Today I am so happy to share with you a chat that I had with Catherina Horan (she/her) in June. She's a queer, mixed, illustrator, musician, and all around creative based in Los Angeles, California dedicated to building safe spaces for queer, non-binary, women of color. Her latest project, The Rad Women Book Club, is a monthly book club where members read a book by a woman of color and meet to discuss how it impacts and relates to their lives. An extension of this project is also beginning to take form, a traveling library in LA that houses books, zines, and other merch by and for (Q)WOC. It was my absolute pleasure to talk to and learn from Catherina about these issues and the importance of reading works by (Q)WOC. Below is our interview, and it's just as educational as it is inspiring.
Sarah Sickles for Pink Things: So tell me about yourself! Who are you and what do you do?
Catherina Horan, Founder of Rad Women Book Club and Library: My name’s Catherina Horan and I’m 24 living right outside LA. Right now I’m going to school and working at a library, which is the push behind all of the projects I have going on right now. I love art and within the past year or so have started getting back into creating things. I also love organizing, which is why I always have so many ideas running through my head. Lately I’ve been working on The Rad Women Book Club, looking to form a library, helping put together shows, and working on some album art and merch for a couple of local artists and two of my favorite people, Todavia and HUSH.
Pink Things: Why did you start the Rad Women Book Club?
Catherina: With everything going on regarding this administration, it is so important to create safe spaces. I created the book club in February and decided I wanted to read books written by women of color and use each meeting to talk about what we’ve read, how it relates to what’s going on in the world around us, and possible actions we can take. I also wanted to make sure I have resources available for our members. And as important as all of that is, my main priority is for the club to be a safe space; so if we get off topic and just start talking about something that happened to one of our members, or something that affects us daily, then we focus on that. The book club is a space for us to feel like we’re not alone.
Pink Things: Who comes to these book club meetings?
Catherina: The most WONDERFUL human beings. We started with a group of maybe 5 or 6 and went up to about 22 at our last meeting! I’m not exaggerating when I say that some of the most incredible people join us. Every time I come out of our meetings I feel like I’ve learned so much and I feel so validated. I hope the other members feel the same!
Pink Things: What kind of books do you read?
Catherina: We’ve been up and running for a few months now and we’re on our fourth book. Our first book was This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, which is edited by Gloria E. Anzaldúa and Cherrie Moraga, and has been my favorite so far. The writings that fill it are so real, and I’ve never picked up a book that I related to so much. We also have read You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson, and You Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism by Alida Nugent.
We are currently reading The Little Book of Life Hacks: How to Make Your Life Happier, Healthier, and More Beautiful by Yumi Sakugawa. We’re going to discuss meditation tips, share what we know about astrology, and talk about self-actualization and how to find peace at the next meeting. I’m super excited for this one and Yumi is going to be joining us, so it’s going to be pretty amazing! I also have a lot of books lined up for the future, including some written by Jesmyn Ward, Susana Muñoz, Audre Lorde, Antonia I. Castañeda, Angela Davis, and Daisy Hernandez.
Pink Things: Why do you think reading books by WOC is so important?
Catherina: It’s all about representation and validation. There are so many stories that have been told or written by folks of color that have somehow either been silenced, appropriated, or not given a platform. It is our history, our cultures and traditions, our role models and heroes, that some of us never get to see. It’s about seeing what’s been done, what we can do, and how we can change things. It’s about being able to say, “I want to be just like them, look what they did, look what they stood for.” It’s about being able to look at someone and say, “Wow, they’re just like me, there’s nothing wrong with the color of my skin, or the hair that grows from it.” All that we put up with, and the way we deal with it, is just a part of the fight to reclaim the spaces and terms taken from us. These authors remind us of how necessary it is to have a voice and how damaging silence is to our cultures. Like Angela Davis says, “silence is not only criminal, but suicidal.”
Pink Things: Are you a QWOC? If so, how does this impact your perception of these readings?
Catherina: When I think of how I personally identify and all the ways others around me identify, I picture a dark sky filled with stars, each star being someone different. Yes, I’m queer. I’m mixed. I’m also not completely comfortable with being labeled as a woman, but also not completely uncomfortable either. Though I teeter back and forth with how I’m feeling, I’m definitely femme, and I realize the privilege I have in how I present. With all of these identities, I constantly feel as though I have one foot in and one foot out of many different worlds. So, when I find a reading by someone who is not White, or straight, or cis, it’s so gratifying and validating to so many different pieces of myself. I don’t feel like an outsider looking in or like a concept made up in someone’s mind.
Pink Things: What inspired you to start a library? How do you see it taking shape?
Catherina: Working at a library, I’m always checking out way more books than I can actually read at one time. I’m constantly looking for something new on gender, race, sexuality, and astrology (because I know nothing about it other than I’m a Virgo and I think that’s an earth sign?). Anyway, I’m constantly browsing our collection and when books are no longer available, in my mind, there is no reason these works should not be within the grasp of all readers.
I’m hoping that this library, consisting of work by (Q)WOC, will start off with at least a bookshelf where books can come and go and zines can be shared. I would love for this library to grow into a full wall and feature projects linked with the library so schools can get involved and young folks can participate in reading programs. Most of all, like the book club, I’d like this to be a safe space with resources and pamphlets available. There are so many different directions I could go, but for now I’m hoping to start small. I'm starting by setting a $500 goal for donations and anything helps! You can donate here: https://www.youcaring.com/radwomenbookclub-843154. If you don't have anything to donate I would love book recommendations and submissions as well!
Pink Things: Why are you personally invested in giving a specific space for marginalized people?
Catherina: Creating these spaces gives marginalized folks the floor to be who they want to be and say what they want to say. I feel like non-White folk have to be so careful about watching what they say or do because of how it may be interpreted. Most curriculums and media are filled with faces and stories that make us look lesser than and ignore that fact that whole cultures have been erased. That’s why it’s so important to me to create this safe space where (Q)WOC are backed by folks who know their stories and can talk to them and share traditions and beliefs they may share.
Pink Things: How are books and magazines by (Q)WOC different than those written by White people and White allies?
Catherina: As great as it is to have allies and supporters who write and advocate for us, they will never know our experiences. That’s why it’s so important to have different writings and works written by not only women of color, but queer and non-binary folks of color. I see this all the time with White feminism. The art they create and the stories they write often leave out whole groups of people. It’s like the whole “pussy power” thing. Having a vagina doesn’t make you a woman, yet they’re using this because it’s part of THEIR identity. That’s the whole point. We need writers who have similar stories as us, who represent us, and don’t erase us or invalidate us.
Pink Things: I ask everyone we interview about the color Pink, so, how has Pink influenced the Rad Women Book Club and the soon-to-be library? What is your personal relationship with Pink? Do you identify with the color?
Catherina: Honestly, I used to hate pink, which is ironic because it’s one of my favorite colors now. Growing up I wore all black every day and hated being referred to as feminine. I still wear black now, but in learning more about myself and who I am, in reclaiming slurs that people used to call me, I’ve become more confident and sure of myself. I don’t associate pink with being feminine anymore, even though there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a softness to it that I really appreciate, and makes me think of red (my fav) which is passionate and intense. So, sort of how I’m reclaiming queer, I’m also reclaiming pink, for myself, because yeah, I’m soft, but I’m also passionate, intense, and strong.
Pink is obviously the color I’ve linked to the book club, but there’s honestly no deep meaning behind it. I just love the color scheme and when I made the signs, every other color I used just didn’t seem to fit. I like thinking that it’s because it’s femme though, because the book club shows that no two people have the same identity or experience–same with the words that come to mind when thinking about certain colors.
Pink Things: What are some of your favorite books and recommended reading for someone looking for reads by WOC?
Catherina: As ironic as this is, I’m actually horrible when it comes to finishing books. I’m currently flipping through Cassell's Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol, and Spirit: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Lore.
Oh! And I can share what’s on my list of books that are sitting by my bed waiting to be read! Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera, Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, and Power Lines: On the Subject of Feminist Alliances by Aimee Carrillo Rowe, which I hope I can actually get to some time soon.
Pink Things: How can someone contribute? Be a part of your book club? What if they aren’t based in LA?
Catherina: Our book club is open to whoever wants to be a part of it. We’re currently meeting in DTLA and are lucky enough to be hosted at the offices of the Brown Girls Rising podcast. I’ve been talking to a few folks outside of the area and I’m working on being able to Skype our meetings to make them more accessible to others. All you have to do to be a part of the Rad Women Book Club is RSVP and bring your wonderful self, or even some friends. We have new members every month and I’m so glad it’s growing and reaching people from all over. I would love to have pop-up book club meetings all over the place, so that’s something to look forward to in the future!
We have a Facebook, Instagram @radwomenbookclub, and an emailing list that goes out about 2 times a month. I also share some reminders on my Instagram where I usually get in touch with those who are interested in joining.
You can also donate and submit to Catherina’s ongoing library project here.
I can't thank Catherina enough for taking the time to answer my questions and educating me and others who will read this. If you have the time and resources, please consider donating to help fund her project and create safe spaces and resources all over LA. I'm happy to share that a copy of Pink Things Vol. III will be included in Catherina's library, and I can't wait to see what she does next.
Keep up with Catherina Horan
Keep up with the Rad Women Book Club
This interview was conducted via email and has been condensed and edited.
All photos courtesy of Catherina Horan.