HER KIND Interview
Designed this spring by Cate Marvin, and edited by Rosebud Ben-Oni and Arisa White, HER KIND was created when VIDA, an organization devoted to tracking and increasing women’s participation in today’s literary landscape, recognized the need for writers to talk about their experiences writing within a culture that gives more weight to male voices. As Marvin, one of VIDA’s founders puts it, “We believe that any writer concerned about the vitality of literature as it’s being produced today inherently understands how exciting it is to come into contact with under-recognized voices.” What are the joys and struggles of creating this space now? This June, Tess Taylor, writing for Harriet, took some time to talk to Marvin, Ben-Oni and White about their venture so far.
HARRIET: In your mission statement, you affirm HER KIND’s commitment to being “funny, thorny, contemplative, and savvy” and to exploring the diversity of women’s voices today. As you think about this mission are there particular points of discussion you’re aware of? Camps or perspectives you feel particularly called to attend to? Or is your curatorial sense more organized on a case-by-case basis?
Rosebud Ben-Oni: I’m interested in perspectives I come across too rarely. For me, it’s about invention. I’m not looking for voices that serve our mission, but rather for us to serve as a platform for a multitude of discoveries. I’m interested in writers who provoke new conversations.
When I hear “diversity,” I reroute the word in my head and think “necessity.” As a female writer speaking from mixed roots (Hispanic and Middle Eastern), it’s never been easy to define myself by a sole category. Culture is messy, fluid, and constantly in flux; I’m intrigued by writers who not only write from within their culture, but spark whole new worlds writing into other cultures, provoking both insurrections and moments of clarity into existence. There are many voices absent at the so-called beginning of “American” literature. Once, in teaching a particular course at a college, I was told that my syllabus, though diverse, had too many “recent” and “specific” offerings to assist students in understanding the “American experience.”
But “history” is too rarely a plural word, and the U.S. is a very young country. I’m interested in where it is going. I believe the texts I taught—which included Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid and The Hmong American Writers’ Circle How Do I Begin?—represent the country’s futures. I hope I never stop discovering the many missing voices of women who have built and continue to build the world reflected in literature.
Cate Marvin: While I’ve overseen the design of the HER KIND site, its editorial content is entirely the brain-child of Arisa and Rosebud. They have both introduced me to many writers with whom I’d not been previously familiar. This sort of revelation is typical of VIDA projects. It’s my personal hope that the forum created by HER KIND will help us all educate ourselves about women’s writing—specifically and broadly, across barriers imposed by genre, regional, ethnic and aesthetic affiliations, and generational barriers. Women writers of all types face similar difficulties when it comes to the reception of their work. One of VIDA’s goals is to create larger readership amongst ourselves that will serve, inform, and inspire us all.
Arisa White: I took on HER KIND to meet other smart and wonderful writers who were interested in making creative change, to imagine new ways to forge thriving literary communities for women. I’m open to seeing what comes our way. I look for voices and writing that pull back the layers. In many ways, Rosebud and I are saying the same thing. One of the joys in working with her is that despite having not met Rosebud in person (our work together has been conducted via email and phone conversations), we’re often on the same page. This sense of simpatico is nice—we share a similar brain.
Read the rest here: HER KIND Interview : Harriet Staff : Harriet the Blog : The Poetry Foundation.