Virginia Woolf once wrote ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’, but surely its even better if that room is filled with other like minded individuals, who will support you every step of the way? In a society such as ours, where the individual gain is of the upmost importance, the need for collective practices is more essential than ever. Collective practices can break the many barriers that are constraining female creative spaces, using the Internet as their allies’, women are reclaiming that space, with their greatest supporters being each other. In this column we’ll highlight the women working within, and creating, collectives and safe spaces.
Writer, storyteller, poet and all round Alt-lit Goddess Lucy K Shaw, is proof of just that. Editing and publishing other’s work whilst creating her own is her way of connecting to like-minded individuals. Enabling the start up her own publication Shabby Doll House, whilst working within others such as Illuminati Girl Gang and The Bunny Collective, LK Shaw proves just how important collectives are in creating space for both your own and other’s work. Here LK Shaw discusses her own experiences of being part of collective practices, and their significance in allowing women to create the landscape for their own work.
How important is the idea of the collective in the work that you do?
I would say that it’s completely vital in the sense that I don’t feel sufficiently interested in myself or in my own work to spend all of my time thinking about it. But I do have an incessant compulsion to be involved in the process of creating something.
Working with others, and by that I primarily mean editing other people’s work but also crucially finding a way to work constructively and harmoniously with other editors, for me, is much more consistently rewarding than writing, publishing and showing my own work. I think personal successes and accomplishments, while important, can often feel ultimately kind of lonely. But the thrill of completing and presenting something you’ve worked on very hard with other people can really be a beautiful and fulfilling feeling.
What kind of impact do you think collective practices have on a movement such as feminism?
I can only really speak on this from my personal experience. Until I met Sarah Jean Alexander and Gabby Bess, who were also pretty much completely unknown at the time, I hadn’t ever really felt like there was a place for me or for my work.
But once we started supporting each other, we were able to build Shabby Doll House and Illuminati Girl Gang into these bold, far-reaching magazines and to publish the work of so many other writers and artists who we believed in. And one of those people was Samantha Conlon, who later went on to form Bunny Collective. Another was Luna Miguel. Another was Mira Gonzalez. Another was Stacey Teague. Another was Ashley Opheim. I’m not trying to take credit for other people’s successes here, but rather to demonstrate that it’s all cyclical. We have all helped and supported one another unquantifiably, and often merely by existing at the same time.
So I think, in terms of how these types of collective practices can advance a movement like feminism; I was probably quite convinced for a long time that if I was going to succeed in writing or art or actually any type of field, that I was going to have to become an exception to the rule. That I would have to be the only successful woman in whatever it was that I was doing, and that I would have to do all of this on somebody else’s terms, as part of a landscape which already existed.
But now I know that just isn’t true.
In the past, collectives have often been used to bring local communities together. How has the Internet changed this idea of the collective? Do you think it has it changed for the better?
It’s hard for me to say because I’ve never really felt part of an immediate local scene, other than in a specific, post-industrial pocket of Brooklyn, which is basically the Internet anyway.
Working predominantly online offers you the opportunity to find or be found by the people from all over the world who are interested in the same weird niche that you’re obsessed with, and you don’t even have to go outside. But I don’t know if that means it has changed for the better. You still need to be close to other humans. I know a lot of people who have moved very long distances to be closer to specific communities or individual people that they first found online.
In a Western society, within Capitalism and Neo Liberalism, the individual rules, it is all about individual gain and power. What impact do you think this has on collective practices?
For a lot of people, I think it’s more about vulnerability and insecurity and feeling powerless. But if you can organise and align yourself with like-minded people, whether that’s socially, politically, and/or creatively, it can become so much easier to recognise the inherent value in your individual voice. And it will become so much more difficult for the people with power to ignore you.
What advice would you give to someone who maybe wants to start a collective or wants to be involved with one?
Somebody wrote this on the door of a bathroom stall at a bar I used to go to in Toronto,
Be kind and work hard.
Words by Ella Sweeney.