Born and raised in Liverpool where they invented both football and popular music, Evangeline Jennings now lives in Austin, Texas. The black sheep of her family, she comes from a long line of Californian beauty queens on her mother’s side. Evangeline gets her looks from her father. Mostly Evangeline writes stories about girls. Sometimes women. She believes in equality, so she writes about that. She also writes about gender, sexuality, and violence against women. Her characters often seek bloody satisfaction. Sometimes they achieve it.
Fem: What was the motivation behind Pankhearst, your independent writers’ collective?
Evangeline Jennings: Primarily, to learn by doing. Everything else evolved organically from there. It’s all very instinctive.
For example, I discovered a friend of mine had never seen the movie Heathers, so I sat her down and we watched together. Roundabout the halfway point, I had the idea for a YA collection which would be called Heathers where each story would feature a girl called Heather. I bounced that idea off a few friends and everbody loved it, so we went ahead. And then, while we were taking submissions for Heathers, I stumbled across the Sheffield-based poet Kate Garrett on Twitter of all places — we shared an interest in the Lemonheads — and on a whim I asked if she’d contribute a couple of poems to Heathers. She said yes. And that act of pure instinct on both our parts has led to Pankhearst developing a poetry and flash fiction side.
We, mostly Kate, now publish a quarterly themed journal called Slim Volume. And that led to me meeting and getting to know an Alabama poet called Rachel Nix. And one late night conversation led to the idea for an international/multicultural anthology called America Is Not The World, that Rachel is editing.
F: If you could name one emotion that fuels your writing, what would it be and why?
EJ: Love. But there’s a very thin line that separates my love from my fury and hate.
F: What progress do you see in feminist YA?
EJ: In the mainstream, I haven’t seen very much. Maybe I haven’t read the right books. But if you look at the obvious, Katniss Everdeen, there’s really no feminism there beyond giving readers a protagonist who happens to be a girl. Basically Katniss is stubborn and frequently clueless, and people like and help her because she’s cute. Or they exploit her. Yay feminism! So many new YA writers seem to think that cardboard cut-out “kick-ass” hotties are all the feminism anybody needs.
There are practical efforts, of course. I was recently involved in a sci-fi anthology published to encourage girls to consider engineering as a career and to raise money for scholarships. That’s feminism in action, but it’s small time compared to the books everyone reads. I’m just finishing up a novel — it’s a YA dystopia, a bit like Waterworld meets The Handmaid’s Tale — that beneath the running and fighting and kissing and coming of age is essentially a story about the oppression of woman under patriarchy, the way women are treated because of their biology. A true rape culture, to be blunt. My editor tells me that might a problem because that stuff doesn’t usually make it into YA.
Of course, it’s possible there’s a ton of feminist YA out there that neither of us have heard of, and there probably is, in the depths of the Kindle word. But if people like us haven’t heard of it, isn’t that a serious problem in itself?
F: Do you see YA fiction as a better representation of today’s youth than what is portrayed in popular media? Why or why not?
EJ: The only way I can answer this question in less than three thousand words is to assume you mean the popular news media. In which case, I would say yes. But only because of money. If Rupert Murdoch is publishing YA books that are fairer and more honest about young adults than the shite his newspapers publish, it’s because YA books are bought by the young people themselves, or by adult readers who are interested and supportive. Whereas the press are pitching their garbage to back-in-my-day bigots who love to hear how terrible young people are.
F: What are the benefits of collaborating with other writers for publications?
EJ: The benefits are many, and include encouragement, practical support, cross-pollination of ideas, regular sanity checks, and the sense that you’re not alone. You’re also able to work more effectively and efficiently by pooling talents and resources, and helping each other out. For example, if four writers work on a single book, you have four different pairs of eyes for editing and proofreading, and four mouths to spread the word. However, after three full years of working collaboratively, I’d say the single biggest benefit has been the opportunity to learn from so many other talented writers, simply by being engaged with their work.
There are also risks, however. If you find yourself working with the wrong group of people, that can waste a lot of your time and completely kill your motivation.