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Sinister Wisdom revealed the cover for its first issue of 2018 and in a word it’s “hot.”
Edited by JP Howard and Amber Atiya with the sultry cover photo taken by Akinfe Fatou, the topic of this journal is “Black Lesbians – We Are the Revolution!”
Publishing since 1976, Sinister Wisdom is a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal. It was started by Catherine Nicholson and Harriet Ellenberger. Now in its 41st year of publication, the journal continues to create a multicultural, multi-class lesbian space.
It’s current chief editor/publisher is Julie R. Enszer, Ph.D., a scholar and poet originally from Michigan but now living in Florida. She is the 10th editor/publisher for a publication with a history of powerhouses at the helm, including the founders Catherine Nicholson, Harriet Ellenberger, Michelle Cliff and Adrienne Rich.
Enszer explained how she got her start at Sinister Wisdom in 2010.
“I edited a special issue under the previous editor Fran Day. It was at that point that Fran was quite ill and she was looking for another editor to take on the journal. I like to joke that she asked everybody else — every other lesbian on the planet who was more qualified than I was — and they all said no,” Enszer said with a laugh. “And so, there I was, the lesbian of last choice. And you know I agreed to do it.”
She may have felt others were more qualified but Enszer’s own body of work is impressive. With her master’s of fine arts degree and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, Enszer has authored four poetry collections. Her book, “A Fine Bind,” is a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 to 2009. She was also a finalist for the 2012 Lambda Literary Award for her book “Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry” and won the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for poetry, as editor of “The Complete Works of Pat Parker.”
Sinister Wisdom is published four times a year. There’s a board of eight members, but an even larger community gives the journal life.
“I do feel she, the journal, grows a community around her,” Enszer said.
The community consists of writers and guest editors that continue the history of what lesbian literature and literary arts have been about in the past, while connecting that past to the future. Issues contain works from and have been edited by women reflecting the diversity of the lesbian community, and the journal is always open for submissions.
“One of the ways that she, the journal, always works to reach new diverse audiences of writers and readers is by having guest editors.” Enszer added. “A big part of what my role is, is lining up guest editors. Sometimes, it’s one person — as in the fall issue is #106 “The Lesbian Body” — or a partnership, like the coming issue edited by JP Howard and Amber Atiya.
Howard is a Cave Canem graduate fellow. She is also a poet and author of “Say/Mirror” which was a 2016 Lambda Literary Award Finalist and was a finalist for Split this Rock’s 2017 Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism. A New Yorker, Howard also curates “Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon.”
Another Brooklyn-ite, Amber Atiya is the author of the chapbook “The Fierce Bums of Doo-Wop.” Atiya is a 2012 Poets House Fellow, and a member of a women’s writing group.
Sinister Wisdom, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its volunteer board provides all its labor, while support comes from donations, an annual fundraising campaign and its community of subscribers.
This community also includes women who are incarcerated or institutionalized who receive issues of Sinister Wisdom for free.
“The simple logistics are any woman who writes to Sinister Wisdom and says she wants to receive the journal gets it sent for free,” Enszer said. “I get five to eight letters a month from women who are incarcerated. We give everyone a one-year subscription. They can renew as often as they want as long as they are in prison.”
But there’s a not-so-simple part of it too.
“There’s lots of struggles. We get returned issues from prisons at different times where a guard has screened the journal and found images they deemed offensive or too sexual. I get these letters, citing pages they feel are ‘sexually inappropriate and would titillate.’ They literally use the words ‘titillate prisoners.’ As much as it breaks my heart, I’ve had to take razorblades and pull out pages, so we could resend them. We do everything we can to get their issues to them,” Enszer said.
The Journal has even published a fair amount of work from prisoners; issue 61 was all writing by women who were or had been incarcerated.
Issues can be downloaded in pdf format at the Sinister Wisdom website http://sinisterwisdom.org/archive.
Howard and Amber Atiya will co-host a launch of Sinister Wisdom Issue 107 at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York on Feb. 27, 2018. The archived interview with Sinister Wisdom’s editor/publisher, Julie R. Enszer is available on the weekly podcast “Collections by Michelle Brown.” It can be accessed at Blog Talk Radio, iTunes, Stitcher or SoundCloud.