Normally a killjoy might clear the room, but on Monday night in Halifax, it filled one to capacity.
About 100 people spent the evening at Art Bar + Projects, near NSCAD University, for the launch of Erin Wunker’s first book of essays: Notes from a Feminist Killjoy.
Wunker is a professor at Acadia University. Her book explores the ongoing need for the feminist movement in Canada. Notes from a Feminist Killjoy tackles a range of subjects — female friendship, rape culture, being a feminist mother and balancing parenting with professional life.
“My title came from reading and thinking with the writing of the public intellectual and teacher Sarah Ahmed, who started a blog called feministkilljoys,” Wunker told the crowd. “That phrase really caught my attention.”
A feminist killjoy is someone who challenges forms of happiness in a male-dominated society. When Wunker began working on her book, she contacted Ahmed for permission to use the term. Speaking with Ahmed and other writers broadened her perspective of feminism.
“It opened up a generous conversation across different positions of experience and life and trying to think about feminism in different contexts,” said Wunker. “It’s that conversation and the conversation I had with other thinkers that led me to imagine, with the help of others, a book launch that is not just me.”
Wunker’s feminism is intersectional, meaning it considers how factors such as race, class and sexual orientation affect people’s experiences. Her book draws upon and celebrates the voices of women with many different identities — and so did her book launch.
Instead of reading the essays herself, Wunker had six different women read passages from her book and reflect on what feminism meant to them.
“When I read Erin’s book, I didn’t know what a feminist killjoy was but I knew I wanted to be one,” said Megan Leslie. “In some small way, I thought that maybe I already was one.”
Leslie was the federal Member of Parliament for Halifax from 2008 until 2015, but lost her seat when the Liberals swept Atlantic Canada in last year’s federal election. She served as the NDP environment critic for four years and was outspoken about women’s and LGBTQ+ issues.
“I’ve been thinking about being gentle with myself when I don’t live up to the standard I set for my own feminist killing of joy,” Leslie said. “Knowing there’s a feminist killjoy community emboldens me, whether that community is online, through hashtags or here in this room.”
El Jones, a spoken word activist, educator and Halifax’s former poet laureate, also read from Wunker’s book. Jones said it reminded her of local feminist work, like what is done by Women’s Wellness Within and Books Behind Bars. Both organizations provide services and support to women in prisons.
“They go into such difficult spaces and find joy, not wanting something that’s comfortable but wanting something that brings people more peace and more justice,” said Jones.
Wunker’s book comes out on the heels of Hillary Clinton losing the U.S. election to Donald Trump, but she didn’t plan it that way.
“I didn’t really mean to write a book that ended up being so timely,” she said. “People coming out for a book launch about intersectional feminism is a suggestion that we’re going to keep working to make the world better.”
Notes from a Feminist Killjoy is published by BookThug and is available for purchase online and in stores.