Save All the Work of Lesbians: A Mantra on Sinister Wisdom Back Issues

For well over a decade, Sinister Wisdom rented two storage units in Berkeley, California. There all of the back issues were stored. Susan Levinkind, now of blessed memory, was the Sinister Wisdom office manager and all around go to administrative maven. She managed our back issues, making a sojourn to the storage unit for copies to mail out to people periodically.

When I first started working on Sinister Wisdom she told me about the storage unit. Over time it became a mythical place in my mind where all of the products of lesbian labor for Sinister Wisdom lived.

I did not visit the Sinister Wisdom storage units until it was time to pack up the back issues and move them to Florida. Then, with my intrepid friend Irene (whose service went above and beyond friendship), we journeyed to Berkeley and saw all of the issues in their boxes. Along with tables and bookshelves and a small square of workspace where Susan would pick and pack issues for women who ordered them. The first moment we opened that large storage unit, I marveled at the world of lesbian creation.

Moments for wonder were brief; we had work to do. I estimated visually that there were over 9,000 books in that storage unit. All of the contents in storage needed to be packed and loaded in a big plywood box to ship across country or discarded. I had only forty-eight hours in the Bay area.

Irene and I organized boxes, labeled them, and taped them up for shipping. I had hired movers to carry them from the second floor of the storage facility to the U-Haul box that would transport them across country. Books are heavy. Space wasn’t the issue in transport; weight was. It became clear that some things could not travel to Florida. The mantra I used was: save all the work of lesbians.

I have been rolling that idea around in my head over the past seven months. Save all the work of lesbians. It feels like an important value, but like most values articulating it is only one part of process. Implementing values are where challenges arise, where grey areas emerge.

Irene and I sifted through everything. We filled garbage buckets provided by the storage facility with books that were damaged by water, boxes too damaged to use for the shipment, a scale that did not register weight. Eventually everything was loaded into one plywood box, which groaned under the weight of the books. Then, the forklift could not heft that box onto the truck; it had to be split between two boxes. The balanced load was about 4,000 pounds. Yes, 4,000 pounds of back issues of Sinister Wisdom were loaded onto a truck and shipped to my home in Dover, Florida.

On the Florida end, more movers unloaded those boxes and stacked the books in piles on the second floor of the office space. The January inventory indicated 9,345 copies of Sinister Wisdom back issues. We have been shipping out orders for back issues ever since then.

Back issues of Sinister Wisdom stored in the offices in Florida.
Back issues of Sinister Wisdom stored in the offices in Florida.

Over the next few weeks, I will be rolling out new resources for those back issues of Sinister Wisdom. In my role as editor, I always look to the future, plan issues, schedule guest editors, scheme new projects. I am responsible also for the Sinister Wisdom past. How can we utilize and preserve the lesbian past of Sinister Wisdom? is the question that keeps me up at night.

I’ll write more about our new resources as they become public. For now, I invite you to embrace the mantra: save all the work of lesbians. We all have a role to play in saving the work of lesbians and preserving it for future generations.

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