Labor History and Feminist Horror: Women's History Book Lists

As we wrap up Women's History Month, I sat down with two local women who shape our city to get a sense of the books that drive their practices. Though these texts aren't always classics, they add to a feminist oevre in ways that contextualize the next generation's changing representations of gender, sexuality, and community involvement. I am thrilled to see locals of Houston responding to city-wide and national concerns in new, creative ways. Here, two women who work directly to change labor rights and creative act booking practices through art and activism.

Karen Martinez:

Karen Martinez is a DACAmented filmmaker from Hidalgo, Mexico who has lived in Houston since the age of 10. She now works for SEIU Texas, a union dedicated to promote and protect the rights of working people across Texas. Currently, a 2nd semester graduate student at the University of Houston School of Art, Karen explores multidisciplinary art forms and video art practices.

On books that inform her practice...

My essentials for feminist and activist literature would be Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La frontera: The New Mestiza and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Be ready to sob! Out of sadness, rage, joy, knowledge. These books ARE NOT one time reads.

As an activist, Anzaldúa offers a timeless voice for queer, mexican women. Her book expands on race relations in the Southwest, the role of women in a land of different cultures, sexuality, gender roles and what she calls women’s shadow-beast. Don’t even get me started on the format of her book! From poetry, to lyricism, to prose and history. We can’t think of liberation without Baldwin’s his voice. The Fire Next Time is an urgent classic. In "A Letter To My Nephew during the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation" he wrote “The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off. You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon.” This to me speaks volumes, especially today. The current minority president has made things very difficult for some of us and some days it can be very difficult keep your head up, but he always gives me hope.

I also really like Natsuo Kirino’s Out. It’s not precisely a “feminist or activist” book but I just really love to see women driving the conversation on genres like mystery and darkness and Kirino is a master of her craft. I was creeped out for days but her tone is also very nonchalant, which offers on the spot relief from some of the darkness.

Other books: Lorna Dee Cervantes’s From the Cables of Genocide and The Way We Never Were by Stephanie Coontz.

On general reading...

In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch is my total favorite! I’ve been slowly digesting it for some time now. Bits and pieces. It’s not huge in mass, but as a video editor it has changed my life and the way I approach my videos. I feel so zen when I read it. 


Celestina Billington: 

Celestina Billington is a nomad, writer, and artist from Houston, Texas. She is also a part of the Idea Fund-granted feminist music booking collective DAMN GXRL. Check out her new travel blog:  

On feminist essentials...

I think the wonderful thing about the feminist literature of today is that it is able to build upon those established classics of Woolf, de Beauvoir, Morrison and the like, and as such, is no longer tasked with the same pretensions. Those broader questions of woman's right to autonomy, and the validity of the female narrative have already been answered with austerity, grace, and wit. And so when I look for feminist literature from the last ten years, I tend to be less interested in theory. I want to have fun. I think that there's a lot of joy to be had in being a feminist today, and sometimes that joy is lost in the realities of our political reality, and in the rampant negativity of social media. So I turn to literature as a place of refuge, of meditation, of pleasure.

My first recommendation is Rachel Kushner's adventure novel The Flame Throwers. This novel revolves around an American biker-girl and artist named Reno. From beginning to end the reader is swept up in her adventures on the road, following her all the way through her participation in the Italian Movement of 1977. Love, revolution, art, and motorcycles--from a woman's perspective.

Another piece I'd like to address is Why Vegan is the New Black, by African American chef Debborah Cooper. This cookbook features numerous easy and delicious vegan recipes within an affordable price range. A great companion piece for this is Carol J Adam's The Sexual Politics of Meat, which discusses the meat industry's ingrained misogyny. These texts are vital reads for any eco-feminist.

Renowned artist Gabrielle Civil's Swallow the Fish was published just this past February. With the newfound popularity of performance art, thanks largely to films like The Artist is Present and Never Sorry, this book could not have come out at a better time. This book is both an introspective glance and a performance memoir. Civil's experience as a black woman who dares to "stare down craziness" in her work lead the narrative. It's an informal and compelling read.

On general literature... 

It's not often that I revisit a novel, because I have a habit of lending my books out, and they rarely make it back to me. I've recently started reading more masculine works, only because I completely refused to do so during my undergraduate classes. I've just finished Ellis' Less Than Zero and Kerouac's On the Road. That's enough macho for me for March, so the next on my list is Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey.


Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Fourth Edition By Gloria Anzaldua Cover Image
Unavailable from Brazos Bookstore
ISBN: 9781879960855
Availability: OUT OF PRINT - Not Available for Order
Published: Aunt Lute Books - June 12th, 2012

The Fire Next Time (Vintage International) By James Baldwin Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679744726
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Vintage - December 1st, 1992

Out: A Thriller (Vintage International) By Natsuo Kirino Cover Image
ISBN: 9781400078370
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Vintage - January 4th, 2005

The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap By Stephanie Coontz Cover Image
ISBN: 9780465098835
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Basic Books - March 29th, 2016

The Flamethrowers: A Novel By Rachel Kushner Cover Image
ISBN: 9781439142011
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scribner - January 14th, 2014

The Sexual Politics of Meat - 25th Anniversary Edition: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (Bloomsbury Revelations) By Carol J. Adams Cover Image
ISBN: 9781501312830
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Bloomsbury Academic - October 22nd, 2015

Swallow the Fish By Gabrielle Civil Cover Image
ISBN: 9781937865795
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Civil Coping Mechanisms - February 22nd, 2017

Milk and Honey By Rupi Kaur Cover Image
ISBN: 9781449474256
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Andrews McMeel Publishing - October 6th, 2015

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