Twenty years ago, my friend and mentor Lisa C. Moore, founder and editor of RedBone Press, published does your mama know? An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories. I had the opportunity to interview her before Makers Lab and ZAMI at Busboys and Poets host a celebration on Tuesday, August 15 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this groundbreaking book.
What inspired the name RedBone Press?
When I realized I needed a name for my business, I cast about for something that would let people know it was a black woman-owned company. I had recently moved to Atlanta at the time, and people there would greet me with “Hey, RedBone,” and “What’s up, RedBone?” I quickly learned that it was a Southern term for someone my skin color, and it seemed to be a gendered term, too, so I adopted it and made it mine. Men were almost never called “RedBone”; they were called “red.” The uppercase “B” in the name is just a way to make it visually fancy.
does your mama know? is an anthology of black lesbian coming out stories and was the first book published by RedBone Press. Did you expect it to have this much of an impact? How difficult was it to publish the book?
I did not expect it to have this kind of impact, nor did I expect that it would still be making waves 20 years later! When I first started soliciting stories, I imagined someone else publishing the anthology. I thought I would collect the stories, edit them, and hand them off to a publisher. But in the process of researching publishers, I learned that they didn’t think there was a market for this kind of book. I knew there was a market for the work; I kept seeing all these black lesbians in Atlanta, and they often shared their coming out stories in casual conversations. Sharing those stories was a way of building community. I eventually decided to publish it myself, and learned Adobe PageMaker for the layout and hired an artist to design the cover. A friend gave me the printing money for which I am grateful to this day and does your mama know? was born. Of course, then I had to get it into the hands of readers, so I learned all about marketing and distribution—all while working part-time for the Atlanta newspaper and taking care of my then three-year-old nephew. So yeah, there was a learning curve, but I love learning.
What do you think was the most common connection between the essays?
I think a current runs through the book: a sense of relief at knowing one’s true identity, and that it’s OK to be exactly who you are. If your mama knows, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.
RedBone Press publishes work celebrating the cultures of black lesbians and gay men. Do you think larger publishing companies have done a better job of amplifying the voices of black queer folks?
I don’t think there’s a competition. I have a particular focus. The authors I publish tend to be performative and/or literary in some way; larger presses may publish a few books on black queer popular fiction, or black queer academic work, that fits in with their overall mission. I think it’s all necessary and wonderful!
Twenty years later, what inspires you most about this new wave of queer, womanist artists?
I like that newer writers and artists acknowledge the shoulders they stand on. I know I stand on the shoulders of Barbara Smith, Cherríe Moraga and Audre Lorde of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. I see writers of today knowing about the Combahee River Collective, and others who came before, and recognizing their influence and carrying the work—fiction and non, poetry and essay—further. That gives me hope for the future.
The 20th Anniversary Celebration of “does your mama know” takes place on August 15 at Busboys & Poets, 1025 5th Street NW, Washington, D.C. Tickets are available at doesyourmamaknow.splashthat.com.