Fun with Feminists
Two of the dames had a ball last Friday. We were privileged to attend the launch of the new home for the Feminist Library, now at The Sojourner Truth Community Centre in Peckham, south London. The Feminist Library is a large collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature. Its organisers and supporters have been supporting research, archiving, activist and community projects since 1975. In so doing, they have created and cared for one of the most important collections of feminist material in the UK and provided an inspiring learning and social space for thousands of people.
The collection features around 7,000 books, 1,500 periodical titles from around the world, several archives of feminist individuals and organisations, pamphlets, papers, posters, and ephemera. With no government or external funding, it has survived through the work of volunteers and the support of the public. It opens five days a week and welcomes visitors of any gender. It is a reference library and does not loan out books.
In 2018 a successful £65,000 crowdfunder was launched to support the move. The new space has been designed by HI-VIS, a feminist design collective for women and non-binary designers, along with designer Lucy Sanderson, of design agency Studio. The fittings were built by Power Project, a free programme for women and non-binary individuals in DIY and making.
The launch on Friday 31 January 31s was great. Totally ignoring the misguided hysteria taking place around the country about a certain OTHER EVENT, we settled down with drinks and tasty snacks as Gail Chester expertly compered the evening. Gail has been involved with feminist publishing since the 1970s and was an organiser of the 1984 First International Feminist Book Fair.
The first reading was by feminist author Zoe Fairbairns; she has published novels, poetry, short stories and drama. She had the audience smiling wryly as she read an extract from her short story collection: How Do You Pronounce Nulliparous? This piece is about how a 40-year-old woman who has never had children and never wanted to feels her decision to be vindicated.
We were treated to a trailer for a short film that documents the Library’s move, made by Lucy Sanderson and artist Lilian Nejatpour. Packing and cataloguing was a huge task, made possible with help from highly committed volunteers.
The next reading was by feminist author – and the Library’s new volunteer co-ordinator – Lola Olufemi; her book Feminism, Interrupted: Disrupting Power explores how feminism is a radical tool for fighting back against structural violence and injustice and that the fight for gendered liberation can change the world for everybody when we refuse to think of it solely as women’s work. As a student at Cambridge, Lola co-wrote an open letter with the request to diversify and ‘decolonise’ the college’s curriculum.
After a break, when we had the opportunity to browse some of the library’s collection and came across an old friend – featured in the picture here – the mood changed with some extraordinary and powerful singing by Portia Winters. Using a mixture of high and low tech acoustic, Portia blends improvisation with explorations of language and harmonic form.
The evening ended with everyone joining in to sing ‘The Feminist Library Survival Song’ – to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ – which celebrates the successful move despite the short notice given them by Southwark Council.
At a time when corporate greed just seems to be expanding, it was salutary to be with a successful grassroots project that has triumphed over some difficult challenges. If you feel like it, do consider supporting the Feminist Library. I think it is well worth it.