Belladonna* is a feminist avant-garde collective, founded in 1999 by Rachel Levitsky. This week, Gazing Grain editor Kathy Goodkin spoke with Belladonna* member HR Hegnauer about the collective's work, and the role of radical conversation.
Kathy Goodkin: For you, what is the most important part of Belladonna’s mission?
HR Hegnauer: I love the Belladonna* mission! Below is our mission statement, and while it is all important, that first line jumps out for me. It’s about promoting women writers who are bold and who take risks. It can be difficult for writers like this to find a home in publishing, and Belladonna* is very good at promoting and facilitating the space to support their work. In my experience with Belladonna*, this is how the conversation builds over time — by allowing radical work and thoughts to exist in a supportive framework.
Belladonna’s mission is to promote the work of women writers who are adventurous, experimental, politically involved, multi-form, multicultural, multi-gendered, impossible to define, delicious to talk about, unpredictable and dangerous with language. Belladonna* has featured over 225 writers of wildly diverse age and origin, writers who work in conversation and collaboration, in and between multiple forms, languages, and critical fields. As performance and as printed text, the work collects, gathers over time and space, forming a conversation about the feminist avant-garde, what it is and how it comes to be. Belladonna* is committed to building publication and literary community between women writers who write off-center—poetry and prose that is political and critical, that is situational rather than plot-driven, that is inter-subjective or performative or witnessing rather than personally revelatory, that reaches across the boundaries and binaries of literary genre and artistic fields, and that questions the gender binary.
KG: I love what you say about the way Belladonna's supportive framework foments radical conversation. Are you thinking of any particular writers or books? What are some projects Belladonna has published that made a big impression on you in this regard?
HRH: Well, I could easily say “all of our books!” But I’m also thinking of our most recent book: Theory, A Sunday. This book comes directly out of conversations, and was originally published in French in 1988. It was written through meetings and conversations that took place on Sundays (hence the name) in Montreal among Louky Bersianik, Nicole Brossard, France Théoret, Gail Scott, Louise Cotnoir, and Louise Dupré. Essentially, the book is a collection of their feminist theories. They talk about political and intellectual struggles of the time, and then juxtapose this against a short work of fiction.
Going back into earlier years of Belladonna*, I love the book Mauve Sea Orchids by Lila Zemborain. It came out in 2007 as a bi-lingual edition (Spanish & English), and in fact, this was the first book I got to work on and design as a freelancer. Lila’s writing is stunningly beautiful; it’s gorgeous and luminous. A book like this makes me remember that one way to be radical is to be beautiful and to speak of beauty as a thing that truly does exist. And furthermore, its existence is vital. I remember how Lila writes about the “loveglands” as if it is an actual part of our human biology. She has this great line: “Loveglands would not be like pillows but more like bread rolls releasing their baking aroma when heated in one’s own body.”
But beyond publishing books, Belladonna* really does exist in space physically. Its reading series is a core part of the structure, and how Belladonna* originally began 16 years ago now. For each reading, we publish a chaplet of the reader’s work; we’re at #171 in that series right now. These readings are a way that the structure supports the long-term conversation, and after many of the readings, there will often be a discussion or Q&A of some sort. Thus, “the conversation” doesn’t just happen one concrete time; but rather, it happens over decades.