Finding Hope in Resistance: Talking with Amy Roost

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Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era, edited by Amy Roost and Alissa Hirshfeld and published last month by Pact Press, is an anthology of personal essays from a diverse cross section of women describes their lived experience under Trump, including everything from the impact on their children, to active shooter drills in synagogues, to secret birth control networks. These essays are a powerful reminder of how negatively many women are impacted by this president, in both their personal and working lives, but also how empowered women have become to march in protest, call and write letters to their representatives, and show up to town hall meetings. These essays represent a community of women’s voices that share hope for the future and ways to cope as the Trump presidency continues. As Hirshfeld writes in the introduction, “Encouraging women to speak can be healing, not only giving [women] a sense of agency regarding current politics but more generally teaching them that their voice matters.” Roost writes that one of her goals was to “create a record for posterity,” something to be read decades from now about the Trump presidency.

I spoke with Amy Roost by phone on a day when it was lovely weather in San Diego and snowing here on Vancouver Island. We talked not only about Roost’s new anthology, but about the lengths that people will go to to survive life under an authoritarian regime.

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The Rumpus: How and when did you come up with the idea for the book?

Amy Roost: It was a difficult time as I was adjusting to my son being home for rehab after having nearly died, and then Trump was elected and I just wasn’t coping very well. My husband, who is a clinical psychologist, would come home and tell me that his entire day was spent talking to people about Trump’s election and how upset they were. I realized I wasn’t alone, and that this should be documented: what people are experiencing and are afraid of. As a documentarian, that was my main thought, was just getting it down. I not only heard it from my husband, but also from a lot of friends who are psychologists, that this post-Trump effect was real, and was actually acknowledged by the American Psychological Association.

I initially put out a call in September of 2017 to people whom I knew who might be interested in documenting what was going on—both clinicians and people who were really struggling with the election. Initially I got a few people who were interested, [but] not enough to make an anthology. Then in early February of 2018 I decided to put a call out to one of the Facebook women’s writing groups I’m part of, and that response was huge. In the end we received eighty to ninety submissions, which inspired me to do the anthology.

With this book I was mostly thinking in terms of future generations: if nobody buys this book but it’s read in a classroom one hundred years from now, it will have been worth all the suffering, just so people remember how terrible this time was.

Rumpus: How did you end up with Pact Press?

Roost: Finding a publisher wasn’t at all easy, because anthologies aren’t easy to sell. Also at that time both Lilly Dancyger’s Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger and Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger had just sold, so I was just a tick behind the wave of “angry women” authors. I had initially pitched it to Cognella, an academic publisher that also does some mass market books and who are based here in San Diego. I met with one of the editors and she and the VP really liked the proposal. But then it got shifted to a different editor who dealt more with women’s issues and gender issues, and that editor didn’t like it as much. I also had a co-editor at the time, who had turned me on to Cognella in the first place. She’s a professor of psychology with a specialty in the effect of media on our daily lives. But I wanted to go in the direction of personal essays and she wanted to see more academic essays, so we decided to part ways amicably. We were both even questioning whether either one of us wanted to continue at that point, just because we were both pretty busy with major projects.

I mentioned it to my agent, but she really didn’t want to spend much time on it. So we pitched it to all the usual suspects that do these types of anthologies (Beacon Press, Seal Press, etc.). Then I remembered that I had a Facebook friend who was a publisher, so I decided to see what her independent publishing house was all about. Sure enough, her imprint—Pact Press—was intended specifically for this type of title. It was just a perfect fit. And they loved it.

This was December of 2018 and Pact wanted to get it into their spring 2020 catalogue. They assigned us a freelance editor who was delightful but ended up having a Book of Job couple of months where two or three family members passed away and her mother was sick and she had to care for her. We lost all this time, and thought it wasn’t going to happen because we only had two to four months to pull it together. But the publisher and her senior editor loved it so much that they put everything else aside, and for four to five weeks we worked day and night to get it ready. It was all hands on deck and we just plowed through it, two to three essays a day some days. We were able to meet the distributor’s deadline of April 2019. And it was really because of the publisher and senior editor, and myself and my co-editor, putting our shoulders to the wheel.

Rumpus: Speaking of your co-editor, was she on board from the beginning or did she come on board later?

Roost: That’s a big question and a good story, too. After I put out the call for submissions in February of 2018, I was feeling really overwhelmed, like I couldn’t do it on my own. I asked those who had submitted if there was anyone who wanted to co-edit with me. And Alissa—who is a member of Duty to Warn, a group of psychologists who have said Trump’s not psychologically fit to be president—stepped forward. She’d written a memoir and a novel so she had experience. And that’s the only reason I went forward at that point; I think I would have given up otherwise. Having a co-editor helped in terms of just sharing the burden—Alissa was particularly helpful in the editing process, and it was great to have someone to bounce my thoughts off of, to test whether my instincts were accurate. Sometimes you read so many essays and they all start to blur together. Or you read one that’s particularly strong in terms of the prose but there’s not that strong of a message in there. So it was great to have another person to discuss things with.

Rumpus: Of these eighty to ninety submissions, how did you decide which to include in the book? Did it have to do with excellent writing, or particular topics, or both?

Roost: It didn’t have to do with particular topics—we weren’t thinking thematically when we were picking. It did of course have to do with excellent writing, and we wanted to represent diverse and broad viewpoints. We didn’t want to have thirty-seven black authors or thirty-seven white women. We wanted it to be as much across the board as possible. I think we came very close to achieving our goal, though I wish it was slightly more diverse.

Rumpus: What was it like reading those submissions? How did you feel? Bombarded?

Roost: The hardest part of putting this book together was probably the secondhand trauma of reading women’s experiences. I also created a podcast in which I interviewed each of the contributors. At times I had to step back from it, and I probably should have stepped back from it more than I did. But there was that four- to five-week period where we had to burn through everything as quickly as possible…

Rumpus: That was probably tough.

Roost: Yes, it took an emotional toll. The editor and the publisher split up the essays, but they were all sent back to me for approval. And of course I’d already read all of them. My husband was my barometer—when I was getting snappy and irritable he’d tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hey, I think you’re a little bit too close to the book right now; maybe you need to take a couple of days off.” I’d go on news diets just so I wasn’t getting a double dose of things. But while the book documents a lot of suffering, it also represents a lot of resilience and hopeful coping. So it has a little bit of everything. The original title was The Trump Effect, which really zeroed in on the negative effect of Trump’s policies and presidency on people.

Rumpus: It was originally called The Trump Effect but you went with Fury instead.

Roost: Yes, and the reason I went with Fury is kind of a fun story. I saw a TED Talk by Tracee Ellis Ross about women’s fury when I was looking for a new title for the book, as I decided I didn’t want Trump’s name in it. I was pondering in the back of my mind what else I could call it, and when I saw her TED Talk and considered the double entendre of the Greek Furies, I thought, That’s it! So that’s how I came up with the final title.

Rumpus: I first read the book in one sitting, and when I finished I felt as though I had the voices and determination of a strong community of women echoing in my head. Is this the effect you were going for?

Roost: Yes. One of the things that my agent contributed to this process that was really helpful, was that she felt like the proposal in its original form was perhaps too negative or strident, that it wasn’t offering enough of a sense of hope. She said to me, “Think of it in terms of why people want to read this. Think about it in terms of building a community of resilient women.” That shifted the focus of the essays we were looking for. Our call for submissions didn’t say, “Hey, send us an essay that has a hopeful ending.” But we did get a lot of essays that had hope in them, and essays about the types of activism that Trump inspired. We’re building community by bringing women readers along on this journey of resistance against the president. We want to give them inspiration and a sense of hope and a sense of the possible, that it is possible to defeat this person, or at least figure out how we’re going to make the best of a bad situation, be it ten months or five years. I think the message of hope is really important because we may need it for a while.

Rumpus: I’m not a parent but I was quite enlightened by the pieces in the “Our Families” section as to how even younger children were affected by the election. I was really shocked. This opened my eyes to the impacts of Trump not just on our generation but on the next generation, which was unexpected to me. I wondered if there were any other pieces in the book that opened your eyes to these unexpected impacts.

Roost: Oh my gosh. So many. I mean really all of them. But I think Lea Grover’s piece where she talks about The Diary of Anne Frank sitting on the bookshelf in her synagogue while the children are practicing active shooter drills. That image blew me away. “Catholic Bodies” by Mary Catherine Ford—just this idea of the institutional objectification of women’s bodies—that shocked me. The “Going to Ground” piece by Sarah Einstein.

Rumpus: That was my favorite one.

Roost: In some ways that was my favorite one, too. I have to say that piece shocked me more than any other, because she talked about stuff that, at the time I was reading it in spring of 2018, seemed thoroughly over the top, kind of out there on the edges, and now it seems like it’s right in the middle of the bell curve of possibilities. The idea of having an underground network to secret away birth control. It blew me away when I first read it—I almost didn’t include it because I thought it was kind of outrageous. I thought, No, we’re not going to get to that point.

That’s what’s so important about a book of lived experiences, is because I have never had the lived experience of persecution and she has, so she knew of what she was speaking. She’s much better versed in authoritarianism than I am. That essay shocked me more than any other. There are so many things in the book that are not my experience, but what was really cool about editing it is that I got to see this rainbow of experiences, if you will.

You can’t say anybody’s lived experience is wrong. Well you can, but I don’t think you should. And that’s why I think that “lived experience” are probably the two most important words in the subtitle. And that was Alissa’s doing. It was originally subtitled “Women’s Experiences During the Trump Era” and she really fought for “lived experiences.” I supported her, even when the publisher tried to take it out because they thought the subtitle was too long. But it had to be in there. You can’t say, “you don’t know what you’re talking about,” because if it’s your experience you do know what you’re talking about.

Rumpus: You mentioned briefly that your book came out just after Rebecca Traister’s and Lilly Dancyger’s books—do you feel that Fury is complementary to those books?

Roost: Oh yes, we’re not in competition at all with those books. This book is distinct from the others (it’s also similar to them, naturally) because it’s looking at a specific political event and phenomenon. Some of the other books that have been released detail women’s experiences, but I don’t think they’ve exclusively focused on lived experiences.

I think we’re all looking at similar societal forces but from different perspectives. Taken together, that makes for sort of a more complete collage, if you will, of what’s going on here. I don’t think any one book can get it completely right. That’s why I’m focused on documenting this for future generations. I don’t expect that ours will be the only book people will read to understand the Trump era, but taken together with other books it will help paint a complete picture of what happened.

Rumpus: Has this book affected your personal life?

Roost: Oh yeah. [Laughter]

I was raised in a family of three men who did and still do objectify women. Whenever I point it out to them I’m a bitch. That in a nutshell is “how does it affect my personal life”—every time I say you’re the worst things about Donald Trump, they say you’re a bitch for thinking that. My dad didn’t vote for Trump, but he doesn’t see himself as an objectifier of women.

I also sometimes feel like I’m sleeping with the enemy. I feel like as liberal as my husband is, there are certain things that he has blind spots about. It’s hard for him sometimes to see his white male privilege. I was trying to tell him about the Victoria’s Secret exposé that came out—a case where men have oppressed their female employees, as opposed to, for instance, the Super Bowl halftime show where Shakira and J. Lo decided for themselves how they wanted to present themselves. When men decide how they want to present women, and they want you to buy into that image, it’s different than when a woman decides how she wants to represent herself. I get frustrated with my husband—he’s a fish that’s been swimming in water and can’t tell you what water is. He’s a wonderful man with a huge amount of empathy and incredibly kind, but he’s a product of his own upbringing. He represents what I detest at the moment, this feeling like old white men are in charge of the world/country and making a complete and total mess of it.

Rumpus: What happens if Trump gets in again this fall? Will you do another anthology?

Roost: I haven’t spoken to my publisher about this, although I will soon. I have lots of other projects I need and want to spend time on. But I feel like existentially this is the most important project I’m working on. I think it matters to so many who are suffering in terrible ways, in cages at the border, in poverty, not being able to afford prescriptions that could extend their lives, or even able to afford to continue with treatment. Even worse, we could all be subject to retaliation were he to be reelected—”we” being the people resisting his presidency. If you look at history, we could be targeted for our dissidence.

My idea is to make this a series about specific issues in women’s lived experiences. For instance, migrant women, mothers who have children with chronic health issues, specific groups in society that have been traditionally marginalized, a woman’s right to choose, voting rights—especially women’s role in these issues, etc. If he were re-elected I would feel compelled to do that.

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Photograph of Amy Roost by Jenna Schoenefeld Photography.


Sarah Boon (PhD, FRCGS) has bylines at Longreads, Hakai Magazine, Terrain.org, Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, Science, Nature, and Water Canada. Find her on Twitter: @SnowHydro. More from this author →