The Collective: How We Make the Herstory Calendar

We begin work on each calendar year 18 months in advance.

The collective who wrote the previous year meets to discuss whether we need new members. We like to keep our numbers up to eight or nine members; but women may leave because of other commitments or to follow partners or to take jobs in other cities, while others may take a year off.

If we need a new member, we suggest possible members and when everyone agrees, we invite a potential member to a meeting where we introduce them to the work of the collective. This is always a good occasion for a party, usually in midsummer.

Once our membership is firm, we each agree to be responsible for a certain number of pages, usually 6 to 8. We divvy up the other chores of the collective--picking up and answering the mail, keeping the books, arranging meetings (we do lunch, we have potluck suppers, we gather at one another's homes and in archives), updating the index and style sheet, editing the final draft, liaison with our publisher, Coteau Books in Regina. We rotate responsibility for chairing and recording meetings.

Our next task is to choose the subjects for the calendar. Individually, we do research, dig for ideas and identify things and people we would like to write about. We then write a 50-word piece on the topics or people we wish to do for the next issue to present to other members of the collective.

In late summer or early fall, we meet to share our suggestions for topics. Everyone in the collective must agree that a particular topic is one we want to do. Many times the group will decide that the topic has potential, but that we need more information. It is still very hard to get reliable data on women's lives. We are not necessarily looking for "stars"--a farm woman who has made a difference to her community through a lifetime of committee meetings is as interesting to us as a diva, although we confess to being attracted by "firsts," and biased in favour of women who have shown themselves to be supportive of other women.

We draw up a list of the proposed topics and subjects. We try to have a representative mix of women from various parts of Canada, from various backgrounds and in various areas of activity and periods of history. We also have topic pages, photo pages and occasionally, poetry.

If we need to make changes, if, for instance, we have 15 writers proposed, we negotiate to create a more balanced list.

During the fall, we all spend a lot of time in archives, libraries, and writing for information about the topics and people we have committed to do. We base our articles on primary material, whenever possible. When our subject is a living woman, we communicate with her directly if at all possible, to obtain her participation and approval.

We all spend a lot of time writing and re-writing our pages. It is extremely difficult to get the life of an interesting, active woman into 350 to 400 words. We often wish we could put "to be continued" at the end of a page.

During the fall, we meet periodically to share our frustrations--"how long does it take to get a photo from---?", to get help on sources, and to read each other's pages--"How can I cut this down to 350 words?"

In December, we have several long sessions where we each read all the pages, make suggestions, re-write pages, compile credits and sources, and quotations for the date pages. We try to make Herstory as accurate and informative as possible.

During all these meetings, we are fuelled by tea, coffee, cookies, bread and cake. We have even had "Official Herstory Gumdrop Cookies" and "Herstory Dundee Cake."

We become friends. All the women who have been part of the collective feel a kinship with each other, even if we were not on in the same year; it is a sisterhood that we cherish.

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