Happy 30th Birthday, Calyx Press

In her Introduction to the latest issue of Calyx, a journal of art and literature by women, publisher Margarita Donnelly writes:

When Calyx was founded in 1976, the four founders and I believed that a female aesthetic in literature and art existed and that it could be better seen and nurtured by publishing women’s work in the context of other women’s work. We named the journal Calyx — the protective covering on the flower bud. We envisioned Calyx as the cup allowing the blossoming of women’s imagery that would bear fruit and bring forth new life.

In the past, women’s creative work was often rendered invisible or impotent — through lack of documentation or loss or misrepresentation or, most commonly, through rejection and miscomprehension. But in 1976 the founders of Calyx believed the world was changing and were sure women’s art and literature would be accepted into the mainstream and given equal status and that the need for Calyx would be short-lived. But here we are celebrating three decades of publishing, and the statistics for women are only slightly improved. In the past twenty years the number of women recipients of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry has reached twenty-five percent. In 1998 when the Modern Library made a list of the top one hundred English language novels, only eight by women were included. A recent list of the top one hundred American novels selected by authors and published by the New York Times Book Review gave Toni Morrison’s Beloved the top spot, but still listed few women’s novels in comparison to men’s. A recent survey of small press publishing by a Calyx intern revealed only twenty-five percent of those published are women. In evaluating major literary anthologies, women’s literature currently averages ten percent of the work included, up slightly from the seven percent representation of women in anthologies in 1976 when Calyx was founded.

In writing about Calyx for our tenth-anniversary anthology, Florilegia, Eleanor Wilner said, “… when I think of Calyx, I think of people, of themes, of paths– as if … we were making deep tracks for each other, so that it’s impossible to say ‘she went that way first’ or ‘those are her prints,’ but only that the path is there, there are safe houses along the way, we’re going together. This is, for me, feminism’s best self, the positive form of that old female anonymity; here, it is a chosen anonymity, a conversation in which everyone has her own voice… That’s what’s missing in mainstream America, and in the world of letters too …”

During the past thirty years Calyx has provided the public with a conversation by over 3,500 women authors and artists that is a collective expression of the different realities of women’s lives, visions, and dreams. A reality previously defined by a limited elite that excluded women’s perceptions has now been opened up to include a multitude of voices that are flourishing. In reviewing Calyx Journal during our twentieth anniversary, John Berry, editor-in-chief of Library Journal, said, “Calyx has survived two decades of struggle in a society that only grudgingly pays for excellence, especially in challenged genre like the short story or poem. Yet here in Calyx such works thrive, and move, and command your attention. I am proud that we simple citizens, through the National Endowment for the Arts, actually have supported this paragon of the literary arts, this exemplar of what great writing and editing can create. From here will come our literary heritage.

Calyx published my first book, in 1991. If not for that, I doubt I’d still be writing today.

Back in 1976, when Calyx was founded, I was a 17-year-old freshman at the Ateneo de Manila University, in love with a boy who was a blackbelter in karate and who liked to wear platform shoes. I thought I’d live forever in Manila and become, possibly, a teacher. I’d been told I could write, by a wonderful and inspiring teacher named Doreen Fernandez. But I didn’t take her praise seriously enough. What I really wanted was to be married, to live in a nice house, to have possibly four children and maybe to surround myself with interesting people, artists and intellectuals and what-not, the way my mother had.

Seven years later, I was beginning the Creative Writing Program at Stanford. Why was I there? I wasn’t sure. I’d worked in New York for a year and didn’t like it, so going back to school felt right. I was on a full scholarship, so my parents didn’t complain.

A fellow classmate named Beth Alvarado was sending stuff to Calyx, a women’s journal. Try, she said. But Beth was a little bit like a hippie, and besides I didn’t like the odds. Somewhere I found that they accepted only .17% of the manuscripts sent to them. I don’t know what data I was using, but I do remember writing that figure in a little notebook, next to the word Calyx Journal. It wasn’t until 1986, a few months after I’d had my son, ten years after the Calyx founding, that I submitted something, “Siko”.

It was Marilyn Chin who gave me the tip. She paid me a visit, and I showed her my newborn and we walked together to Peet’s and she told me about an anthology, the first Asian American women’s anthology. And that was how I came to be included in The Forbidden Stitch.

And, here’s another interesting thing: Some years ago, after looking very carefully at high schools for A, we decided to enroll him in Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton. Which turns out, coincidentally, to have been Margarita Donnelly’s exact same high school. “I was there when it was an all girls school,” Margarita told me. “I was a boarder and very unhappy.”

They should give her a plaque. They should have her speak at high school graduation instead of the Steve Cases and Thomas Hennessys they’ve had over.

Through Sept. 30, 2006, Calyx is offering a promotional rate for a one-year subscription (that’s three issues) for only $9.50. That’s the price of

    one

movie ticket. In return you will have in your hands, three times a year, a lovely bound journal whose content, I guarantee, will move and astonish…

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