degree. However, people generally come to identify as feminists through personal experience. The element of something happening to you and connecting that experience to previous generations of feminists gives feminism its glue. Yes BAST can provide a link that avoids the superficial stuff and invites newer feminists in for a deeper dive, we will be making a contribution and providing an ideological foothold for understanding the world.

I think BAST Like a collage, a mix of new ideas, old ideas, academic theories, and commentary on novels, history, memoirs, and art. Yes BAST As it unfolds, our pages will include more reported stories, such as a roundup of the constellation of feminist materials that were created by the now-defunct women’s presses or an oral history of early Second Wave groups like the Furies.

We have so many ideas and are excited to expand our reach and readership. This fall we will hold a series of face-to-face events that we hope will attract new readers, new writers, institutional subscriptions and maybe a few ad dollars. Time will tell.

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American democracy is at a dangerous tipping point: from the disappearance of the right to abortion to the lack of pay equity and parental leave, the skyrocketing maternal mortality and attacks on trans health. If left unchecked, these crises will lead to further gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Millisecond. she has been forging feminist journalism: reporting, rising up, and telling the truth from the front lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most affected. With all that is at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support for Millisecond. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. for as little as $5 each monthyou will receive the print magazine along with our email newsletters, action alerts and invitations to Millisecond. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity..

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