Ask the Author: Meredith Stabel

UI English doctoral candidate and UI Press Editor Meredith Stabel answers questions on her first published book, Radicals: Audacious Writings by American Women, an anthology of long-lost writings from 19th century women.

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Ayrton Breckenridge

Acquisitions editor at University of Iowa Press and Ph.D. candidate for the University of Iowa English department Meredith Stabel poses for a portrait at the Kuhl House on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021.

Maddie Johnston, Arts Editor

UI English doctoral candidate and UI Press Editor Meredith Stabel published her first book, Radicals: Audacious Writings by American Women, alongside her co-editor Zachary Turpin, on June 15, 2021. The book is composed of the long-lost writings of several 19th century female authors, both well known and unknown, and has been praised for its inclusivity of genres and voices. Stabel sat down with The Daily Iowan to discuss her book and her creative inspirations.

DI: It’s obvious that you and your co-editor opted to include a very diverse range of authors in both Radicals: Volume One and Radicals: Volume Two. Is there a uniting theme among their stories? 

Stabel: I think radicals is the uniting theme and that’s why we went with that title. So, these were women that were not supposed to be even writing necessarily. They weren’t supposed to be preaching at the pulpit, they weren’t supposed to be publishing columns in newspapers — they weren’t supposed to be getting their ideas out there. So, we wanted to sort of expand the greatest hits that people read in high school and college, right — so like most people read The Awakening, and The Yellow Wallpaper — so, we love those and they’re amazing, but let’s find some more things by Chopin and Gilman, and then let’s also bring some other people into the fold, who don’t often get canonized. 

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

Stabel: Well, first of all, it was just really surreal to be able to even email with Roxane Gay, let alone have her read our stuff and say what she thought. So that was definitely a “pinch me” moment, and I just admire her so much. And, yeah, one of the things I think Zach and I felt was paramount in this was including a diverse group of women who weren’t even supposed to have access to reading or writing a lot of the time in the 19th century, but somehow did it anyway. And it’s actually kind of unfathomable how impressive that is. And then, you know, the other sort of problem of this is “the canon,” right? Everyone’s always naysaying the canon, but it’s true, like we mostly read white women: Emily Dickinson, Gilman, Chopin. And maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll read Toni Morrison and maybe Harriet Jacobs’ slave narrative, but it’s really limited, especially from the 19th century. Because that was a time when African American and Asian American and Native American women weren’t getting published. So, Zach and I are two white people who have this opportunity, and we just felt, as much as we could, let’s dig into this and bring more people into the fold. Because that’s what was going on in the U.S., it wasn’t just white women publishing. So, it was nice to get that sort 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 more “weird things” written by these women that, today we kind of think of them as “prim and proper” and “suffragists” and “all they were focused on was getting the vote” or sort of suffering inside of oppressive marriages, but they actually were full people just like we are today. And so that was really fun and sort of encouraging to see. They might be writing about smoking hash, they might be showing that they, too, are sexual beings. They might be writing a romance. It’s not all about activism; It’s just about them being able to be creative. And so that was inspiring to 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’s so funny. She’s so smart. And I’m at the point now where, reading the book, it feels like the characters are my family, so I feel like it’s very comforting and homey to re-read it. 

DI. This is your first book published — so what was the feeling, like were you happy with the reaction? How was that?

Stabel: Yeah, honestly, I just, I can’t believe it. So, we got reviewed in Publishers Weekly, and that was just so out of the blue. It’s surprising because you don’t get any warning, it’s just like someone sends it to you that it did. And they didn’t hate it, so, yeah, it was very surreal. And then someone sent me a picture of the book sitting in Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, which — I fangirl over bookstores in every city I go. I had just been in that one, never ever ever thinking I would have a book on the shelf, so I don’t know. I don’t have any words, like sometimes really crazy stuff happens. 

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