Bookmark This is a feature that highlights new books by College of Arts & Sciences faculty and alumni, published on the first Friday of every month during the academic year.
Featured book: Speaking of Feminism: Today’s Activists on the Past, Present and Future of the U.S. Women’s Movement (UNC Press, September 2019) by Rachel F. Seidman.
Q: Can you give us a brief synopsis of your book?
A: In this book, I center the voices of current feminist activists I interviewed around the country; it is a collection of their life stories that delve into who they are, how they came to focus their careers on feminist goals, and what strategies and tools they use to reach those goals. All the people I interviewed came of age during or after the 1980s, when there was a major cultural backlash against feminism, and we started being told that we “don’t need feminism anymore.” The book is divided into age cohorts, with chapters on those who were in their 40s, 30s and 20s when I interviewed them. In addition to learning about amazing individuals, the book allows you to get a good sense of the breadth and depth of today’s feminist movement.
Q: How does this fit in with your research interests and passions?
A: I’m trained as a U.S. women’s historian. Before I came to North Carolina, I studied 19th century women’s activism, especially during the Civil War. Over the years, I became more and more interested in recent history, and particularly in the method of oral history.
Q: What was the original idea that made you think: “There’s a book here?”
A: I used to teach a class at Duke University called “Women’s Leadership: History, Theory and Practice.” Out of that class in 2012 emerged an online campaign called “Who Needs Feminism,” that started as a final project for the course but amazingly went viral around the world. I became deeply interested in how online activism worked, what the pluses and minuses were, and in how young women were thinking about and participating in feminism today.
Q: What surprised you when researching/writing this book?
A: Every time you go to listen to a person’s whole life story, spending hours with them as they recollect moments in their life they haven’t thought about for a while, and tracing their own paths through time, there are wonderful surprises — powerful stories, things that make both of us cry or laugh or feel angry. I have to say that the most surprising moment, though, was when one interviewee’s small black cat leapt from a windowsill and landed spread-eagle on my back, claws digging into my skin!
Q: Where’s your go-to writing spot, and how do you deal with writer’s block?
A: I love writing in the Anne Queen Faculty Commons lounge at the Campus Y. I got a lot done there, including during a wonderful summer writing group sponsored by the Center for Faculty Excellence. My other favorite place is on my couch, with my small dog snoring next to me. I didn’t have writer’s block, per se, but this book did take a lot longer to write than I expected because a beloved family member got sick. I spent many, many hours and days in the hospital over a year before he died. I gave myself permission to just let the book go for a while; sometimes other things are more important.
Rachel F. Seidman is director of the Southern Oral History Program in the Center for the Study of the American South and adjunct assistant professor of history, American studies and women’s and gender studies.