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Feminist Fairytales in a World Needing Imagination
By The Editors
Christina Rosso lives in Philadelphia where she co-owns a bookstore called A Novel Idea with her partner Alexander. She was also scheduled to her very first chapbook of feminist fairytales, She is a Beast, from APEP Publications on March 21st. However, due to shut downs and quarantines, they have now been postponed until May 2nd.
"I know this is the right thing to do, but it does feel challenging in terms of keeping momentum for the book and launch. It's also my first book so I have been putting a lot of pressure on it and my idea of success," she told us.
We spoke to her about the role of art during a crisis, the everlasting impact of folklore, and how she has been coping with COVID-19.
Why do you believe adaptations of fairy tales so popular and prevalent in books and movies?
I believe adaptations of fairy tales are so popular and prevalent in books and movies because they’re so familiar to us. Everyone knows some variation of some fairy tale. Whether we had fairy tale books read to us as children or grew up watching Disney, we know these tales and we love the possibility that exists within them. They add magic to our world, that especially right now, feels too raw and real.
Fairy tales also serve as a wonderful vehicle to process societal standards on gender, sexuality, and identity, as well as a way to process trauma.
Tell us about how the idea of your book came to fruition.
This book has been a work in progress for the past three years. It started with the final story in the collection, “Becoming a Beast,” where a young woman, bred to be a proper maiden, desires a much more adventurous and carnal life. I had recently graduated from a dual degree program at Arcadia University, specializing in literature and creative writing. Studying feminist fairy tales, written by authors like Angela Carter, Emma Donoghue, and Daniel Mallory Ortberg, opened a new world for me. Once I started twisting these tales to reveal the underbelly of their characters and circumstances, I was hooked. If I didn’t like how a version of Beauty and the Beast went, for instance, I could shape my own. If I wanted to write about the #MeToo movement in a fictional lens, fairy tales allowed me to do so with some distance from the grittiness of reality. What if the Enchantress placed Rapunzel in the tower so she could pimp her out, making money off the girl’s body and status as the woman with the longest hair known the man? How does a woman trapped physically, mentally, and emotionally come to terms with her situation and find a way out? (“Ecdysis” in the collection explores just this!).
I didn’t originally plan for the above-mentioned stories to become a collection, however, about a year ago I realized I had enough to put together and submit a chapbook. I was in the middle of working on longer projects (a novel and full-length short story collection, both inspired by fairy tales), and realized I wanted to do something that would honor the stories I had been working on and the women who resided in them. Why not give them their own storybook?
Once I decided I was going to put together a chapbook, it pushed me to finish a version of Beauty and the Beast I had been working on for two years and had failed to finish. That story, “Killing the Beast,” ended up being the first story in the collection.
As I read over these stories, I realized how glorious each of these female characters was. How unapologetically wild each was. The title--She is a Beast--came soon after.
I was familiar with APEP Publications from the independent bookstore my husband, Alex, and I own and run in Philadelphia (A Novel Idea on Passyunk). It was important to me that my book be really unique, and because of this, it needed a unique publisher. APEP makes beautiful, handmade books with illustrations. I was thrilled when my chapbook was accepted last summer. From day one, we were on the same page about the style and vision for the book. Jeremy Gaulke, the founder of APEP, has created gorgeous illustrations for every story in the collection, inspired by Ver Sacrum Magazine. It feels like a vintage storybook, which is exactly what I wanted. And I can’t wait for the world to see it!
How has COVID-19 affected your career and your personal life?
COVID-19 has obviously affected many aspects of people’s lives right now. For me, it is mainly affecting my small business and the release of my book.
As mentioned previously, my husband and I own an independent bookstore. It’s hard enough being a small brick and mortar business today. Add COVID-19. At this point, we are still open and operating with caution, however, it’s likely we will have to close. If this happens, our household will have no set income, which is a terrifying thought for us.
COVID-19 has also affected the release of She is a Beast. Originally, the launch was supposed to be at A Novel Idea on Saturday, March 21st. Due to COVID-19, that has been postponed until Saturday, May 2nd. Of course, this new date is dependent on the state of the health crisis.
All of the events I had scheduled for March and April for the book have been canceled or postponed. Even some interviews I was supposed to have have been postponed. As a small press author, readings and interviews are crucial to promote the book. That being said, I am so grateful for the opportunity Quail Bell has given me, as well as other artists.
There are still ways to support both the bookstore and She is a Beast during this time, however. You can order from A Novel Idea’s page on bookshop.org to have books shipped directly to you. You can also pre-order She is a Beast at either apeppublications.com or anovelideaphilly.com. Any and all support helps!
Why is it important for people to support the arts, even during times of uncertainty?
It is important to support the arts right now because so many artists are facing serious hardships due to COVID-19. Their shows or events are canceled, which makes a lot of art inaccessible right now, making it more difficult to support it. I am not the only author whose book was/is supposed to come out in the upcoming weeks. I am not the only artist who won’t be able to perform and promote their work in public for the foreseeable future. Obviously, health and safety come first right now, but this is also the perfect time to support the arts and remember what they give to our communities. Whether it’s pre-ordering someone’s book or donating money to an artist’s fund or simply sharing their posts on social media, it makes a big difference. It can be the difference between an artist being able to buy food and supplies during this time of uncertainty.
I hope that COVID-19 makes people take a step back from all the craziness of everyday life and realize what’s important. In my opinion, it’s humanity! Even more than usual, I’m trying to actively support those who give so much to their communities through their artwork and products. This means I’m pre-ordering other people’s books, donating to artists and artisans in need, and shopping local as much as possible.
What are some books you would recommend for someone's quarantine pile (in addition your own, of course!)
I can’t get enough of the Claire DeWitt series by Sara Gran. I’ve read two out of the three books so far. Claire DeWitt is the best detective in the world. She’s also kind of a mess. The first book takes place in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Claire is hired to find a man who went missing. It gets way more complicated than that, but it’s a fast-paced, twisty mystery that follows a female detective, unlike anything we’ve seen before.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins is another must-read. This book is historical fiction meets queer romance meets murder mystery. Frannie is born a slave in Jamaica, where she is educated and takes part in some unsavory experiments. She then goes to London as a free person of color and is hired to work in a white household. When her master and mistress die, she is the number one suspect. Frannie writes her confessions to the reader, and you don’t know if she’s innocent or guilty, until the end.
My last suggestion would be The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. I’ve been rereading this collection of feminist fairy tales for a class I’m teaching called Writing Feminist Fairy Tales. (Due to COVID-19, it’s moving online this week). No one does fairy tales in quite the way Carter does, and I classify it as the feminist fairy tale bible.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.