Florence Howe (1929-2020): Feminist Publisher and Editor

Wednesday, September 16, 2020 (updated, Thursday, September 17, 2020)

“I don’t think of publishing either as money making for the moment, or as noise making for the moment. I really think about publishing in relation to learning and consciousness over the long haul, and what is needed to make something that represents more accurately the world we live in.” — Florence Howe


quoted in “The Feminist Press’s Chief Editor, Fund Raiser, and Cheerleader” by Ellen K. Coughlin
NOVEMBER 14, 1990 — Chronicle of Higher Education

(cited in Harrison Smith’s obituary in The Washington Post:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/florence-howe-feminist-press-founder-and-womens-studies-champion-dies-at-91/2020/09/14/2d86f836-f694-11ea-be57-d00bb9bc632d_story.html )


As founder of the Feminist Press, Florence Howe (1929-2020) made an extraordinary contribution to canonical discourse, and though her accomplishments were acknowledged in several lengthy obituaries, I would argue that they should have been longer and more detailed. In particular, more attention should have been paid to Howe’s work on the anthology, NO MORE MASKS (Anchor Books: Doubleday, Garden City, NY; 1973), which Howe co-edited with the poet Ellen Bass. While Donald Allen’s anthology from Grove Press (1960) has long been regarded as the preeminent collection of “underground” poetry after World War II, its paucity of women poets (a total of four, in fact) is exactly why Howe’s and Bass’s anthology was sorely needed.

In point of fact, though, NO MORE MASKS was not a singularity back when it first appeared. Los Angeles-based poet Ann Stanford, for instance, edited THE WOMEN POETS IN ENGLISH, which McGraw-Hill published in 1972. Stanford’s book, at 374 pages, was very close to being the same size as Howe’s and Bass’s, and I do wonder why Stanford is not included in NO MORE MASKS. Her exclusion, if it was deliberate, will hardly be regarded down the line as an act of encompassing sisterhood. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a neutral party in making this comment. Those of you who know HOLDOUTS: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance (University of Iowa, 2011) will recollect the esteem I have for her work. Nevertheless, in perusing the original volume this afternoon, I am struck more than ever with the implicit dialogue that is taking place in NO MORE MASKS. The women poets are talking to each other, and if the men don’t want to listen in, they are all the more impoverished in their patriarchal enclave.

NO MORE MASKS went on to be reprinted by Harper Perennial in an expansed edition (about twenty percent larger) twenty years after its first appearance, and its cumulative impact continues to be acknowledged. There was a tribute two years ago to this anthology at the Poets House in NYC, which included a panel featuring
Ellen Bass, Natalie Diaz, Marie Howe, Aracelis Girmay, Donna Masini, Saretta Morgan & Alicia Ostriker.

I send my condolences to Ellen Bass, especially.



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