Algonquin published Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World on January 24, three days after 673 women’s marches and nearly five million feminists took their sneakers—and voices—to streets across the globe.
The timing couldn’t have been more appropriate, and it’s easy to imagine that this scrapbook-style anthology bubbled up as a post-election season battle cry, a response to casual remarks about “pussy grabbing” and “nasty women.”
Algonquin did push the anthology’s February 28th publication date one month forward to have it available “for people who, after the election, were like, ‘What do we do now? What do we talk about?’ " says Kelly Jensen, the anthology’s editor. “ ‘What hope can we find in a time that feels hopeless?’ ” But the book was actually conceptualized long before the words “Donald Trump” and “White House” were regularly uttered in the same sentence.
In 2014, Jensen—the editor of the Book Riot site and the founder and editor of the book blog “Stacked”—created the Stacked series “About the Girls,” in which she asks YA authors to write about girls, girls’ reading habits, and why librarians always seemed to ask “what about the boys?” while ignoring their female counterparts.
“I loved working with smart minds on this topic, and thinking about these big issues in accessible ways,” Jensen says. “I had the aha moment of ‘This would be so cool to think about as a book.’ ”
She casually sent her idea into the Twittersphere, having no idea it would catch Algonquin publisher and editor Elise Howard’s eye. The rest, as they say, is “herstory.”
The two met with Algonquin editor Krestyna Lypen and realized that they all shared a very similar vision, from the format—“we wanted this book to be an invitation to a party, we didn’t want it to be something that was negative or too textbook”—to the desire to include contributors with a broad a range of voices, backgrounds, and careers, and not just young adult authors.
“We wanted it to be clear that feminism isn’t just a thing you write about. Feminism is a thing you live,” Jensen says.
While there are plenty of entries from YA all-stars, including a joint interview with Laurie Halse Anderson and Courtney Summers, there are also contributors who lie far outside the children’s literature bubble, including Roxane Gay, musician Matt Nathanson, and former Texas state senator Wendy Davis.
“That was the most internet of internet things,” says Jensen. “I went to [Davis’] fan page on Facebook and sent a message…I had no idea if she would respond at all, but she responded pretty quickly and was like, ‘Here’s my email address!’ ”
The pieces also range drastically in layout and tone—hard-hitting essays about female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone by Michaela DePrince; comics drawn by Liz Prince; an introduction to fan fiction by Brenna Clarke Gray and Sharpie-style arrows, block letters and doodles sit comfortably side by side.
“Some of the essays are so heavy, and it was a fun way to make it approachable,” Jensen says.
There’s also something to be said for reaching teens where they are. “Today’s kids are doing so many fandom activities—writing fan fiction, going to cons, making art—and I don’t know if they necessarily know how cool they’re being, and how progressive and feminist what they’re doing is,” Jensen says.
“Highlighting and celebrating what they’re doing can make them feel like, ‘Oh, this is a thing I care about!’ It can bring them in in a different way.”
As Jensen prepares to take Here We Are around the country, from school events in Wisconsin to book festivals in Tucson, San Antonio, and New York City, she can’t help but reflect on how the collection has changed since its inception. “It was always going to be this inviting and very hopeful collection,” she says. “But at the beginning, we didn’t really see the book as a light in the dark, or a call to action.” Now? It’s impossible to call it anything else.
Shara Zaval is a writer living in New York.