Multiculturalism

For the women on the Dread Road of this earth, carrying the starved and poisoned children. —Meridel Le Sueur

U.S. literature took on new dimensions in the period after the Second World War. Postwar pressures produced a drive for racial and social equality in the U.S. reflected in the educational, intellectual, and creative spheres of society. African American, Asian American, Native American, and Latino cultures gained recognition in the period between 1950 and 1968. Women’s influence increased significantly due to a strong feminist current during the same period.

The emerging multicultural, feminist, and political literature was assertive, outspoken, ideological and practical at the same time. While reclaiming native cultural traditions, the new literature asserted the right of all people to equality, respect, and progress. Gay and lesbian literature emerged during the later 1960’s with similar patterns of self-recognition and protest.

Amazingly, Meridel Le Sueur provided us some crucial access to this new generation. Filmmakers in Minneapolis produced a video in 1975, “My People Are My Home,” showing Meridel present at Native American protest rallies, young women’s celebrations and alternate life-style gatherings. She encouraged emerging writers, especially feminists and Native American women. With her help, West End Press met many important writers in this period, including Joy Harjo, Linda Hogan, and Lorna Dee Cervantes. They have remained friends and supporters of the Press to this day.

In 1984 West End met working-class Chicana lesbian feminist Cherrie Moraga at a book fair in Minneapolis. Since that time, we have published four drama collections written by Moraga: Giving Up the Ghost, 1987; Heroes and Saints and Other Plays, 1994; Hungry Woman, 2002; and Watsonville, 2002. These plays have sold over 30,000 copies. Beyond this, Cherrie has kept the press energized with her remarkable wit, stamina, collective spirit, and intellectual acuity.

In 1984, John Crawford of West End Press left the Midwest, where he had lived for seven years, and returned to his hometown of Los Angeles. As a result of a year’s sojourn there and elsewhere in California he eventually published books of poems by California multicultural authors Nellie Wong, Bill Oandasan, Wendy Rose, Naomi Quinonez, Michelle T. Clinton, Julia Stein, Sesshu Foster, and Russell Leong. Several years later, first-time editors Clinton, Quinonez, and Foster compiled an anthology, Invocation L.A.: Urban Multicultural Poetry, for West End Press. This was the first poetry anthology from Los Angeles to feature multicultural writers and a majority of women.

In 1985, West End relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Added to the multicultural list were a number of Southwestern writers. With the help of UNM professor Patricia Clark Smith, they included Native American poets Paula Gunn Allen, Luci Tapahonso, and Laura Tohe, and Chicano poets E. A. Mares, Jim Sagel, and Levi Romero. In addition, between 1983 and 2008 West End published other books by nationally recognized multicultural writers including Jimmie Durham, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Adrian C. Louis, Duane Niatum, Diane Glancy, Luis Alberto Urrea, nila northSun, Lance Henson, Arlene Biala, Joseph Bruchac, Michele D. Gibbs, and Erika Wurth. We also published an experimental novel by Meridel Le Sueur, The Dread Road, in 1991; it reflects a Southwestern multicultural background and continues to impress as part jeremiad, part terrible prophecy of a polluted and irradiated environment in the making.

The relationship between multicultural, ethnic, and working class writing has continued strong in our publication schedule: other works we published in the period 2000-2008 reflect a good deal of working class ethnicity. These include Julia Stein’s Walker Woman; Joseph Bruchac’s Ndakinna and Above the Line; Stephen Haven’s The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks; Anya Achtenberg’s The Stone of Language; Michael Henson’s Crow Call; and Gerald McCarthy’s Trouble Light. We also published Refusing Despair, collected writings of our old friend Teresa Anderson, who died of cancer in 2008.