On the afternoon of Election Day, 2016, shortly after the publication of our book, Dead Feminists, we gathered at the library of a local university with a large and supportive audience—mostly women, as usual—to share stories about our favorite dead feminists from our book. The mood was celebratory, including lots of hugs and even a festive lady cake, to mark an historic day. What soon followed: a flood of disbelief and cyclical crushing disappointment over Hillary Clinton’s loss, refreshed with horror as we suffered Trump’s first year in office.
Our book tour continued after the election, becoming less lecture and more grief intervention. We realized our book, filled with stories and quotes from historic women paired with demands for social justice in today’s world, would continue to be relevant despite an unimaginable fuster cluck of a year. Talking to women around the Pacific Northwest, we shared our dead feminists with an emphasis on words of action. What began as an organizing principle for our book’s chapters became a game plan for the resistance—beginning with collaboration.
We know a little about collaboration, having spent nearly a decade in the thick of it—despite battling frequent misunderstanding about our roles, and constantly having to reassert that there are two authors behind our work. The two of us are artistic partners in a deep (albeit unromantic) sense. Dividing lines over who exactly does what are blurred, just as it’s difficult to recall exactly the origins of ideas or who wrote what chapter or paragraph. Beyond drawing (all Chandler) and printing (mostly Jessica) every other aspect of our project is shared. We also consider the women we quote, illustrate, and celebrate to be instrumental collaborators as well.
Our book and series is also a collaboration with history, one where we take considerable artistic license. With each new chapter we’ve deliberately taken our dead feminists out of context, dropping them into the contemporary conversation and juxtaposing their efforts with the social struggle currently ahead of us. Despite the pitfalls, this continues to feel like the right choice, as our historical heroines prove their continued relevance as sisters in arms.
What we didn’t expect was the additional collaboration with our readers and fellow feminist authors. Thanks to our prescient editor, our book came out at precisely the right time and place: after a decade of laboring on an obscure art project, suddenly our book had a place among a larger literary zeitgeist celebrating (at last) the words and work of our foremothers. Teachers and librarians, always the core audience for our broadside series, are incorporating our book into their high school, university, and community curricula. Their instinct aims true: growing up before our eyes is a veritable army of young feminists in pussy hats, hungry for knowledge and representation in the world around them.
Moving forward, we take courage from taking action. This past interminable year of Trump’s ascendancy has sharpened both our focus and our tongues. We continue to produce new Dead Feminists broadsides—though gone are the veiled metaphors and couched words of our past work. Like our fellow re-sisters, we draw strength from our anger and from the women who have gone before us. In the words of our heroine Shirley Chisholm, “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
The plaque for the 2018 PNBA Book Award for Dead Feminists will be presented to Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring at King’s Books in Tacoma at 7:00 on Tuesday, February 13. nwbooklovers will post original essays from this year’s award winners on Fridays in January and February. You can enjoy essays from past winners of the PNBA Book Award in our archive.
[post updated to add date of award presentation]