“We are not superwomen”: Navigating Finances, Identity Politics, and Vision of a Feminist Press

Introduction to Documents 1 and 2: “Unbusinesslike” Conduct   |   Document 1      |     Document 2
Introduction to Documents 3 and 4    |     Document 3: Feminist Publishing Ethics    |     Document 4: Women in Print Publishing Accords
Document 5: Feminist Publishing Proposal From Ruth to Barbara
Introduction to Documents 6, 7, and 8: Seal Books   |    Document 6     |    Document 7     |     Document 8
Document 9: Women Who Dared    |     Document 10: “Cheat to Eat”
Introduction to Documents 11 and 12: Hate Mail      |     Document 11       |    Document 12
Document 13: Outreach to Women of Color        |       Document 14: Letter to Angela Davis      |     Document 15: Letter from Audre Lorde      |    Document 16: “No More ‘Social Problems’ Projects”

Introduction to Documents 1 and 2: “Unbusinesslike” Conduct 

The following letters reveal a tense exchange between Seal Press and Ginny NiCarthy, the author of one of the Press’ earliest and most successful published works, Getting Free. The first, written by NiCarthy on 8 May 1985, outlines a series of frustrations with what she terms the Press’ “unbusinesslike” conduct—late payments, poor communication regarding financial matters, and a general lack of organization and courtesy. The second, written by Faith Conlon on behalf of Seal Press on 14 May 1985, responds to NiCarthy’s complaints by both taking responsibility for and attempting to justify the Press’ shortcomings. Ultimately, Conlon resists NiCarthy’s characterization of the Press as “unbusinesslike” and proposes a lunch meeting between NiCarthy and various Seal Press staff members in order to further work through their differences.

This exchange is particularly important because it highlights the tensions between small feminist publishers’ ideals and their business management practices. Shortly after this dispute, members of Seal Press participated in the 1985 Women In Print Conference in which presses collectively developed Publishers Accords which identified respectful, supportive, and communicative relationships between publishers and authors as central to the mission of feminist publishing in the late twentieth century. However, as seen here in the case of Seal Press, these relationships and the values they represented were often jeopardized as commercial success brought growth, expansion and new financial challenges. (See Document 2 and Document 3 that follow.) The final section of Conlon’s letter demonstrates this tension particularly well. In this section, Conlon requests that NiCarthy accept yet another late payment despite having fully acknowledged the legitimacy of NiCarthy’s objections earlier in the letter. Clearly, Conlon and her colleagues at Seal Press understood and wished to respect their authors’ needs, but they also needed to their business afloat—and the two aims may have been irreconcilable.