Arts and Entertainment: FEMSPEC is Femspectacular

Cauldron. February 3, 2003
By Kisha Foster

From first glance one would assume FEMSPEC is a journal specifically for women. Jeff Vlasik, who is the graduate assistant at FEMSPEC, is a guy. “I basically run the office” he says with a shy grin. “Whatever has to be typed up; I write acceptance letters, e-mails, queries, random jobs, contracts, whatever.”

FEMSPEC is “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.” Having been in existence since 1997, first publishing in 1999, the goals have been to allow women to write in a fashion that is not mainstream in feminine literature.

Other science fiction journals were being run by men and were not accepting creative works by women. Dr. Batya Weinbaum, an assistant professor of multicultural literature, is the editor of FEMSPEC. She along with other women put their heads together to come up with a journal that went above and beyond the boundaries of creative writing.

Men dominated all sci-fi journals, with creative writing from feminists on the backburner. “ We noticed it was difficult to publish critical works about topics such as ours, the genre journals. Editing boards consisted of sci-fi and fantasy women valued racism more than experience. At that time manuscripts didn’t get a fair read.”

At a first look at FEMSPEC one questions whether it is only read in Cleveland, and maybe some neighborhood areas. Weinbaum states nonchalantly, “The journal is recognized internationally, we have had entries from as far as Australia, our journals are in over 100 libraries across the country; our subscriptions are international.” This journal has been sold at The National Women’s Association, 3000 at The National Women’s Studies in Albuquerque, Canada, and England. “The subscription list is to what?” she looks at Jeff shrugging her shoulders, “Australia, Italy, Nashville; in Boston we sold to 50 people. Our ‘Girls Issue’ was edited in Philadelphia and Oregon.”

FEMSPEC is published twice a year. Its focus is on critical articles, book reviews, poetry, fiction; FEMSPEC questions gender roles, as they are currently defined through non-realistic means.

FEMSPEC has ties in the literary world with people such as Octavia Butler, author of sci-fi books. She is a board member who pays dues just like any other member. “We tried to make her an honorary member, yet she offered to pay dues,” says Weinbaum. “This journal helps women like Octavia who haven’t been published. She’s been very successful and supportive. She values writing. When she was at Cal State they tried to tell her to write realism. Now she is one of the most recognized writers.” She pauses. “Articles weren’t read from a feminist perspective. Feminists didn’t know about science fiction.”

Cleveland State’s First College and Dr. Austin Allen were the reason for her appearance last April. Weinbaum says that Allen asked her to please allow her to come talk to the students. She says more than 300 people showed up for the event. There was also a read -a - thon held in Rhodes Tower West, and plays that were done in her honor.

To Dr. Weinbaum, the most rewarding part to this journal is nothing. She spends so much time on trying to keep the bills paid and subscriptions coming that she does not sit back and look at the accomplishments that this journal has had. “I never pay attention to anything except how we are going to be funded. As far as rewards…being able to articulate solid scholarships for other female writers of this genre; to teach students; to teach tenured, emeritus, graduate students, professors, that is the most rewarding part. For the people to look at this journal as a guide, as well as a gift. For someone to look at it and say ‘I can find out about something I never knew about, academe, specialist, anyone.”