Inspirational Woman Interview: Christine Stoddard

Christine Stoddard is a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer and artist who lives in Brooklyn. Her writings have appeared in Marie Claire, The Feminist Wire, Bustle, Teen Vogue, The Huffington Post, and beyond. In 2014, Folio Magazine named her one of the top 20 media visionaries in their 20s for founding Quail Bell Magazine. Christine is the author of Hispanic & Latino Heritage in Virginia (The History Press) and Ova, a forthcoming chapbook from Dancing Girl Press.

What is your background?

Christine Stoddard: I’m a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer and artist originally from Virginia. I’m very much a part of all I have met, to quote Alfred Tennyson. I grew up in Arlington, Virginia, which is an inner suburb of Washington, D.C. Then I moved to Iowa, where I attended Grinnell College for a year before transferring to VCUarts, a top-ranked art school attached to Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, Virginia. Richmond is where I spent most of my adult life before moving to Brooklyn.

Today I live on the border of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights with my husband and our growing collection of books. Here I write; run Quail Bell Magazine and Comicality Magazine; make art, comics and films; and host a show for Radio Free Brooklyn. With my mixed background, I strive to live an intersectional life and embrace a culture of encounter. Put another way, I aspire to have a Southerner’s heart and the mind of a New York intellectual. I probably admire imagination and kindness more than any other qualities in a human being.

Dancing Girl Press will be releasing your chapbook of poetry and flash fiction, Ova, next spring. Can you discuss your experiences writing this chapbook and what inspired you to employ the chapbook genre? 

Christine Stoddard: I’ve been writing fiction and poetry my whole life. When I was still in college, I was approached by a small press that wanted to publish my short stories, but that deal fell through. I was devastated at first, even though I had so many other creative blessings at a relatively early age. Since then, I realized that it was actually a good thing that my stories weren’t published in a collection until now. That experience taught me to be proactive, but still react to circumstances beyond my control instead of stubbornly sticking to old plans that no longer make sense. As a creative person, sometimes I have no other choice but to embrace what the universe throws at me.

More concretely, this perceived setback gave me time to co-edit Quail Bell Magazine’s premiere anthologies, The Nest and Airborne, as well as work on two non-fiction books, Images of America: Richmond Cemeteries and Hispanic and Latino Heritage in Virginia. So really, there ended up being no setback at all! While I worked on these books, I continued writing and polishing my fiction and poetry in earnest and in secret.

Since all of the aforementioned books have been completed and released, this is the ideal moment for me to have a new book forthcoming—and I’m so grateful it’s a chapbook. Chapbooks are typically small collections of narrowly focused poetry or flash fiction. Handpicking some of my favorite poems and flash fiction stories about the female body for Ova allowed me to think very carefully about what I was curating and presenting to publishers. I’ve written a lot in the past couple of years and grouped pieces together in all sorts of ways, but this manuscript was the first that was truly ready. It’s exactly the kind of feminist work I wanted to put out into the world. It touches on the female body in a way that I hope is personal and relatable, not divisive.

Of course, when I describe the collection as a chapbook about women’s bodies, the first question people ask is, Is it political? It would be erroneous to say Ova is apolitical because the female body has become so politicized, but what I can objectively say is that the work doesn’t specifically mention Democrats or Republicans. It’s about women and their relationships with who they are physically, which affects who they are emotionally, socially, and even spiritually. My goal is for the stories and poems to resonate with all types of women, regardless of their race, color, ethnicity, religion, or geography. And I’m confident that a respected feminist small press like Dancing Girl is the perfect home for this chapbook. 

This past year, your book Hispanic & Latino Heritage in Virginia, was published. Can you discuss what inspired you to write this book and what were some of your key findings during your research and writing process?

Christine Stoddard: I wrote this book because I am the daughter of a Salvadoran immigrant and I grew up in Virginia. I pitched this book in 2014 because I was floored by how much my home state has changed in my relatively short lifetime and I just had to document those changes. From the explosion of ESL programs to the opening of new Latino restaurants, the Hispanic and Latino populations are now impossible to ignore in much of the state. Even during my childhood, it was not like that. I still remember being in spaces where my mother was the only immigrant in the room.

The book is published in standard History Press length and format, so it’s fairly short and introductory, but I’m thankful I had the chance to write it nonetheless. Overall, I found that Virginia is not fully prepared for all of the linguistic and cultural adjustments it will have to make to accommodate its growing Hispanic and Latino populations.

That being said, I’m optimistic about how my home state will adjust. “Nativist,” anti-immigrant, racist attitudes must go away for moral reasons as much as practical ones. It doesn’t make sense to be hostile toward immigrants when immigrants have always been a driving force of U.S. history. Anyone who’s unhappy about that needs to think about their own ancestors and where they came from. Just because your family has been in the U.S. decades or centuries longer than someone else’s doesn’t matter! If that were the case, the Native Americans would have everybody beat.

I’m confident that as Virginia’s Hispanic and Latino populations increase, the state will be forced to look into new solutions for its schools, governments, businesses, churches, and other community entities. Right now is that point where Virginians are really beginning to ask how that will happen, what change will look like. And that’s scary, but it’s also very exciting.

On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?

Christine Stoddard: The fact that I’m a woman may make it seem that women’s empowerment is a personal attachment and that my commitment to feminism is self-serving. But that’s misunderstanding the main reason feminism exists: the common good. Women’s empowerment matters to me not only because I’m a woman, but because I’m a human being. Women’s empowerment should be humanity’s concern, not just the concern of women.

Here’s how I explain the necessity of feminism to people who don’t call themselves feminists: Feminism is about giving women choices so that they can participate in society as freely as men do. It’s not about denigrating men at all. It’s simply about leveling men and women’s positions in societies throughout the world. Not just white women or American women, but all women. If we truly want humanity to thrive, we need to empower women so they can be fully integrated into an equal society that makes use of their natural talents. When we don’t let women have the same shot at solving our world’s problems, we’re only hurting humanity. That’s why women need education, healthcare, job opportunities, and everything to which men often have increased access in society. Equality for women will benefit everyone.

In your opinion, what are your biggest concerns with the media’s reporting of feminist issues?

Christine Stoddard: I have one central concern that really impacts every aspect of how media outlets report on feminist issues. That’s the concern of representation. The term “the media” is misleading because there are numerous media outlets in the world, all with varying practices, areas of coverage, modes of distribution, and audience sizes. But something that’s true of the majority of media outlets is that women do not occupy editorial leadership positions in the same numbers as men. This means that men—by and large and almost regardless of media outlet—are deciding which stories get covered and how. And this isn’t just media outlets; it’s virtually every company in every industry across the globe. In order to have feminist issues covered at all (let alone with any nuance, thoroughness, and sensitivity), we need more women in media. Again, not just white women but all kinds of women.

That’s why I started Quail Bell Magazine and Quail Bell Press & Productions. I wanted to be able to produce my own work, collaborate with fellow female creators, and tell the stories I want to tell. I of course want to continue working with male creators (and I do!), but I want to work with men who have a healthy, respectful attitude toward women. I want to work with men who listen to me and don’t simply disregard my ideas because I’m a woman. By being my own producer, I have a lot more control over whom I choose to work with and how we will tell stories—even or especially if those are stories that larger, more mainstream outlets don’t always want to tell.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Christine Stoddard: My high school Spanish teacher Señora Marilyn Barrueta surely is a woman who impacted my life. She taught me to embrace my Hispanic heritage and to never be ashamed of it. She taught me to really explore and celebrate art in all its form—not to simply go with what I thought I already liked and knew. She taught me how much empathy matters in all that I do—not only in love and friendship, but with classmates, co-workers, neighbors, and strangers. She also encouraged me to pursue my dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem to others. All I have to do is envision, plan, and do. And when life sends new challenges my way? Adjust.

Señora Barruet passed away in 2010, but I’ll always remember her and be grateful for the lessons she taught me.

What advice do you have for those seeking to use journalism as a tool for positive change for women?

Christine Stoddard: Write what you’re burning to write. Film what you’re burning to film. Photograph what you’re burning to photograph. The stories that you’re most passionate about are the ones you have the most reason to tell, and they’re probably the stories you’ll tell best. No matter the idea, no matter the medium, tell the stories you have to tell. You have a unique voice in this world. Use it.

What are your favorite books, websites, films and resources related to women’s empowerment and social impact? 

Christine Stoddard: There are so many, but I’ll keep the list short. To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books to recommend to truth-tellers and justice-seekers of all stripes. Another favorite book is the Half the Sky, which is one of the non-fiction books that most influenced my perceptions of the women’s empowerment movement. For websites, I definitely recommend Ravishly (and, yes, full disclosure: I write for the site) is a great place to start because it offers such a refreshingly intersectional approach to feminism. For films, “Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids” (2004) is hugely inspiring to female media-makers because it shows how much a single woman can accomplish if she’s passionate enough about a story. The story the co-director Zana Briski pursues is in and of itself compelling, but I won’t spoil it. For resources, begin with BinderCon, which is a conference and community for women and gender non-conforming writers. The website alone is chockfull of links to podcasts, videos, books, and other resources related to women’s empowerment and social impact.

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