For the complete text [PDF] of Irene Reti and HerBooks Feminist Press (Escholarship). Includes complete audio (streaming or download) for the oral history. Note: Due to editing by the narrator, there may be some differences between the audio recording and the transcript.
2001, 59 pp.
This volume, Irene Reti and HerBooks Feminist Press, is one of a trio of oral histories published by the Regional History Project documenting the history and archives of second-wave feminist presses on deposit in the University Library's Special Collections. They include Alta's history of Shameless Hussy Press and Sandra Kay Martz's, of Papier-Mache Press. The archives are part of the University of California/Stanford University History and Women's Studies Consortium California Feminist Presses Project whose mission is the preservation and documentation of feminist presses.
Prior to her appointment at the Regional History Project, interviewee Irene Reti founded HerBooks in 1984. So she wears two hats in this project: she conducted the interviews with Alta and Martz; and was then interviewed herself as the founder of HerBooks, whose archive she donated to the University Library. HerBooks is a small, all-volunteer press, running on low overhead and publishing pioneering radical feminist titles. HerBooks blossomed within the milieu of feminism and lesbian literary culture and has survived with the support network of feminist presses, independent bookstores, and alternative book distribution. This volume consists of two interviews: one, by former UCSC student Martha Vickers, conducted in 1991, and the second, by Jacquelyn Marie, UCSC Reference/Women's Studies Librarian Emerita, who interviewed Reti in April 2001. As director of the Project, I edited the volume. Marie wrote me the following, describing her involvement in this project:
As the Women's Studies librarian at UCSC, I initiated the California Feminist Presses Project with a colleague from UC Berkeley, as a special project within our UC/Stanford Consortium of History/Women's Studies librarians. Each campus collected the archives, including two copies of publications from all the California feminist presses. UCSC was committed to Shameless Hussy Press of Oakland, California, Papier-Mache Press from Watsonville, and HerBooks from Santa Cruz. All three publishers were interviewed. I have worked and consulted with Irene Reti through the years on writing and publishing, speaking on panels, producing bibliographies, designing posters and organizing exhibits. As a member of the feminist publishing/writing community since the 1970s, I have been particularly interested in a long-running, small press such as HerBooks. This press is especially important because of its lesbian/feminist stance. Irene has not hesitated to publish unknown lesbian writers who have highlighted a panoply of neglected and controversial issues. I was very excited to be able to interview her about her evolution as a publisher and writer.
Reti graduated from UCSC in 1982 and founded HerBooks in 1984. Her path to publishing evolved quite organically as she knitted together her deep commitment to literature, her coming out as a lesbian, and her identity as a Jewish feminist. After she graduated from UCSC she held a series of nondescript jobs, one of which led her to learning typography and the mechanics of book publishing. This gave her a strong technical base as she launched HerBooks. She then became involved in the Santa Cruz literary scene and participated in several local writing groups. As she says in her oral history: "[At the time] there were a couple of literary magazines . . . I watched this process and thought . . . wait a second, I can do this! . . . the process [of publishing a book] didn't seem entirely mysterious to me anymore." She then published her first lesbian anthology and began her venture in what she describes as 'break-even publishing."
In her narrative, Reti discusses the network of feminist publishers and writers with whom she has been involved, the genesis of the titles she has published over the years, her intuitive philosophy of why she publishes what she does, and her overview of the economics of small press publishing during the last two decades. She also gives an intimate overview of the singular literary community which has been thriving in Santa Cruz since the 1960s.
HerBooks publications have included an eclectic variety of subjects ranging from serious feminist, lesbian political and cultural volumes (Childless by Choice: A Feminist Anthology (1992), Remember the Fire: Lesbian Sadomasochism in a Post-Nazi Holocaust World (1986), Unleashing Feminism: Critiquing Lesbian Sadomasochism in the Gay Nineties (1993), Carolyn Gage's The Second Coming of Joan of Arc and Other Plays (1994), A Transported Life: Memories of Kindertransport, the Oral History of Thea Feliks Eden (1995)) to more whimsical books such as Garden Variety Dykes: Lesbian Traditions in Gardening (1993) and Cats (and their Dykes) (1991).
The HerBooks listing reflects the zeitgeist of radical feminist cultural and political concerns when these issues came to the forefront. The latest HerBooks publication as of this writing is Reti's The Keeper of Memory: A Memoir, a contemporary American bildungsroman which weaves together personal recollection, family history, the assimilationist impulses of her Holocaust refugee parents, and the author's discovery and reclamation of her Jewish identity.
The HerBooks archive is at Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz library. A finding aid to the collection is available through the Online Archive of California.