Feminist Science Fiction Finds a Literary Home

On Campus, Cleveland State University

September 5, 2000 Vol. 24, No. 13

The editorial headquarters barely has room for two people. But from a tiny office on the 18th floor of Rhodes Tower, a Cleveland State faculty member is producing a joumal that's having an impact on the literary world. 

Batya Weinbaum, assistant professor of multicultural literature, is the founding editor of FEMSPEC, which bills itself as "an interdisciplinary feminist journal dedicated to critical and creative works in the realms of science fiction, fantasy, magical realism surrealism, myth folklore and other supernatural genres." 

Launched one year ago, FEMSPEC is published twice annually Its third issue, with a press run of 500 copies, is slated for mid-October. 

Dr. Weinbaum, who joined the English Department in the College of Arts and Sciences two years ago, said FEMSPEC grew out of frustration over the lack of attention to science fiction works by feminist writers. 

Science fiction--which includes fantasy, horror, magical realism and supernatural writing--has traditionally been a genre dominated by white male writers and readers, she noted. Feminist publishing houses have turned a cold shoulder to such manuscripts, forcing feminist writers to offer their stories to mainstream publishing houses that often insist on radical changes to content and point of view. 

Writers like Dr. Weinbaum grew weary of hearing "that our essays are too feminist for a science fiction or fantasy journal, or too fantasticlal for a critical journal," she said. 

"FEMSPEC was conceived as an interdisciplinary feminist journal dedicated to creative works that explore gender issues in science fiction and other supernatural genres," said Dr. Weinbaum. "It's been a long, arduous, uphill road. It's also been very rewarding." 

FEMSPEC icludes critical and creative work as well as coverage of conferences, personal essays, nonfiction, media critiques, analyses of popular culture, transcripts of dialogues on relevant topics, interviews with authors, art, photography, and work by or about girls of any age. 

The upcoming issue includes a critical piece on the feminist perspective in speculative poetry, an interview with Janet Asimov, a narrative on becoming a science fiction writer, and a historical piece on Leslie F. Stone'sOut of the Void

Upcoming issues will focus on specific themes, including Native Amencan Women, Real and Imagined Blackness, Film, Horror, Utopias, and Chinese Fantastic Women.FEMSPEC has received limited funding from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Provost's Office, the Office of Minority Affairs and Community Relations, the English Department (where it is housed), several other uriversities across the nation, and private donors on campus and across the nation. 

Dr. Weinbaum stretches the tight budget by selling FEMSPEC coffee mugs, posters, bumper stickers, advertising and subscriptions. 

The publication's editorial and advisory boards include such authors and scholars as Marlene S. Barr, Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Joan Gordon, Veronica Hollinger, Florence Howe, Marge Piercy, Joanna Russ, Pamela Sargent and Darko Suvin. 

Manuscripts are welcome--and to date, more than 400 have been received. 

Until now, all tasks associated with the fledgling journal--from the reading of manuscripts to distributing the finished product to running the office--have fallen on Dr. Weinbaum, assisted by CSU faculty colleagues who serve as "readers," contributing writers and editors from other institutions, and student assistants. 

But she recently signed an agreement with a San Francisco publisher to handle printing and distribution, as well as serve as a clearinghouse to accept and keep track of all manuscripts. The new arrangement will allow her to concentrate on her editorial duties. 

Dr. Weinbaum is pleased with the success of FEMSPEC and is especially proud of the experience it provides to undergraduate and graduate students who serve internships or receive academic credit for working in the office as part of a FEMSPEC literary editing class. 

Students--particularly English majors who are not interested in teaching careers--have told her they appreciate the opportunity to gain practical, real-world, hands-on experience in the management of a literary journal. In addition, "FEMSPEC has published book reviews written by our students--and having publications on your resume is not insignificant when you're a student looking for a job," she noted. 

Even for Dr. Weinbaum FEMSPEC has been an educational experience. 

" I've been a published author for years but I never had any idea of the amount of work on the other side," she said, chuckling over the memory of her indignation at being asked to revise an article four times and then having it rejected by an editor. 

"Through FEMSPEC, I've gained a lot more appreciation, patience, respect and consideration for the editorial process and academic scholarly life," she said.