March 9, 2015
City Lights publishing its first children’s book
by Nick Davies
City Lights in San Francisco has been an independent bookseller and publisher since the 1950s, notably publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems in 1956. They’ve gone on to publish a range of literature and poetry, as well as left-wing political writing by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Cindy Sheehan, and others. Now, to mark the 60th anniversary of City Lights, they’re branching out to a new genre with the house’s first children’s book, Annise Grosse writes for Publishers Weekly.
The new book is Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History… and Our Future!, written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. It’s published by the City Lights/Sister Spit imprint, the store/publisher’s joint project with lesbian-feminist collective Sister Spit, founded by Michelle Tea and Sini Anderson.
Schatz’s inspiration for the book came largely from her own young daughter. She tells PW:
Being a parent made me think really differently about being a writer and feminist. When you become a parent you see the world in a different way. We have a house full of children’s books, and there were so many A-Z books, but I wanted something more dynamic, diverse and engaging. I realized I would need to do that myself. At first I thought it would be just a fun side project, but people reacted so passionately. I realized all kinds of people were hoping for and wanting something like this book.
Rad American Women celebrates twenty-six different women, like punk rock musician Patti Smith and civil rights activist Ella Baker, as well as women who haven’t been acknowledged: “X is for the women whose names we don’t know.”
City Lights vice president Stacey Lewis says of the project, “The concept was so perfectly in line with our commitment to progressive politics. We say we don’t publish children’s books, but this one was just so City Lights.. People in the children’s book world are really perceptive and interested in the books they are covering. They exhibit more passion than I often see in the adult book market.”
Looking to the future of City Lights as a potential children’s publisher, Lewis adds, “We are very excited to be doing this book, but it’s so new that we’ll have to wait and see… Right now we have no plans for another children’s book. When you’re a small press and you take a chance, you have to wait to see how successful you are. We don’t know what will happen – but it’s been a great experiment so far.”
Rad American Women, a 64-page hardcover, will be published by City Lights/Sister Spit on April 7 this year.
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.