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Here's Why We Should Talk More About Barbara Smith, Co-Founder Of The First Publishing Company For WOC

Here's Why We Should Talk More About Barbara Smith, Co-Founder Of The First Publishing Company For WOC

She’s been a champion for Black women!

There are a lot of publishing companies that have become household names in the Black community. The Johnson Publishing Company, owner of historic magazines like Ebony and Jet, comes to mind. But there are others who are not so well known, such as the R.H. Boyd Publishing Corporation, that were equally impactful in laying the foundation for Black writers, authors, media platforms, etc. One of those companies was founded by Barbara Smith, co-founder of the first publishing company for women of color. 

Barbara Smith is a socialist, feminist, and pioneer in the field of Black women’s studies. She and her peers at the Combahee River Collective, a Black, queer, feminist group built during the ‘70s in Boston, are credited with coining the term “identity politics,” now referred to as intersectionality. Defined as "an inclusive political analysis for contesting the interlocking oppressions of race, gender, class and sexuality,” Smith was a part of a group committed to addressing the nuances of oppression, externally and internally. It was her work that created a world where Black women could truly be free and expanded the lens of what scholarly work from Black women could consist of. 

“Black feminist organizing built a political environment in which one could assert the importance of [Black women’s] work and not necessarily just lose everything—one’s sanity, one’s job, one’s status, one’s credibility. We were building a real life context in which Black women could, if not be free, at least be free to express what we needed to express,” a statement on Smith’s website reads.

From her politics came a need to develop channels of distribution for the work they were conjuring. According to JSTOR Daily, it was friend and fellow writer Audre Lorde who contacted Smith with an urgent request. 

“We really need to do something about publishing,” Lorde told Smith.

Naturally, Smith agreed, knowing that the publishing options for Black, queer, women scholars were few and far in between, an oppressive reality that needed to be pushed back against. 

“As feminist and lesbian of color writers, we knew that we had no options for getting published except at the mercy or whim of others—in either commercial or alternative publishing, since both are white dominated,” Smith wrote in a 1989 essay.



In 1981, Smith, Lorde, Cherríe Moraga and Hattie Gosett launched Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, a publication committed to amplifying the work of Black women. The publication was the first independent publisher committed to publishing the writing of women of color. As founders, it was their hope that by providing a platform for those least heard, it would reach even more of the community, truly tapping into the Black masses. 

“We really do want to shake up the total communities that we live in. We see ourselves as trying to create work that will get to our people wherever they are, all over the world,” Smith told reporters in 1984. 



By 1989, Kitchen Table Press had published eight books, including the anthologies, This Bridge Called My Back and Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. The company also published five pamphlets under their Freedom Organizing Pamphlet series, which featured work from activist Angela Davis and members of the Combahee River Collective. Many of Smith’s works included in these anthologies became foundational texts in the areas of feminist scholarship and Black women’s studies. It helped shape the emerging field and provided shared language, understanding, and research on what was possible. 

Kitchen Table Press ceased publication after Lorde’s passing in 1992, but its legacy lives on. Smith went on to become an elected official and anti-violence and poverty advocate in Albany, New York. While Smith hasn’t been a part of the mainstream queer rights movement, she fully believes that her grassroots work in the ‘70s helped make immense strides and served as a revolutionary tool for empowering Black women and Black media. 

Today, we acknowledge Smith’s contributions and while there is a lot more work to do to achieve true justice, we stand in the knowledge and truth that it will only be done by continuing to amplify the voices of those most disenfranchised and silenced. 

Thank you Ms. Smith. Because of you, we can!

Here’s why we should talk more about Barbara Smith, co-founder of the first publishing company for WOC/Photo Courtesy of @TheBarbaraSmith/Twitter