Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press was the first publishing house in North America devoted exclusively to publishing works by not only women of color but also lesbian women of color.

Summary of Event

By the late 1970’s, the schisms among social justice movements were becoming increasingly apparent. Sexism Sexism;in Civil Rights movement[Civil Rights movement] in the antiracism movement and racism Racism;in women’s movement[womens movement] in the women’s movement required that many women of color make painful choices about where to place their allegiances. Homophobia in both realms, however, kept lesbians unwilling to renounce the critical importance of their sexual identity from making a choice. [kw]Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Is Founded (Oct., 1981) [kw]Women of Color Press Is Founded, Kitchen Table: (Oct., 1981) [kw]Color Press Is Founded, Kitchen Table: Women of (Oct., 1981) Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press[Kitchen Table Women of Color Press] Women of Color Press, Kitchen Table: African Americans;and publishing[publishing] Publishing;Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press[Kitchen Table Women of Color Press] [c]Publications;Oct., 1981: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Is Founded[1480] [c]Literature;Oct., 1981: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Is Founded[1480] [c]Publications;Oct., 1981: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Is Founded[1480] [c]Race and ethnicity;Oct., 1981: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Is Founded[1480] [c]Feminism;Oct., 1981: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Is Founded[1480] Smith, Barbara Lorde, Audre Moraga, Cherríe

From this void a new political movement emerged. Lesbians of color would come together to share the stories of their lives—those experiences discussed traditionally around the kitchen table—and apply these common stories to other social movements. Denouncing a single-issue approach, the women came to understand how oppressions intersect and to understand the significance and relevance of multiple identities.

Writing was a primary tool for articulating this critique of current social norms and for promoting a new consciousness of the lived reality of women and lesbians of color. Writers Barbara Smith and Audre Lorde each explored this concept and helped shape the Combahee River Collective’s Combahee River Collective “A Black Feminist Statement” (1980), "Black Feminist Statement, A" (Combahee River Collective)[Black Feminist Statement] which critiqued the status quo. The statement by the collective, a group made up of lesbian-feminist African American women that formed in 1974, has become a lesbian and feminist manifesto and is widely read in women’s studies and lesbian and gay studies courses.

By 1980, Lorde and Smith thought about forming a publishing house to address the dearth of publishing options available to women of color. With Cherríe Moraga and others, they formed the Kitchen Table Collective and announced the founding of the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press at the Women in Print conference in 1981. Kitchen Table’s mission was to commit to publishing the writing of Third World women across race, culture, sexuality, and class in order to promote the freedom of all people.

Kitchen Table first distributed and reprinted Cheryl Clarke’s self-published poetry collection, Narratives: Poems in the Tradition of Black Women (1983), Narratives: Poems in the Tradition of Black Women (Clarke) and published Cuentos: Stories by Latinas (1983), Cuentos: Stories by Latinas (Gómez, Moraga, and Romo-Carmona, eds.)[Cuentos Stories] edited by Alma Gómez, Cherríe Moraga, and Mariana Romo-Carmona. They also distributed books published by feminist presses, including a now-classic anthology called This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981), This Bridge Called My Back (Moraga and Anzalduá, eds.) edited by Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. Published by Persephone Press, This Bridge Called My Back consisted of writing by black, Native American, Asian American, and Latina women and was the first published anthology devoted to the works of women of color. When Persephone closed its doors in 1983, just weeks before completing an anthology edited by Smith (Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology), Home Girls (Smith, ed.) Kitchen Table took over, published Home Girls, and issued a second edition of This Bridge Called My Back.

Kitchen Table published for sixteen years, producing titles such as A Comrade Is as Precious as a Rice Seedling (Mila D. Aguilar, 1987), Healing Heart: Poems, 1973-1988 (Gloria T. Hull, 1989), and Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories (Hisaye Yamamoto, 1988). The rights to Seventeen Syllables eventually were purchased by Quality Paperback Book Club, thus becoming the first book by a lesbian-feminist press to be sold to a major publisher of book-club books. Kitchen Table also created the Freedom Organizing series, a series of short, affordable pamphlets designed to make key political statements and perspectives more widely available. Titles in the series include The Combahee River Collective Statement (Combahee River Collective, 1985) and I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities (Audre Lorde, 1986).

Kitchen Table’s community service has included sending free books to people in prison and in psychiatric institutions, and to people with HIV-AIDS. It distributed its titles at conferences, book readings by people of color, and other venues traditionally overlooked by the women’s movement. Books by Kitchen Table were intended to be read by women and men of all races and sexualities so that active readers could confront and thus enrich their communities by telling about what they read.

Kitchen Table operated for thirteen years without a stable operating budget or a salaried managing editor. Between 1981 and 1995, Barbara Smith was the constant presence that kept the press going, although the press did not support her financially. In 1994, the Kitchen Table advisory board joined with the Union Institute’s Center for Women to form what was called a Transition Coalition Transition Coalition to promote better financial stability for the press. The first managing director was hired that year and Smith left the press in 1995 to pursue her own writing full time.

Despite a successful grant-writing campaign between 1994 and 1996, the press closed in 1997. This closing reflected a national trend, spurred by the emergence of megastores such as Barnes and Noble and Borders and online booksellers such as Amazon.com, during which 35 percent of the feminist presses folded between 1997 and 2000.

Significance

Kitchen Table’s most concrete legacy is the mainstreaming of the writing, perspectives, and experiences of women of color. Both Home Girls and This Bridge Called My Back have become part of the standard curriculum in many college and university courses, and both texts were picked up by other presses when Kitchen Table closed. A new edition of Home Girls was published in 2000 by Rutgers University Press and a third edition of This Bridge Called My Back was published in 2002 by Third Woman Press.

Of central significance to this legacy is the lesbian leadership at Kitchen Table, a leadership that infused coalition politics with much of its strength. Through the wisdom of lives lived under multiple forms of oppression, and a fierce allegiance to all aspects of their identity, the women of Kitchen Table demonstrated that social change can and must be comprehensive. Furthermore, lesbians willing to articulate a need for men in their political and personal lives provided a bridge into the complex challenges and powerful transformations of this political approach.

Within feminism, this multicultural, multi-issue approach is sometimes referred to as third wave feminism. Third wave feminism, emergence of This terminology documents the influence of Kitchen Table. “The third wave” has been used as part of the title of several recent anthologies addressing the intersections of feminism and racism. Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press[Kitchen Table Women of Color Press] Women of Color Press, Kitchen Table: African Americans;and publishing[publishing] Publishing;Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press[Kitchen Table Women of Color Press]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Moraga, Cherríe L., and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. 3d ed. Berkeley, Calif.: Third Woman Press, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Short, Kayann. “Coming to the Table: The Differential Politics of This Bridge Called My Back.” Genders 19 (1994).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Barbara. The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______, ed. Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. New ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2000.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thompson, Becky. “Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism.” Feminist Studies 28, no. 2 (2002).

1970: Amazon Bookstore Opens as First Feminist-Lesbian Book Shop

1973: Naiad Press Is Founded

April, 1977: Combahee River Collective Issues “A Black Feminist Statement”

1980: Alyson Begins Publishing Gay and Lesbian Books

1981: This Bridge Called My Back Is Published

1982: Lorde’s Autobiography Zami Is Published

September, 1983: First National Lesbians of Color Conference Convenes

1990: United Lesbians of African Heritage Is Founded

Categories: History Content