Ask the author: Meredith Stabel

Meredith Stabel, PhD candidate in English and editor-in-chief of the UI Press, answers questions about her first published book, Radicals: Audacious Writings by American Women, an anthology of long-lost writings by women of the 19th century.

Ayrton Breckenridge

University of Iowa Press and Ph.D. Acquisitions Editor University of Iowa Department of English candidate Meredith Stabel poses for a portrait at Kuhl House on Friday, September 10, 2021.

UI English PhD student and UI Press editor-in-chief Meredith Stabel has published her first book, Radicals: Bold Writings of American Women, alongside co-editor Zachary Turpin, June 15, 2021. The book composes the long-lost writings of several 19th-century authors, both well-known and unknown, and has been hailed for its inclusiveness of genres and voices. Stabel sat down with The Iowan Daily to discuss his book and his creative inspirations.

DI: It is evident that you and your co-editor have chosen to include a very diverse range of authors in the two Radicals: Volume One and Radicals: Volume 2. Is there a unifying theme among their stories?

Stabel: I think radicals are the unifying theme and that’s why we chose this title. So these were women who weren’t even supposed to write necessarily. They weren’t supposed to preach in the pulpit, they weren’t supposed to publish articles in the newspapers – they weren’t supposed to publicize their ideas. So we kind of wanted to extend the biggest hits that people read in high school and college, right – so like most people read Awakening, and Yellow wallpaper – so, we love them and they are amazing, but find other things from Chopin and Gilman, and then also bring other people into the fold, who are not often canonized.

Q. I saw that Roxane Gay, in the front that she made for Radicals, said that you and Zachary “challenge the power structures that unduly influence the trajectories of our lives and challenge the people who benefit from them”. Why was this important to you guys?

Stabel: Well, first of all, it was really surreal that we could even email Roxane Gay, let alone make her read our stuff and say what she was thinking. So it was definitely a ‘pinch me’ moment, and I admire it so much. And, yes, one of the things that I think Zach and I felt was to include a diverse group of women who weren’t even supposed to have access to reading or writing most of the time in the 19th century. century, but somehow did it anyway. And it’s actually a little unfathomable how awesome it is. And then, you know, the other kind of problem is “the gun”, right? Everyone always denies the canon, but it’s true, as we read mostly white women: Emily Dickinson, Gilman, Chopin. And maybe if you’re lucky you’ll read Toni Morrison’s and maybe Harriet Jacobs’ Slave Tale, but it’s really limited, especially from the 19th century onwards. Because it was a time when African American, Asian, and Native American women weren’t published. So Zach and I are two white people who have this opportunity, and we just felt, as much as we could, dig that out and bring more people into the fold. Because that’s what was happening in the United States, it wasn’t just white women posting. So, it was nice to have that kind of broader view of a 19th century publishing world.

Q. What was your biggest inspiration in publishing? Radicals?

Stabel: I think it’s really energizing to read these “weird things” written by these women who today we think of them as sort of “main and proper” and “suffragists” and “whatever they were focusing on.” was to get the vote “or sort of suffering inside oppressive marriages, but they were actually full people, just like we are today. And so it was really fun and kind of encouraging to see. They could write about smoking hashish, they could show that they too are sexual beings. They might be writing a romance. It is not just about activism; It’s just a matter of them being creative. And so that inspired me.

DI. What’s your favorite book ?

Stabel: My favorite book is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I read it, like, at least once a year, and I watch the movie a million times a year. I mean, Jane Austen is just the master, right? She is so funny. She’s so smart. And now I’m at the point where, reading the book, I feel like the characters are my family, so I feel like it’s very heartwarming and intimate to reread it.

DI. This is your first published book – so what’s been the feeling, like you’re happy with the reaction? How was it?

Stabel: Yeah, honestly that’s right, I can’t believe it. So, we got reviewed in Publishers Weekly, and it was so out of the blue. It’s surprising because you don’t get any warning, it’s like someone sent it to you. And they didn’t hate it, so, yeah, it was very surreal. And then somebody sent me a picture of the book that’s in Powell’s bookstore in Portland, which – I’m a fan of bookstores in every town I go to. I had just been in that one, never having thought I would have a book on the shelf, so I don’t know. I have no words, as sometimes really crazy stuff happens.


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