SINISTER WISDOM, founded 1976

In 1976, the cofounders of Sinister Wisdom had two pressing questions: “How does a woman survive when she steps out from the death process of patriarchy? How does she think without thinking ‘their’ thoughts, dreaming ‘their’ dreams, repeating ‘their’ patterns?” Using these questions as a guide, Catherine Nicholson and Harriett Desmoines created a flyer that said, “We’re trying to answer the questions in our own lives and finding only hints and clues so we decided to make a space to attract other clues, other attempts at living and thinking past the patriarchy.” It was lesbian-feminism in action: they saw something that needed doing and they just did it.

For five years, Nicholson and Desmoines edited and published Sinister Wisdom, producing sixteen issues, approximately three a year. When fatigue set in from the intense work that Sinister Wisdom required, they passed the journal on to Adrienne Rich and Michelle Cliff, beginning a tradition of passing the editorial and business control of the journal on to other editors. The tradition continues to this day. For forty years, editors, supported by vibrant groups of volunteers, have published Sinister Wisdom, often quarterly, sometimes three times a year, some years less frequently. In 1991, after fifteen years of operating as a small business (generally at a loss), Elana Dykewomon oversaw the application for nonprofit status; since then Sinister Wisdom has continued with support from not only subscriptions, but also charitable donations.

Sinister Wisdom has been publishing thematic special issues since its second issue, Lesbian Writing and Publishing, edited by Beth Hodges and dedicated to Barbara Grier, founder and publisher of Naiad Press. Often these issues become category-defining explorations of important ideas in lesbian-feminism. In 1982, Sinister Wisdom published a special double issue edited by Beth Brant, A Gathering of Spirit: North American Indian Women’s Issues. The issue sold out and was eventually reprinted as a trade book by Beacon Press with the same name. In 1986, Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz and Irena Klepfisz edited The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women’s Anthology as Sinister Wisdom 29/30. This anthology built on the ground-breaking work of Evelyn Torton Beck in Nice Jewish Girls (Persephone Press, 1982) and particularly strengthened ties and increased dialogue between Jewish American feminists and Israeli feminists. Sinister Wisdom is mostly the work of volunteers, and they share a commitment to resisting patriarchy (and racism, and many other ills) through giving voice to lesbian feminists.

Read more about Sinister Wisdom's history at OutHistory.org!

Former editors and publishers:

Harriet Ellenberger (aka Desmoines) and Catherine Nicholson (1976-1981)

Michelle Cliff and Adrienne Rich (1981-1983)

Michaele Uccella (1983-1984)

Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz (1983-1987)

Elana Dykewomon (1987-1994)

Caryatis Cardea (1991-1994)

Akiba Onada-Sikwoia (1995-1997)

Margo Mercedes Rivera-Weiss (1997-2000)

Fran Day (2004-2010)

Julie R. Enszer (2010 - present) and Merry Gangemi (2010-2013)

"Empowerment comes from ideas."

Gloria Anzaldúa

“And the metaphorical lenses we choose are crucial, having the power to magnify, create better focus, and correct our vision.”
― Charlene Carruthers

"Your silence will not protect you."

Audre Lorde

“It’s revolutionary to connect with love”
— Tourmaline

"Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught."

― Leslie Feinberg

“The problem with the use of language of Revolution without praxis is that it promises to change everything while keeping everything the same. “
— Leila Raven