The following excerpt is part of our interview series where we talk to members of the lesbian literary community. A longer version of this interview will appear in an upcoming issue of our literary journal, Serendipity.
Lisa C. Moore is the founder and editor of RedBone Press, which publishes award-winning work celebrating the culture of black lesbians and gay men and promoting understanding between black gays and lesbians and the black mainstream. Moore is the editor of does your mama know? An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories, co-editor of Spirited: Affirming the Soul and Black Gay/Lesbian Identity, and co-editor, co-compiler and co-publisher (with Vintage Entity Press) of Carry the Word: A Bibliography of Black LGBTQ Books. Moore is also board co-president of Fire & Ink, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ writers of African descent. A former editor of Lambda Book Report, Moore has judged numerous literary awards and speaks at conferences, colleges, and universities about black gay/lesbian publishing. She is a former board member of the Money for Women Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. Moore is a researcher for the Untitled Black Lesbian Elder Project, a feature-length documentary honoring the legacy of black lesbian elders.
You are a Black lesbian publishing trailblazer/treasure, and most of us knew this long before you were awarded the 2016 Publishing Professional Award in 2016. For folks who are unfamiliar with your work, tell us about your publishing journey and why you started RedBone Press.
A: Thank you for your kind words! I’ve been doing this work since 1997, and during the early years, the mission of RedBone Press evolved to what it is today: To publish books that celebrate the cultures of black lesbians and gay men, and that further promotes understanding between black lesbians and gay men and the black mainstream. I started the press by self-publishing the first title, does your mama know? An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories in 1997, but then fell in love with all aspects of book publishing: editing, layout and design, marketing, promotion, distribution, accounting. It seemed that everything I’d learned in life up to that point led me to become a book publisher—and through the years I keep learning even more.
After publishing does your mama know?, I saw that there was a market, for lack of a better word, for quality literature written by black lesbians. I soon expanded to publishing work by black gay men. Mind you, when I say publishing titles, I mean 1, maybe 2 books per year. I am still a sole proprietor, so I do what I can with the money I have.
In late August there was a celebration of the 20-year anniversary of the publication of does your mama know?. What has surprised you the most about the work you’ve been doing for the past 20 years?
That people are still discovering it, that the work still changes their lives. The impact that RedBone Press books have on people is tremendous, and I’m not bragging: people write and tell me this all the time. I’m awed and humbled that I have a hand in that.
What role does art or literature have in social or political protest?
Let me put it this way: There is no social or political protest without the arts. Who makes the signs? The artists. Who creates the chants and songs? The artists. Who puts the pamphlets and leaflets and flyers out? The artists. When same-sex marriage was being funded by the big nonprofits (and funding of LGBTQ arts fell to the wayside), my author Marvin K. White said, “Who do they think writes the vows?” The artists!
If you could sit down with any writer, living or dead, who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
Gwendolyn Brooks. I’d like to just listen to whatever she had to say. Zora Neale Hurston is another, for the same reasons. I’d love to be a fly on the walls of their lives.
You are an inspiration to Black LGBTQ writers and publishers. Who inspires you?
Thank you for the compliment! I’m inspired by the people who did this work before me: Barbara Smith, co-founder of Kitchen Table Women of Color Press; Makeda Silvera, co-founder of Sister Vision Press; Vega of Vega Press; Joseph Beam and Essex Hemphill. And I’m inspired by people who are currently doing the work: You; Sheree Greer at Kitchen Table Literary Arts Center, for example. I don’t know everybody, but I acknowledge that I’m a small part of the ways that people are creating literature. Ultimately it’s the creators that inspire me: The writers who have to write or they can’t breathe. The musicians who have to play or they can’t sleep. The artists who have to draw.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring publisher, what would it be?
Study the profession. Treat it like anything you’d study: research it, ask other publishers how they do what they do, why they do what they do. It’s not easy work, but it is fulfilling. Midwifing the words of writers is no small thing.