Feminist Author Susan Brownmiller to Write Foreword to Volume 3

I am delighted to announce that Susan Brownmiller has agreed to write a foreword to volume 3 of the four-volume Voices from the Underground Series.

Susan is one of the pioneer leaders of the second wave of the feminist movement that burst forth in the sixties and seventies and is still changing the world. Her first book, the groundbreaking Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, redefined rape forever as a feminist issue. She has been a supporter of the Voices from the Underground Series since it first came out in its earlier iteration in 1993.

Not long after the first edition went out of print, long before it had reached its sales potential (a story for another time), I received a phone call from Susan. She was at the time in the process of writing her history of the feminist movement, In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution, and she needed a copy of Voices for her research. She said, “Hi, Ken, this is Susan Brownmiller.” I thought to myself, “Susan Brownmiller!” Honestly I can’t remember if I expressed my surprise out loud. Okay, I admit it, I felt like a groupie because she was an important figure in a movement that I at times followed and at other times led (I’m talking about the general antiwar/countercultural movement, not the feminist movement) but at all times respected highly and loved being a part of. Sadly I wasn’t able to help her—my personal supply of books to sell was already gone. Fortunately Marilyn Webb, whose story of the founding of off our backs, the first major feminist paper to emerge on the east coast, appears in the just-released first volume of the four-volume series, was able to help Susan. Marilyn’s story is footnoted several times in Susan’s book.

I never forgot that incident, so while I was working on this new edition I contacted Susan and asked her for a testimonial quote. Generously, she came through. Her quote appears on the back cover of volume 1, along with quotes from Bill Ayers, Tom Hayden, and Chris Atton, professor of media and culture at Scotland’s Edinburgh Napier University. Here’s what Susan wrote:

What a boon to historians! Ken Wachsberger’s Voices from the Underground is crucial to an understanding of the literary and political history of the 1960s counterculture movement. This valuable resource must stay in print, if only for academics who wish to study the amazing phenomenon of the alternative newspapers, put together by amateurs, that sprang up across the country in those fervent years. Wachsberger’s material, largely in the form of “how we did it” memoirs, is rich in personal histories and anecdotal details that are collected nowhere else.

So when I visited her on my next trip to New York I expected her to tell me how much she loved the book. Instead she said, “You don’t have enough on the feminist press. You need to include It Aint Me Babe.” I tried to explain to her that I already had off our backs and The Furies, the lesbian feminist paper put out by the legendary Furies collective, and that, while the book contained representative writings of the different genres of underground papers, it didn’t pretend to be comprehensive. But she insisted the feminist papers deserved more. She told me to contact Laura X, whose interview with a rape victim in Berkeley had inspired Susan to write Against Our Will.

Laura X is legendary in feminist lore as the premier archivist of the feminist movement. She embraced my invitation and pulled together other key figures from Berkeley’s It Aint Me Babe, the first major feminist underground paper, to tell their story for the first time. The lead author is Bonnie Eisenberg, founder of Babe, but she received critical help from Laura, Trina Robbins, Starr Goode, and Alta. Appendices are by Laura, who writes about her archives, and Trina Robbins, one of the pioneer feminist comix artists, who helped to break through the men’s-only barrier.

The story of It Aint Me Babe appears in volume 3, which will be out next year, so it was only natural for me to invite Susan.

I am truly honored that she accepted my invitation.

And, incidentally, she was right. I needed to include It Aint Me Babe.

Ken Opens the First Box

I opened the first box of books last night after a ceremonial dinner at our favorite Middle East restaurant. We’ve been there so many times, and we’re so consistent at what we order, that as soon as the waitress saw us, she said, “Your order’s on.” A good sign. As usual, their food portions were so generous, we both brought home leftovers.

We settled in for the evening. Emily handed me a kitchen knife and said, “The honor is yours.” Then she sat down on the living room chair by the kitchen and let me take over.

I opened the box with excitement and some misgivings. What if the front cover didn’t look good? What if there was an obvious typographical error on the back cover?

I had lots of questions like that but, honestly, those were secondary. MSU Press has a crack team of editors and I myself had looked at the manuscript files and then the page proofs so many times I knew there would be few errors. (But not “no errors”—after forty years of writing and editing, I’m still looking for that holy grail of books, the one with no human error.)

What I really was thinking was that this was the end of an era for me. So many years had passed between the first edition, which went out of print way too early almost seventeen years ago, and this second edition that I had become used to the emptiness, the sense of incompleteness, the frustration of knowing that what deserved to be out there generating excitement and educating young activists was just taking up space on my hard drive. I know they say that the good thing about hitting your head against a wall is that it feels so good when you stop, but if you’re not careful you can start telling yourself that the hitting part itself feels good. I’ve done it, even though intellectually I know it’s crazy. And then you become afraid to stop.

Okay, therapists will tell you you might also simply have a fear of success. Could be.

What I know is that my every day is filled with head trips that push me forward and pull me back, often at the same time. And that’s on a normal day. This time I shut out all of them and with a firm hand and a serrated blade sliced the packing tape. Styrofoam bubbles, compressed to fit inside the flaps of the box, suddenly burst to their full size and a few fell to the floor. I pushed aside the others and carefully took out a shrink-wrapped packet of four books. I paused for a second. Then I sliced open the cellophane and released one book from the others. That would become Emily’s book.

I just held it. No, I didn’t smell it. That seemed a bit too cliché-ish. But I admired its shine. I admired the red-rimmed, orange ball on the top right-hand corner that said “Voices from the Underground.” All four books in the series will have that same ball, to connect them for marketing purposes, although they will be different color combinations to distinguish one book from the other. And, yes, my name was spelled correctly on the bottom of the page.

I put two of the books on the stairs. Those will be for Carrie and David. The fourth I saved for myself, to carry with me everywhere I go.

Emily went to the kitchen for the wine—white pinot grigio was her choice—while I went downstairs to the TV room and took my favorite spot on the couch. When she came down, I was somewhat mesmerized by the book that I held in my hands so she stood there holding two glasses of wine and waited for me to stand up and take mine. Then we toasted. She toasted to my success. I toasted to her incredible patience and love that enabled her to stick with me during my craziest days. She said, “I know.” I let her have the last word because I knew, too.

Then we admired the book. Emily commented right away that she liked the cover. I myself hadn’t been as impressed with it when I was reviewing the page proofs. It shows a typewriter, the idea, of course, being to show the technology in the sixties as compared to now. I got the point but I had wanted something a little wilder, to show the artistry of the sixties. But I agreed that the cover was attractive, even if it wasn’t my idea.

We leafed through the pages and noted the comparison between this edition and the first. Its 7 x 10, 1-column layout is a lot airier than the original 8 ½ x 11, 2-column format. It will be much easier to read. For this one, I found lots of appealing graphics, including cover images of underground papers that are highlighted and photos of personalities from the time. The first edition was copy heavy, with hardly any images at all. Emily said she liked the typeface, which was clean and modern. She read the contributors’ collective dedication and was not surprised to see her name, David’s, and Carrie’s included. I pointed out my references to them that conclude my editor’s preface.

The back cover includes my bio along with testimonial quotes from Bill Ayers, Professor of Media and Culture from Scotland Chris Atton, Susan Brownmiller, and Tom Hayden. To them, and to the many other academics, activists, and media reviewers who embraced the first edition and now have embraced this edition with their kind words, I am humbly grateful.

The rest of the evening was spent in low-key talking, sharing stories from the past and visions of the future. For both of us, life has been good. It’s nice to have landmark moments to help you reflect on the whole picture.

Today while at Panera addressing envelopes to ship pre-orders, I sold my first post-publication book.