Rad Women Worldwide introduces readers to some of the “artists and athletes, pirates and punks, and other revolutionaries who shaped history.” Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl, who brought us the acclaimed Rad American Women A-Z, now tell the illustrated stories of inspiring, persevering women from all around the world and from 430 BCE to 2016. Click here to order your copy from Truthout!
In a largely patriarchal world, Rad Women Worldwide highlights women who have been “artists and athletes, pirates and punks, and revolutionaries.” Writer Kate Schatz and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl are not interested in rule-following women from the establishment. They reach right out to focus on the rabble-rousers, the peacemakers, the gifted creators — and other women who break through the gender barrier with conviction, intelligence and commitment. Far too many of their stories go untold in a gender-biased world where men are regarded as the people who change history.
Truthout talked with Schatz about how Rad Women went worldwide.
Mark Karlin: We interviewed you in November of 2015 about The New York Times best selling book Rad American Women A-Z, of which Rad Women Worldwide is the sequel. How did you come to the decision to write a global tribute to “rad” women spanning the globe and history?
Kate Schatz: Once we finished Rad American Women A-Z, we knew immediately that we wanted to create another book. Since the first one was limited to just American women, an international version made sense. It was also the resounding suggestion we heard from readers — from parents and teachers to kids, people asked if we were making a book about women from all over the world. Given the terrifying rise of nationalism and xenophobia around the world and in our own country, we knew a book highlighting global women was necessary.
Given the countless number of women that you could have paid tribute to, how did you decide which ones to focus on?
It was incredibly challenging, fascinating and fun process, because it entailed reading and learning about hundreds of women, many of whom I’d never heard of. I learned so much in the process, and narrowing it down was very hard. In the end, we were looking to tell good, compelling stories that can engage a reader even if they’ve never heard of the woman, or know little about her country, culture or time period. We seek to showcase a wide range of women from each region of the world, presenting well-known and lesser-known women; women from different centuries; and women who worked in varying fields (science, sports, politics, art, etc).
Near the end of the book, you have a two-page tribute to the stateless and dispossessed of the world, noting that of the “60 million forcibly displaced people in the world, almost 80 percent are women and children.” Why did you choose to add that haunting alert to a book that is primarily biographical sketches?
Because those are the stories that will probably never be told, and because it is a real, true crisis of our times. We wanted to honor the nameless, faceless, stateless women who aren’t able to work for change in their communities, like so many of the women in the book have, because they’ve been forced out. It’s also about historical perspective: Readers can go through the book reading about centuries of struggle and triumph, and then at the end they are reminded that we are by no means free from that now. The piece ends with the question and answer: “Who belongs? Who helps? We do.” We hope that serves as a reminder that we can all be “rad,” and we all have the potential to act and to make a difference.
Tell us about some of the heroic African women you profile who are not generally unknown by Westerners.
Younger readers love the story of Hatshepsut, the ancient Egyptian leader who wasn’t satisfied being Queen, and so declared herself King. The name Wangari Maathai is relatively well known to Westerners, as she won the Nobel Prize for her environmental and peace advocacy. Many older readers will recognize the great South African singer Miriam Makeba, but she’ll likely be lesser known to young readers. Those who recognize her, though, might not know the entire story of her career, and the incredible work she did to speak out against apartheid. Literary-minded folks will recognize the amazing writer Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie, and young readers who may have heard her voice on the Beyonce song “Flawless” will hopefully get to learn more about her life and work. We also tell the stories of Nigerian women’s rights and independence activist Funmilayo Ransome Kuti and Ugandan LGBTQ hero Kasha Jacqueline Nagabasera — these two women are much less well known. Those who love the music of Fela Kuti might know that Funmilayo is his mother; they’ll learn all about her work as an organizer and activist. Kasha Jacqueline is one of the more contemporary women we profile: She’s in her 30s, and is one of the last gay rights activists remaining and speaking out publicly in Uganda. Nearly everyone else has left the country, or been killed. Her bravery is stunning.
In your note at the end of the book, you write that history is normally written by the victors. How does history become different when it is written by advocacy writers?
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To quote one of the Guerrilla Girls, who we profile in the book: “How can you really tell the story of a culture when you don’t include all the voices within the culture? Otherwise it’s just the story and history of power.” That’s how it’s different. Imagine history books in 50 or 100 years telling the story of Donald Trump’s election: What does that story look like when it’s written by his supporters? What does it look like when it’s written by women of color, by immigrants, by Muslims, by Latinos? Big, big, big differences. Huge.
Can you describe the marvelous, vibrant artwork of your collaborator, Miriam Klein Stahl?
“Marvelous” and “vibrant” are certainly two words I’d use to describe the work! Miriam’s illustrations are all papercuts: She uses a piece of black paper a pencil, and an X-ACTO knife. With pencil she draws the portrait, which is usually based on a source image (when one is available — she takes artistic license when illustrating ancient women of whom no photos or artistic renderings exist). Then she uses her knife to cut. The images are black and white, bold and nuanced. They’re strong and they’re delicate and they’re unbelievably expressive. She did a papercut of me for my author portrait and I think it captures my face better than most photos! It’s an honor to collaborate with such an incredible artist, and I never fail to be amazed by what she creates.