Archive for Shawnta Smith

A Conversation with Maria-Anna Foohs, Publisher/Editor of “Wings and Dreams: 4 Elements of a New Feminism”

by Shawnta Smith, Lesbian Librarian

Feminism in a global context.

This is the definition I would give to the new publication, mainly anthology, soon to be primary source material text, Wings and Dreams: 4 Elements of a New Feminism, published by Maria-Anna Foohs, also founder of Sophia Sirius Publishing of Germany.

Maria-Anna has given Paradigm Shift the opportunity to review her book, and pick her brain about the intricacies of newness: the “new feminism” as well as the new methods of using social networking as a publishing tool.  Of course, as your lesbian librarian, I couldn’t resist the small subtleties of lesbianism in her new contexts.  At the end of our 46:16 minute cell phone interview (that Maria-Anna said was too short), I learned something new about how we NYC feminists, lesbians, and non-feminists still hoard in our political bubble. And unlike our urges to pop or expand, Foohs is neither interested nor driven by our radical needs to redefine.  Instead, she is driven by the spaces where compassion and reason intertwine.  Please allow me to introduce you to this exclusive conversation about “New Feminism”, with Maria-Anna Foohs.

SHAWNTA: Now, for my first question, how would you define feminism?

MARIA: Feminism is the fight to have equal rights.  I think this is a very general perspective of feminism.  But it is the basic definition, that you fight for equal rights, whatever and wherever you are in the world.

SHAWNTA: Wings & Dreams…Why did you choose to name this anthology by this title?

MARIA: Well, I think the metaphor of the wings can be used as a means of transport to get to our personal dreams.  But for more practical reasons, my colleague, Bettina Schmitz is a philosopher and is a part of the International Association of Women Philosophers.  Check out their website:  They run a conference every two years.  Dreams with Wings was the topic of the July 2008 exhibition at Ewha Women’s University, Seoul/Korea.  I thought it was a compelling attitude, and a beautiful title.

SHAWNTA: The essays in this anthology are all from the International Association of Women Philosophers’ conferences.  What is your relationship to the International Association of Women Philosophers?

MARIA: I have no personal association with the organization except for my friendships with the authors.  8 years ago I joined the Würzburg Academic Women’s Club (WAi) which was lead by Bettina Schmitz who was teaching a “Chrysothemis” course at the University of Würzburg about feminist philosophy. I wanted to support them and their work, and wanted to get a bigger audience for their ideas.

SHAWNTA: Tell us about your choice and process to publish with a Community Commons license and then with Sophia Sirius Publishing.

MARIA: Sophia Sirus is my company, it is my pseudonym.  The Commons idea is what came about when I started working with my publicist, Patrick Dacre.  Sophia Sirius is my way of empowering women.  We do not take any rights away from the author; we do not want to restrict women.

SHAWNTA: And what makes your publishing model different from traditional publishing?

MARIA:  Each book that is going to be published, the author can choose an organization that they would like to support, and 33% of Sophia Sirius profits will go to that organization.  Wings & Dreams will go to the International Association of Women Philosophers, for example.  Authors can choose to do what they like with their proceeds.  I will help other women to publish their books, as well as promote their projects.

SHAWNTA: WOW!  Are you currently seeking any writers, or women interested in publishing?

MARIA: We started connecting with some people, and are open to additional requests and book ideas.  A woman who is running two schools in India is a prospect.  She teaches English and provides computer technology training.  Those women in the school would like to publish their own stories and 33% of proceeds will go back to the school.  Another is a group of Afghan women who are writing online and we are hoping that they will come forward and seek to publish.  In Germany, there is an organization called Wildwasser ( that has an online assistance program for women who are experiencing violence.  They go out to schools and teach girls how to handle violence.  The issue of rape also comes up.  Their words focus on sexual education, and have already spread widely with a large following.  We’d like to promote these types of groups through their writing.

SHAWNTA: Let’s get back to Wings & Dreams.  Who is your intended audience?

MARIA: It is published in both German and English so that we can reach a wider audience.  We thought about women all over Europe.  One of the authors is Spanish, also the North American market can handle an English text.  We would like to publish in more languages.  Russian, Polish Japanese, Chinese, etc.   We would like to address Afghan women and Indian women as well and we can do it online.  Online at, there is a download for a preview, so that anyone can see it if they have access to a computer.  Indian-American women can reach out to their relatives in India.  I would also like to go to Arabic women. It seems that they do not have the rights that feminism fights for.  We are used to our small worlds in the US and in Europe, but women need help and encouragement worldwide, there is a lot to do there. Wings & Dreams is a step in that direction.

SHAWNTA: Although you include a transnational perspective, how do you see lesbians in the context of your definition of feminism?  How are lesbians to embrace Wings & Dreams?

MARIA: Lesbians have not been our target market, yet, I can see that they are included as well.  New Feminism agrees that everyone has the right to choose their lifestyles, because they can choose their own rights, and their own ways of living.  And still, we must all find a way to communicate with men. Communicating with men should be less of a fight.  The problem can only be solved by working together.  Men can profit from this new feminism.  They can each put forward their ideas of how working with the genders can be reached.  By reaching an agreement, there is no need of fighting.  We can accept the other person’s choice.  In order to get there, we have to talk and listen to each other.

SHAWNTA: Yes, but back to lesbians…

MARIA: As for the Lesbian aspect -I honestly haven’t thought about this before.  In Germany, there are already equal rights for lesbians.  We have a federal right for same-sex marriages.  In Germany, that problem has been solved.  Everyone in Germany can go to a City Hall and get married to the person of his choice.  We are still a Christian country.  However, people who talk about the religion, they are not missionaries.  Choice is open for lesbians unlike in the United States.

I appreciated the perspective of someone who could live in a world where lesbianism was a non-issue. Even though I knew that a German lesbian would probably have more to say, I still wanted to submerge myself in her world of possibility.

MARIA: So, what was your favorite part of the book?

I answered her in an honest way.  In a way that made me feel open to say more than just politics.

SHAWNTA: Well, I loved that you had a Korean woman writer.   And her words began in a yard, with an animal, focusing on the domesticity of gender…how the one who farms the cow and the one who sees a black cat, or a bird operates from a different perspective than the academic or politician.

This author spoke about how the feminism that some have learned seems foreign to those of us who speak in earth-words, and embrace emotions as spirit.  I am Jamaican and Guatemalan, and I still, to this day, do not call myself a feminist.  These words are foreign to me, and hold little value to my tangible world.

MARIA: Yes.  HYUN-KYOUNG SHIN’s piece, “The Singing of a Shaman” I believe is a great way to notice how different people connect, by spending time in another world.  I am still a member and host for a peace organization called SERVAS – which is a NGO registered with the United Nations, and they allow guests to share the lives of the hosts in a hospitality program.  Participants live with another culture, from another country, in order to get to know these cultures.  Through this experience, I stayed with families throughout the world.  I realized we all want to have a life where we can choose what we want – security, family, choice.  Sometimes I would arrive like with a family in Japan, and after having talked to the woman for an hour or two….we were friends, as if we had known each other for a long time.

My idea came from this experience, that we have to communicate, and realize we all have the same aim.  My book wants to start that process.  Are we communicating, getting people together…part of it is fighting for our rights.  But more of it is reconciling.  We should tolerate and accept people and their ideas.

Thus we ended our conversation.  And I sat in silence for a while, pondering, do we maintain a definition of feminism that involves reconciliation and compassion?

For more information on “Wings and Dreams: 4 Elements of a New Feminism”

We are pleased to make available, at no charge, this online Readers’ Edition of Wings & Dreams: 4 Elements of a New Feminism, courtesy of Google Books Digital Reader Technology.

Rivers of Honey and Herstory: How Lesbians of Color are Underwritten & Where We Are Today

By Shawn(ta) Smith, Your Lesbian Librarian

*One day they will talk story about you
How you would dip the tips of your breast
in the soft mouth of a running brook
leave your fingerprints on the gray skull of a rock

Colored dykes sing, dance, and organize. But how would we know these things if in fact, it’s never written down, documented, showcased, or broadcast? In this historically relevant year for lesbian culture, the Lesbian Herstory Archives celebrates her 35th year, and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies begins it’s year of memory in its series of Lesbians in the 70s programming. The GLBT Historical society has recent newsworthy publication of the Black Lesbian Herstorical exhibit called “Keepin’ On”, even though the exhibit lives at and has always been housed in its Brooklyn home at the Lesbian Herstory Archives (we’ll discuss the problematic at a later date). Where are the lesbians of color in the schema of a lesbian herstory? And how do organizations tend to monopolize on this ever-unanswered question?

How you would laugh
mouth open, legs spread to the sky
filling your belly with sun

Furthermore, where is she today? Where are our mocha brilliant sistahs? Our curry spiced lovers? Our loud-mouthed, and silent daughters? I ask, if a lesbian of color has an orgasm, but no one is there to celebrate, is it revolutionary?

“Daughter of Oshun”
they will say
you somersaulted over clouds
sweet curves of brown
swayed oceans with your hips

In the 30th year anniversary of the WOW Cafe Theater, the organizing of many dyke artists don’t bother to ask the question. Instead we perform, produce, and direct multiple orgasms, and the people come. During most of the planning, the question for where lesbians of color fit into the picture are abound. Except, these questions are asked only of the outsiders, for, those of us lesbians of color doing the work know that we had and are always, at the table. We are not missing. No one has lost us. We are NOT underrepresented. HERE I AM! Often, lesbians of color are erased from herstory yet, have always been active, present, and instrumental in the events that have lead us afloat.

“Sister of Oya”
they will say
you carried a sword between your teeth
and the four winds in your hair
made armies fall with your battle cry
Wove melodies together with time

One prominent example of lesbian of color work that exists today, right now, as in, on New Years Eve, and New Years day, and every first Friday of the month this year is the newly designated mecca of lesbian of color artists: Rivers of Honey, the women and trans artist of color Cabaret Theater held at the WOW Cafe Theater.

They will call you
Holy woman, singer, warrior, conjurer, dancer, poet, lover
Your names will be held sacred
Hanifah, Jaz, Ganessa, Chaney, Ashley, Nicki

Founded in 1999 by a group of women artists/activists (namely Susanna Cook and Hanifah Walidah) as a space that showcases and supports the art of women, then eventually trans, artists of color. Over the years, ROH has been promoted, managed, supported and passed down to many amazing women who have donated their time, talent and abilities to empower colored/brown/black/yellow/red women through the performing and visual arts and create a safe space for women to show their work and realize their creative visions. Recently, there have been consistent sold out shows. The June 2009 show, where Punk Rock artist, Tamar Kali, Spoken Word poet, Staceyann Chin, Urban Bush Women Dancer, Maria Bauman, Fillmmaker Ignacio Rivera, Puppetry Theater Showcase, the Sanctuary Collective, Blues singer, Chaney Sims, and creator of Cabaret Cataplexy, Ashley Brockington led a completely queer showcase having to turn away over 100 audience members due to overcrowding. “The line went around 2nd Avenue!” said long-time doorwoman, lesbian barber, and visual artist, Jaz Cruz. Rivers is the next best thing. Always women, sometimes trans, and mainly queer, the production is run by a dedicated collective of queer women of color.

Your names will be held sacred
because you carved out of bone
out of blood, movement and song
a place for your tribe to grow.

Meeting at each other’s houses, along with the WOW Cafe Theater’s Tuesday night weekly meetings, this power troupe has resounded strong into the New Year with visual art, performance, dance, and audience sex games like truth or dare where winners received Babeland toys and beer. The next show is being held at the WOW Cafe Theater. Tickets are sold at the door. $10 (more if/less if) gets you the women-seeking-women experience that you knew still and always existed.

Visit Rivers of Honey on Facebook

Poem: Free Women
*Dedicated to the foremothers of Rivers of Honey
– by collective member Cristina Izaguirre

Pictures by Rivers of Honey Collective Members: BJ Watkins and Shauntée Henry (pride pic)

Lesbian Librarian Reviews: “Band Geeked Out”

Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD.
Pub. Date: April 2009
ISBN-13: 9780738714691
Age Range: Young Adult
As most of my friends are on unemployment, underemployed, or “freelancing”, during most worldly encounters, including reading, I have begun to take notice to the ways in which folks make money in the world.  Now, reading a piece of young adult fiction is less about the contours of a remarkable story, and more about the audacity of its author.  Before reading the book’s description and accollades on the back cover or inside jacket, I first go to the author’s bio and study her photograph.  Vanity overrides my better judgement: I question her beauty, her smarts in choice of photographer, her boldness for allowing her face to be so mutilated by onlookers like myself, and question her economic well-being as a result of my touching her book. How could I not? For all of my reading pleasures, I must acknowledge that I’m keeping someone employed, that by reading this title, I’m actively not sustaining some other aspiring best-selling author.

This week, I’ve sustained the closely cropped, red-headed Josie Bloss.  Her bio sold me, because she left her position in law to relocate to a quiet town, (likely with a cushioned savings account) to write books…really, she is living my dream.  The best part, is that she mentions her truest love, BAND, yes, as in marching band.  So still, someone as ballsy as her, still has unrelinqished potential.  As authors go, Bloss passes my litmus test for worthy-to-be-read, but I still have questions regarding her sexual politics.

An example of what I mean, is that for a young adult novel, I was surprised by the blow-job, but not even a single girl-on-girl grope.  I mean, the premise was about band, but the underlying story asked, does she pick the girl, or does she pick the guy.  I’m always routing for the girl, of course.  And as I read on, I consulted with friends who often teased, “what, does the lesbian die in the end?”

Not your standard contemporary pulp novel, Bloss was able to outline the inner turmoils of the “questioning” generation.  Beyond the ultimate question of, what do I do with my life, (which Obama would call a high-class problem to have), when your parents have a trust-fund for you to pick the college of your choice, of course the next question would be, “do I date this even cooler girl?”

Perhaps the novel led me to wonder if I was tired of reading the story from the perspective of the questioning.  Contemporary references of Lindsay Lohan aside, I found myself wanting a deeper analysis of character distinction.  Although as easy to read as a blog, one-dimensional characters shouldn’t have identity crises beyond what to wear.

I recommend this book to teens who are unsure of which paths to choose.  But still, I wonder, are we still in the age of classic pulp, where the dyke dies as she aims to lure the young voluptuous maiden?   Plainly, should we continue to endorse young adult novels with lesbian characters, where the questioning girl doesn’t love the lesbian in the end?  And I ask this, even with respect to the audacious author who gives us new hope for an employable future.

Signing off for now.
Your Lesbian Librarian.

Lesbian Librarian Reviews “Gravity” by Leanne Liberman


Gravity by Leanne Liberman

Plot: The cover girl wears a typical high school kilt, in black, mid thigh, with a confidant swagger.  She is Lindsay; the first love of our main character and Orthodox Jewish teenager, confused and earth-loving, Ellisheva Gold (Ellie for short).  In this realistic fiction narrative of coming to terms with Spirituality, Sexuality, and Love, Ellie walks us through her day-to-day family squabbles, her need for prayer, and her coming-out.  Gravity asks, ‘Can a girl be Jewish, study geology, and love girls too?’  Before Lindsay, the question didn’t even exist for Ellie, but now…
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