Inanna Publications celebrates release of five new books

In the past decade, due to economic, political and cultural factors, many Canadian publishers have floundered and even folded. Inanna Publications and Education Inc., based at York University, is bucking the trend – and flourishing. The feminist press, which has been publishing the internationally respected journal Canadian Woman Studies/les cahiers de la femme (CWS/cf) for almost 30 years, now also publishes at least six to eight books a year.

This spring, Inanna added five new titles to its catalogue. One Day It Happens, a collection of stories by Mary Lou Dickinson; Backhand Through the Mother, poems by Renee Norman, and Laike and Nahum: A Poem in Two Voices by Ruth Panofsky were published in May. In early June, Stealing Nasreen, a novel by writer Farzana Doctor, was released.

Most recently, on June 28, Inanna celebrated the publication of Han Kut: Critical Art and Writing by Korean Canadian Women at a book launch at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore.

York sociology doctoral student Ruthann Lee helped initiate this anthology of fiction, creative non-fiction, essays, poetry and art. “Three of us met in 2002 to discuss the possibility of working together to edit an anthology highlight the work of politicized Korean women in Canada,” she says. The editorial collective envisioned an anti-racist feminist book project that would challenge “the stereotypes of what it means to be Korean women in Canada – Christian, straight, model minorities, depoliticized, subservient, compliant, yamchonhae [Korean for gentle],” says Lee.

Right: Ruthann Lee (front, fourth from left) with contributors to Han Kut

“By naming our anthology Han Kut, a newly created phrase, we hope to impart a more challenging and imaginative vision of Korean Canadian women,” says Lee. "The word ‘Han’ is a play on ‘Hanguk’, which means Korea. It also refers to a history of suffering among Koreans. ‘Kut’ can mean agitation, grassroots ritual, political art, collective action or noisy. It also describes a type of spiritual exorcism by female shamans.”

Among the other Han Kut contributors who have a York connection are alumni Jin Huh, (MES ’04), Jane Kim (BA ’04) and Yukyung Kim-Cho (MES ’01).

While not all of the anthology’s contributors are Yorkies, the ties between the University and the feminist press are deep-rooted and long-standing. Its founders are Shelagh Wilkinson, who was an Atkinson humanities professor, and Marion Lynn, who also lectured at York. In 1978, while they were teaching at Centennial College, Wilkinson and Lynn established CWS/cf as a forum in which Canadian women could share ideas and exchange personal experiences and expertise.

Inanna publishes the journal and books, explains Luciana Ricciutelli (left)(BA ’84), editor-in-chief of Inanna and of CWS/cf since 1992. Named after the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility and warfare, Inanna is a registered, not-for-profit organization. York Professor Emerita Johanna Stuckey, who was involved with the journal since its early days, is credited with suggesting the name.

When Wilkinson took on a post at York in 1984, CWS/cf moved to the University with her, and Inanna has been based in Founders College ever since.

The first book Inanna published was a collection of conference papers edited by York Professor Ann (Rusty) Shteir. In 1999, Inanna published a Women’s Studies Reader, which consisted of articles from CWS/cf.  “It is used in introductory women’s studies courses in universities across the country,” says Ricciutelli. “Last September, we put out a second edition at the request of professors who have been using the book for years.”

The success of the reader paved the way for the publication of other books, both non-fiction feminist works and fiction, as part of Inanna’s poetry and fiction series, introduced three years ago.

CWS/cf and Inanna operate independently of the University but are affiliated with York’s School of Women’s Studies. The University provides office space for Inanna’s operations, and York is credited on the CWS/cf ’s masthead.

One of the oldest feminist academic journal in Canada, CWS/cf publishes articles and essays; book, art, and film reviews; and other creative work. Each issue of the quarterly has a theme.

Contributors are mainly writers and academics from Canada and abroad, along with grassroots activists. “We are a feminist organization and part of the mandate of the journal in particular is to publish material that is accessible, together with grassroots material,” says Ricciutelli, "in order to not only create a bridge between theory and activism but to show the ways in which activism informs theory and vice versa.”

In keeping with this mandate, Inanna’s board of directors always includes at least two to three grassroots activists, says Ricciutelli. As a peer-reviewed journal, CWS/cf also has a large contingent of academics on its editorial board, many of whom are affiliated with York. The president is York alumna Brenda Cranney (PhD ’98). The treasurer and CWS/cf’ book review editor is York Professor Fran Beer, of the Atkinson School of Arts & Letters. Members include York Professors Andrea Medovarski and Darcy Ballantyne, who both teach in the Department of English, Faculty of Arts. Professor Marlene Kadar of the Faculties of Arts and Fine Arts is the journal’s literary editor.

Although Inanna has a small core staff of paid employees, the editorial board is voluntary. Members are involved in all aspects of Inanna’s operations, from evaluating manuscripts to fundraising and publicity. “It’s a very active board,says Ricciutelli.

The success and longevity of Inanna, which next year celebrates its 30th anniversary, is a testiment to such commitment.

Story by Olena Wawryshyn, York communications officer