Studying Literary & Cultural Analysis and working on Pisswife in most of my spare time, I think it comes as no surprise the literature and feminism are some of my favorite things in the world. When I volunteered at the Women’s March Festival in Amsterdam a while back, you can imagine my excitement when I ran into the festival stand of Uitgeverij Chaos: The first feminist publishing house in the Netherlands. Three women have combined their passion for literature with their feminist views and apparent talent for entrepreneurship, and Uitgeverij Chaos was born. With their company being so inspiring and with an interesting event coming up, I decided to interview the women (Sayonara, Thalia and Yael) behind the chaos.
Uitgeverij Chaos, to me, is a long overdue response to mainstream literature. Most novels that are considered “timeless” and “classic” are written by the same group of people, which makes a larger group of people unable to recognize themselves in the literature they’re reading. “Thalia and Yael studied literature. It was not very diverse, there’s a lot of the same “classics” you have to read for each subject.” This lead to a frustration with the world of literature and a particular hate for the “classic” ‘Wilhelm Meister’ by Goethe, says Thalia. She stated most of her teachers were from Columbia, NY, and this resulted in a lack of different perspectives in the classes she took. “I thought Beowulf was a waste of my time. I really recognize that lack of diversity at university”, Sayonara agrees.
So we have found the problem: Literature and the study of it has some problems with diversity. How do you start working on a solution? “Uitgeverij Chaos started because of two nights in Savannah Bay (feminist bookstore in Utrecht). The first night revolved around the theme of Black Feminism in the Netherlands. Two days after that, Savannah Bay hosted the Feminist Open Mic, an initiative by Jolien Spigt and Sayonara used to help out with that night.” Inspired by these two events and the speakers present, a seed was planted to really undertake some action. “Yael and Thalia got an idea: What if we create a bigger platform for all of these talents right here?” They got Sayonara hyped up about the plan as well. “We started brainstorming at Yael’s attic and the rest is history.”
A good plan is the start of every business, I reckon. Probably the most difficult part is getting it up and running. How do you actually realize Uitgeverij Chaos, what are the daily tasks that keep it going strong? “All of us do other stuff next to running Uitgeverij Chaos. For this reason there’s a lot of tasks we do in between other activities.” Improvising and taking initiative seem to be key in making Uitgeverij Chaos into a success. “Officially, Thalia is an editor and she takes care of finances and contracts. Yael also does editorial work, but she also designed our website and she is in contact with our writers and potential new writers. Sayonara is responsible for making sure the books get sold, public relations and communication. It’s a lot to manage, and sometimes things go wrong.”
“We all have tasks that we don’t necessarily like, I guess that’s all a part of starting up a business.” Although we aren’t an actual business, I think Pisswife’s management team would have to agree on that one. “When we started Uitgeverij Chaos, we had the naïve idea that we would all get one specific task. Reality is that running a publishing house comes with so many little things that need to be taken care of. We did not expect that.” Whether running a business matches the women’s expectations or not, Uitgeverij Chaos seems to be doing really well. “We get enough energy and happiness out of the fun things we get to do. The contact with aspiring writers is my favorite thing: Giving people a platform and making them happy is very special – to all three of us.”
“I want my name to be a house hold.” Uitgeverij Chaos is excited to see what the future holds in store for them. “It would be so cool if everyone knew we existed and that we are the place to be if you want to get the best books in The Netherlands.” For feminists that have dreams of entrepeneurship like these women have, they have a simple message: “Just do it. You can keep dreaming forever, but the truth is that you just have to do it.” Sayonara adds: “People are often scared to ‘just do it’. I understand, but what’s the worst that can happen? I think the worst case scenario is when you look back on your life and you realize you could’ve done something, but didn’t because you felt scared of what might be.”
If you want more of Uitgeverij Chaos, check out this event they are hosting in September which is all about 21st century feminist literature. If you are either a huge fan of literature or just starting out reading your way through a few feminist classics: This crash course in feminist literature would suit you just well. There are only limited spots available so head out to their website and sign yourself up for months full of good reads.
Text: Tessel ten Zweege
Image: Misha Ragas