Lilith's Library

Joan Drury has led Duluth's Spinsters Ink from the end of one feminist heyday to the dawn of another. How? Dogged vision and deep pockets.

With such talk abounding, it can be tempting to categorize Spinsters as an involved philanthropic project--or a vanity press with a noble cause. "Radical feminism," as Drury defines it, is not a "reactive response to all the rampant sexism in our society. It's a proactive response against all kinds of oppression." Welcome to school, readers. Yet, ultimately, Spinsters must reckon with the slippery (and allegedly patriarchal) specter of quality. In other words, it doesn't matter much if the paradigm being pushed is Mike Hammer or Joan Drury's Tyler Jones, Dyke Detective. If the writing is good enough, the idea will make its way into the world.

Like any other publishing house, Spinsters puts out some mediocre writing, but not nearly as much as you'd expect from an organization whose mission seems to be ameliorative rather than aesthetic. Drury believes in "reclaiming the word excellence," looking for that "elusive gasp quality," while admitting that what makes one gasp is completely subjective. "I do believe in that word's necessity and appropriateness," she adds. But translating that belief onto the page can't be all that easy.

Good writing--like a good woman--is hard to find, and if you're looking for it on the mountaintops of ideological purity, the population is especially thin. Which makes a book like the annoyingly titled, but surprisingly lucid Mother Journeys such a feat of editorial intrepidity. How easy can it be to find an adoptive co-mother in an "alternative, trans-racial family"? An alternative, trans-racial, differently abled family, in fact. And then, to find one who can write vigorous, accurate, and witty prose? It's no mean editorial feat, and one for which the editors, despite all their precious, wind-socky morality, should be commended.

At the Amazon Bookstore, Spinsters books are everywhere. There is the much-praised novel Trees Call for What You Need and, of course, their best seller, Lesbian Sex, a household name in coming-out handbooks.

You would believe, standing in this store, that Spinsters' battle has been won. The books seem to line up in a silent chorus of women talking about being women. Feminist writing, it would seem, has outgrown its label--maybe even outgrown its store. A magazine carries the headline "Beyond gym teacher: Dyke jobs for the nineties." It all seems like the warm new world Joan Drury has made a career of championing--the (revisionist) storybook image come true. Except, that is, for a single ad on the bulletin board:

The Land O' Lakes Girl Scout Council needs a receptionist/secretary. The list of duties is 16 items long and includes computer skills and "the ability to handle a fast-paced, hectic office schedule, and to prioritize assignments." The salary tops out at $15,600 dollars a year. Less than you'd make for delivering canned vegetables in a truck, hauling sod, or moving furniture.

Women of color, says the notice, are encouraged to apply.

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