Belladonna* is a feminist avant-garde collective, founded in 1999 by Rachel Levitsky. Belladonna* became a 501c3 federally recognized non-profit organization in 2011. All donations are fully tax-deductible. Belladonna* is a New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation and is currently pursuing a federal non profit status (501C3). Belladonna* was started as a reading and salon series at Bluestocking’s Women’s Bookstore on New York City’s Lower East Side, in August 1999. In June 2000, in collaboration with Boog Literature, Belladonna* began to publish commemorative ‘chaplets’ of the readers' work. In 2008 the style of production shifted from small run-single authored books to beautiful multi-authored volumes. The mission was and still is to promote publication and literary community between women writers who are writing off-center—work that is adventurous, multi-form, multi-cultural, multi-gendered, unpredictable, political and critical, formal innovation, hybrid experimentation, prose that is situational not plot-driven, poetry that is inter-subjective or performative or witnessing rather than personally revelatory, work that reaches across the boundaries and binaries of literary genre and artistic fields, and work that questions the gender binary.
In celebration of Belladonna*’s ten year anniversary in 2008/2009, we published an Elders Series highlighting continuity and transformation of the ideas, poetics, and concerns we circle through. We are releasing 8 titles in the next two years, representing writing by Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Bernadette Mayer, Layne Browne, and others.
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 asnew 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 other 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, both in BrooklynCUNY Graduate Center (where we co-sponsored a conference, where we once held our monthly readings), Small Press book fairs large and small, (including one recently at the Bronx Museum), and co-publication projects with ohter 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. Belladonna* has featured over 225 writers of wildly diverse age, gender orientation, and origin. 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, rich. As performance and as printed text, the work collects, gathers over time and space, and forms a kind of conversation about the feminist avant-garde: what it is and how it comes to be.
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