2014 marks the 15th anniversary of the Belladonna* mission to promote the work of women writers who are adventurous, experimental, politically involved, multi-form, multicultural, multi-gendered, impossible to define, delicious to talk about, unpredictable and dangerous with language. Belladonna* has featured over 225 writers of wildly diverse age and origin, writers who work in conversation and collaboration, in and between multiple forms, languages, and critical fields. As performance and as printed text, the work collects, gathers over time and space, forming a conversation about the feminist avant-garde, what it is and how it comes to be. Belladonna* is committed to building publication and literary community between women writers who write off-center—poetry and prose that is political and critical, that is situational rather than plot-driven, that is inter-subjective or performative or witnessing rather than personally revelatory, that reaches across the boundaries and binaries of literary genre and artistic fields, and that questions the gender binary.
Belladonna* is a feminist avant-garde collective, founded in 1999 by Rachel Levitsky. Belladonna* was started as a reading and salon series at Bluestocking’s Women’s Bookstore on New York City’s Lower East Side. In June 2000, in collaboration with Boog Literature, Belladonna* began to publish commemorative ‘chaplets’ of the readers’ work. This series continues today and has reached #163.
In celebration of Belladonna*’s ten year anniversary in 2008-2009, we shifted the style of production to include beautiful multi-authored full-length volumes, publishing The Elders Series, which highlights continuity and transformation of the ideas, poetics, and concerns we circle through. We released 8 titles in two years, representing writing by Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Bernadette Mayer, Laynie Browne, and others. Later, we expanded to publish single-author perfect-bound editions.
The organizational principle of the group is also Feminist in the French Feminist sense, allowing for creativity to take leaps and meander rather than a top-down hierarchical structure. Instead of holding contests or having regular submission periods, we promote feminist literary community among those with a shared (and ever-evolving) poetics. For the most part we develop our reading series and publication list through affiliation and invitation. We work with poets with whom we are collectively in conversation; we look for new poets who are doing what we think is resonant and interventionist. In this manner the collective expands as new poets join our conversations, often volunteering to help with our projects. Anyone who feels aligned with what we are doing can participate, volunteer and contribute to what Belladonna is becoming. Writers who are published by Belladonna often participate in the process of publishing their work and the work of others, and then become involved in the collective.
We collaborate with performance venues, academic institutions, art and literary organizations, holding readings at Dixon Place and Bowery Poetry club, local literary bookstores like Unnameable Books and Book Thug Nation, CUNY Graduate Center (where we co-sponsored the Adfempo conference and where we once held our monthly readings), small press book fairs large and small (including recently at the Queens Museum), and co-publication projects with other small presses, such as Litmus, Dusie, Futurepoem and Ugly Duckling. We have been featured in many publications including Rain Taxi, American Review of Books, Poets and Writers, amongst others.
Despite the fact that we have organized ourselves unconventionally and unpredictably, Belladonna Series has continually grown and expanded and flourished—our creative system has proven to be a very productive one. Our list of authors, presenters, organizers includes writers of every gender, and gender definition, every age, poets writing in English, French, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Black poets, Latina poets, poets from Mexico, Canada, Chilé, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Ireland, India, China, Philippines, Korea, Japan, the Middle East, middle America, urban America, old poets, young poets, working class, poor, and rich.
In 2010, Belladonna* formed a cooperative board with each member taking specific responsibilities so that the ongoing readings and publications can proceed.
Rachel Levitsky (founder)
Akilah Oliver (in memoriam, 1961 – 2011)
Audrey Zee Whitesides