In this episode of High Theory, Katherine Turk tells us about Sisterhood, a familial metaphor used to evoke gendered solidarity in women’s movement of the mid-sixties and seventies, and a utopian ideal of equality within the human family. It’s a universalizing but aspirational concept that helped feminists build a political coalition. 

Our conversation is based upon Katherine’s new book about the National Organization of Women: The Women of NOW: How Feminists Built an Organization That Transformed America (MacMillan, 2023). This mainstream feminist organization is often neglected in histories of the period, dismissed as a liberal organization dedicated to incremental change. But NOW was an expansive organization that changed over time, shifted the conversation and legal structures in the US, and left an important historical record that we can learn from in social justice work today. 

Katherine Turk is an associate professor of History and an adjunct associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. Her research and teaching focus on women, sex, gender, law, labor, and modern social movements. Her first book Equality on Trial: Gender and Rights in the Modern American Workplace (Politics and Culture in Modern America Series, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) studies the history of Title VII of the 1964 US Civil Rights Act, which outlawed workplace discrimination on the basis of such personal attributes as sex, race, and religion. 

The image for this week was made by Saronik Bosu. It shows Aileen Hernandez, Mary Jean Collins, and Patricia Hill Burnett, leaders of NOW who are the primary subjects of Katherine’s book.

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University Press

Rebecca Colesworthy talks about the university press and how its workings should be demystified, what authors should keep in mind when they pitch their books, and what university presses do for the state of academic labor.

Rebecca Colesworthy (she/her) is senior acquisitions editor at SUNY Press. Her areas of
acquisition include literary studies, women’s and gender studies, queer studies, Latin American
and Iberian studies, Latinx studies, African American studies, Indigenous studies, and education.
She is the author of Returning the Gift: Modernism and the Thought of Exchange (Oxford UP,
2018) and co-editor with Peter Nicholls of How Abstract Is It? Thinking Capital
 (Routledge, 2016). She is on the editorial board of MAUSS International; has taught at New
York University, University at Albany, SUNY, and Skidmore College; worked for a handful of
years in the nonprofit sector; and holds a PhD in English from Cornell.

Image: © 2022 Saronik Bosu

Music used in promotional material: ‘Nerys & Leo’ by Bloom K Trio

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Black Trans Feminism

Marquis Bey talks about the radical and abolitionist project of Black Trans Feminism. Rather than an identity formation, it is a politics and modality of being that vitiates the limits of subjectivity. Black Trans Feminism finds joy in irreverence, just like we try to do on High Theory.

You can recalibrate your understanding of the subject by reading Marquis’s forthcoming book Black Trans Feminism, published by Duke University Press. Released next week! On February 25th.

In the episode Marquis references a wonderful quote from Saidiya Hartman, that “A Black revolution makes everyone freer than they actually want to be.” It’s a hard quote to find, but it appears in Frank Wilderson’s interview with C.S. Soong, “Blacks and the Master/Slave Relation” in Afropessimism: An Introduction (Racked & Dispatched, 2017).

Marquis is Assistant Professor of African American Studies and English at Northwestern University. They also serve as Faculty Affiliate and Advisory Board Member in Gender & Sexuality Studies and Advisory Board Faculty Member in Critical Theory.

This week’s image was provided by Marquis.

Music used in promotional material: ‘Semiacoustic’ by Pk Jazz Collective

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Negro Literature

Elizabeth McHenry talks about the moment in the history of African American literature in the decade following the 1896 legalization of segregation, the subject of her new book To Make Negro Literature: Writing, Literary Practice, and African American Authorship. She redirects attention to overlooked archives of unpublished and unsuccessful literary production and thereby offers a radically alternative genealogy of Black literature.

Elizabeth McHenry is Professor of English at New York University and author of Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies, also published by Duke University Press. The book relies on a number of theoretical and disciplinary lenses to understand the epistemological and social conditions of print culture and literary community for African Americans between 1830 and 1940. It expands our definition of literacy and urges of us think about literature as broadly as it was conceived of in the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. 

Image: The Louisville Western Branch Library in Louisville, Kentucky

Music used in promotional material: ‘Afro-American Symphony: II – Adagio’, William Grants Still

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Leading up to Mayday, the nationwide Day of Refusal, and Abolition May, Saronik talks with Sean Gordon about abolition as an historical movement to end the transatlantic slave trade and a transformative justice movement to abolish prisons and defund the police. The episode focuses on the relationship between absence and presence, destruction and reconstruction, in abolitionist narratives and thought, and makes reference to Angela Davis’s Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture (2005), Mariame Kaba’s We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice (2021), Tiffany Lethabo King’s The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies (2019), and works by W. E. B. Du Bois, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Frank Wilderson, and Jared Sexton. There is no doubt that abolition will save the world.

Sean recently finished his PhD in English and American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His research and teaching focus on nineteenth-century American literature, abolition, and the environmental humanities.

You can visit the We Do This ‘Til We Free Us publisher’s website to donate copies of the book to people who are incarcerated.

Image: “A is for Abolition”, one in the series titled Collidescopes by Julia Bernier

Music used in promotional material: “Heartbeat” by ykymr

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