Cita Press is a library and press devoted to curating, highlighting, publishing, and promoting works written by women. It pairs contemporary authors and designers with open-access texts, and makes thoughtfully designed books available for free. We asked Cita’s Project and Editorial Coordinator Jessi Haley to share some of her favorite reads and tell us a bit more about the project.
“It was Colombian designer Juliana Castro who founded Cita Press in 2018, as part of her master’s thesis, for her degree at the University of Texas at Austin, and publishing the first six titles in our catalog. Juliana did most of the web design, editorial work, and visioning — all while recruiting volunteer designers and writers to contribute to the publications. In spring 2021, Cita Press and our fiscal sponsor, Educopia Institute, was awarded a capacity building grant under the Mellon Foundation’s Public Knowledge grant program, which allowed us to transition from an all-volunteer model to one with a part-time staff. Our books will always be online-first and free, but we’re trying to figure out how to make it an ongoing thing that can last and compensate contributors.
“The core principles of Cita Press are decentralization, collective knowledge production, and equitable access to knowledge. Within the open access space, we want to make the books free, findable, and available. We’re small and our output is very tight, so we focus on curation and accessibility. We have a pretty diverse catalog in terms of time period and subject, but they’re all essentially feminist books. Historically, women and other marginalized groups have often been neglected by the traditional publishing industry — that’s not really news — so these kinds of insurgent, scrappy practices have come up naturally. We’re focused on interdisciplinary approaches to making, where the design is as important as the words, and then also having an international community of designers, writers, artists, and developers. Making things standards compliant and accessible is also really important. We’re now also a bilingual press, publishing in Spanish and English.
“We have some longer books, but we also think about what can people reasonably read online in terms of a full length piece of literature, especially when we’re trying to introduce lesser known texts, or lesser known authors. Now that we’re bilingual, we’ve started prioritizing finding texts that are available in Spanish and English. From a content and aesthetic level, we want to find texts that have contributed something significant to feminist literary history, whether that’s recognized or not. Representing a diverse array of identities and experiences across time period, country, and genre is important to Cita’s mission. An example of that is one of our newer books, Saint Teresa of Jesus’ Meditations on the Song of Songs. She’s a 16th century nun, so the fact that that book even exists is wild and speaks to the history of women producing knowledge. I think when you’re talking about literature from the past, it’s easy to feel like it’s all like one note. Not many women had opportunities to write, but there’s actually so much out there. Once you start scratching the surface, you start to find we have a lot to choose from.
“Some of the books we publish are classics of feminist literature that are relatively well known, or often assigned in classrooms, and those tend to be the most popular in terms of views on our web page: The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Awakening by Kate Chopin. We also publish lesser known works by famous authors like Louisa May Alcott and George Eliot. Our latest book, The Old Maid by Edith Wharton, is a lesser known novella that explores a lot of themes relevant to our contemporary moment. Wharton is experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment. The foreword is by journalist and writer Krithika Varagur, who coined the term ‘Hot Wharton Fall’ last year.”
Favorite recently-released book: Papel Sensible by Juliana Castro, available in Spanish from Editorial Espasa.
Our founder, Juliana, just published her first book, Papel Sensible. It’s all about interlocking relationships between beauty, art, and love and how they play out in life/coming-of-age. Juli has a singular, expansive perspective on art and how it impacts us, and I think this will really speak to designers and non-designers alike. This is a book for lovers, art-lovers, and readers who are constantly searching for beauty in the everyday and the sublime.
Favorite “experimental trade paperback”: Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger
I have loved everything I have read from Dorothy, a publishing project, which publishes slim, thoughtfully designed paperbacks of experimental writing from women past and present. The press publishes work by Cristina Rivera Garza, Marguerite Duras, Leonora Carrington, Renee Gladman, Barbara Comyns — so many truly genius, often undersung writers and artists across genres. My first, and always favorite, Dorothy read was Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger, translated by Natasha Lehrer and Cécile Menon. It’s about American actress and director Babara Loden and her film Wanda, but it’s also about research, writing, memoir, art, life — it’s almost impossible to describe. It’s the first in a triptych about women’s artistic work and lives and memories — all three are must-reads for anyone interested in digging into archives (physical, remote, and imaginary), in creating, in building on, and rewriting the past and in living through art.
Book from history you wish was a Cita Press book: Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise by Michelle Cliff (1980)
There are lots of books that aren’t out of copyright yet that we would love to make available in a Cita Press edition. However, if I were to pick a “newer” historical text that really aligns with Cita’s mission and opens lots of design possibilities, I would choose Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise by Michelle Cliff (1980). Cliff was a fiction writer, poet, translator (of Spanish and Italian), and editor who wrote about post-colonialism, Jamaican history, race, gender, family lore and folklore, and love. She saw literature as a way to rewrite whitewashed narratives of history and culture, and her own work reflects that in an astonishingly beautiful and impactful way. For a couple of years, she co-edited the lesbian journal Sinister Wisdom with her life partner, Adrienne Rich, and together they published first or early works by icons of feminist and queer literature like Audre Lorde, Willyce Kim, and Joy Harjo. Claiming an Identity is her first book and is really hard to find.
Non-graphic design book (that graphic designers should read): Walking Through Clear Water in A Pool Painted Black by Cookie Mueller
I just finished reading Semiotext(e)’s new collection of work by Cookie Mueller, Walking Through Clear Water in A Pool Painted Black. Trying to define Cookie’s life and career makes me think of Jenny Offill’s much-discussed term “art monster” — she was an art demon as a: writer, actress, art critic, advice columnist, humorist, director, drug dealer, mother, lover, friend. This collection organizes much of her work chronologically and more or less thematically, giving insight into how her perspective changed over time as she interacted with and contributed to the work of some of the most influential artists of the second half of the twentieth century, including John Waters, Basquiat, Nan Goldin, Warhol, Rainier Werner Fassbinder, and Gary Indiana. She has a specific voice and, for designers, her writing is also a demonstration of how sustained, curious contact with culture and human behavior can be a conduit into individual work that is responsive to the world around us while carving out a unique path and vision.
Upcoming Cita Press book you’re excited about: A collection of lectures by some of the women who have won the Nobel Prize in Literature
Our next book is a collection of lectures by some of the women who have won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Only 16 women have won the prize out of 118 total laureates across 114 years of the prize. Of those 16 women, we’ve received permission to publish lectures by Doris Lessing, Wisława Szymborska, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, Svetlana Alexievich, Nadine Gordimer, and Herta Müller. The women who have won represent a range of styles, ideas, experiences, countries of origin, languages they write in, and career paths, which this group reflects. It is fascinating to look at all these writers’ work and their insights about literature and art together. We’re excited to see how putting their words together with a cohesive visual and structural identity will help us learn about the legacy of women winning the prize and the evolving place for writing by marginalized genders in the international landscape.