Seal Press

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Barbara Wilson and Rachel da Silva (1979)
Barbara Wilson and Rachel da Silva (1979)

Historical Sketch

Founded by Barbara Wilson (now Barbara Sjoholm) and Rachel da Silva in 1976, the Seal Press was one of the most enduring feminist publishing houses to emerge from the women’s press and independent press movements of the 1970s. Over its 25-year history, Seal grew from a small, regional Pacific Northwest outfit focused on local authors into a national mainstay of independent publishing, releasing such best-selling titles as Getting Free; The Black Women’s Health Book; Barbara Wilson’s own mystery novels, including Gaudí Afternoon; and the third wave feminist classics Listen Up, Cunt; and Adiós, Barbie.

Wilson and da Silva printed the first Seal books on a letterpress in da Silva’s parents’ Seattle garage. Beginning in 1978, intermittent NEA grants helped defray costs, but early staffers were unpaid until about 1981, and fundraising persisted on a grassroots level. As requests from authors multiplied, offset printing gradually supplemented and then replaced the labor-intensive manual typesetting. In 1977, Wilson attended a women’s writers’ conference and, inspired by lecturer June Arnold, returned to Seattle to begin to guide Seal in a more explicitly feminist direction. The anthology Backbone: Northwest Women’s Writing appeared that same year and was followed by three further volumes spanning 1977-1982. After the success of Getting Free, Ginny NiCarthy’s self-help guide for abused women, in 1982, Seal entered a period of growth and restructuring that saw the publication of Wilson’s Murder in the Collective, the departure of Rachel da Silva, and Faith Conlon’s official start as co-publisher with Wilson. The press reached out internationally to publish translations of works by Norwegian, Egyptian, Japanese and Korean women, and also began offering titles on health and relationship issues designed specifically for women of color.

Faith Conlon, author Teri de la Peña, and Barbara Wilson c.1992

Throughout the 80s Wilson and Conlon continued to connect Seal with a network of independent feminist bookstores, presses and journals, establishing contacts at ABA and NWSA conferences as well as the first international feminist bookfairs in London, Oslo and Frankfurt. In 1987, Seal won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Special Award for Excellence in Publishing, and the Bumbershoot Bookfair Award for Most Significant Contribution in 1989. This recognition, together with the move to large-scale trade distributor Publishers Group West, helped move Seal into a new decade of visibility, and towards successes like Evelyn C. White’s groundbreaking Black Women’s HealthBook, Barbara Kingsolver’s bilingual poetry collection Another America, and Ellen Hart’s lesbian detective novels. Several themed series developed in the wake of New Leaf (focused on 80s-era domestic abuse titles), including Adventura, about women in sports and the outdoors, and Live Girls, devoted to pop cultural and young feminist issues. Women in Translation, Wilson’s Seal side project on translations of international feminist literature into English, had been initiated as early as 1984, but was incorporated as a separate non-profit entity in 1989. Wilson stepped down at Seal in 1994 to pursue Women in Translation and her writing career full-time, and Conlon continued as sole publisher.

Seal played a large role in the definition and development of third wave feminism in the late 90s, allowing a new generation of women to voice their concerns in anthologies, fiction and manifestos like Yentl’s Revenge, Chelsea Cain’s Dharma Girl, Michelle Tea’s Valencia, and Bhargavi C. Mandava’s Where Oceans Meet. In 2001 Conlon and Wilson negotiated the asset sale of Seal Press to the Avalon Publishing Group, a subsidiary of Publishers Group West. Soon afterwards Oberlin College Library expressed interest in the Seal archives, still preserved by Wilson after the Avalon sale, and purchased them in 2002. The complete archives were moved to their permanent home in Oberlin College Library’s Special Collections. The press lives on today as an Avalon imprint, and most Seal books remain in print.

Search OBIS for published books in the Seal Press archive

Scope and Contents:

The Archives of The Seal Press contain 92 linear feet of materials spanning from 1976 to 2002. The materials document the growth of the Seal Press from a small, regional press to a nationally recognized publishing house, until its sale to Avalon Publish Group in 2001. The records are organized into twelve series: Publicity and Promotional Materials; Editorial Files; Contracts, Legal Documents, and Business Plans; Manuscripts; Memorabilia; Foreign Press Correspondence; Production; Ephemera and Scrapbooks; Posters and Mechanicals; Slush; Financial Records; Women in Translation. Series XII, Women in Translation (a press dedicated to publishing translations of international feminist literature in English), is further organized into 5 subseries: Organization, Editorial Files, Production, Publicity, and Financial Records. The Archive includes a complete library of Seal Press publications as well as those publications licensed by Seal Press to mass-market and foreign publishers and publishers of anthologies.

  1. Publicity and Promotional Materials, ca. 1980s-2001
    Scope: (11 boxes, 8.4 l.f.)
    The publicity and promotional materials include book reviews and media coverage; press releases and promotional materials; book tour plans; author biographies and information; sales conference and grant records; book jackets; galley proofs; photographs and negatives; audio and audiovisual materials in VHS, cassette, and DVD formats.
  2. Editorial Files, ca. 1980-2001 [Some materials restricted]
    Scope: (18 boxes, 16.8 l.f.)
    The editorial files contain clean and copyedited manuscripts; sample chapters; job searches and applications; correspondence with staff, authors, and other presses; manuscript queries and rejections; a small amount of permissions correspondence and translations grant records; readers’ reports and reviews. Restricted materials are denoted in the inventory.
  3. Contracts, Legal Documents, and Business Plans, ca. 1978-2001
    Scope: (2 boxes, 2 l.f.)
    This series includes photocopies of publishing contracts from 1981-2001 and a small amount of original contracts; correspondence; newspaper and magazine clippings; copyright documents; out-of-print notifications; correspondence with Avalon Publishing Group; Seal Press business licenses; documentation of a lawsuit filed against The Seal Press by Mattel Inc., regarding the publication of Adios, Barbie!; Seal Press by-laws, business plans, and fundraising documents.
  4. Manuscripts, ca. 1980s-2001
    Scope: (37 boxes, 36.2 l.f.)
    Series IV contains outlines, drafts, front and back matter, galleys, bluelines, editorial corrections by authors and copyeditors, clean master copies of manuscripts, final manuscripts, editorial correspondence, production notes, calls for submissions, book background research, stylesheets, and reader comments.
  5. Memorabilia, 1976-ca. 1990s
    Scope: (2 boxes, 1.5 l.f.)
    The memorabilia includes early editorial files; logo ideas for The Seal Press; correspondence; T-shirts; 24 relief printing blocks from early Seal Press publishing; Barbara Wilson’s travel notebooks, datebooks, and rolodex; office memo notebooks.
  6. Foreign Press Correspondence, 1980s-90s
    Scope: (3 boxes, 3 l.f.)
    Series VI includes correspondence with foreign presses regarding foreign editions, rights, and royalties; international book fair records; feminist and lesbian publishing resources; foreign and U.S. feminist press catalogs, queries and foreign editions of Seal Press titles.
  7. Production, ca. 1970s-ca. 1990s
    Scope: (5 boxes, 4.2 l.f.)
    The production files comprise the records, correspondence, and some financial information regarding book design, cover art, photography, typesetting, text, and font specifications. Materials include bluelines, billing invoices from printers, front and back matter, extra loose type, galleys, general production notes, slides and negatives, queries and résumés from artists and graphic designers.
  8. Ephemera and scrapbooks, 1976-87
    Scope: (1 box, 0.4 l.f.)
    Includes four scrapbooks chronicling The Seal Press from 1976-86, printed matter, photocopied media coverage of Seal titles and the press itself, book reviews, correspondence with authors, photographs, and Polaroid’s of Seal Press offices and staff.
  9. Posters and mechanicals, ca. 1980s-ca.1990s
    Scope: (4 boxes, 6.7 l.f.)
    This series contains original letterpress book pages; bluelines; paste-ups; baseline negative sheets; font specifications and extra type; photographs and negatives; transparencies; cover and other art; foamboard and paper posters of publishing events and Seal Press titles.
  10. Slush, 1983-96
    Scope: (7 boxes, 5.6 l.f.)
    Series X contains unsolicited manuscript queries and rejections from 1983 to 1996, including a small amount of reprint queries, author correspondence, and reader reports.
  11. Financial Records, 1976-2002 [Some materials restricted]
    Scope: (4 boxes, 4 l.f.)
    This series documents The Seal Press’s financial history. Included are account statements, budget forecasts, financial statements, donations to other organizations, tax records, marketing meeting materials, insurance documents, sales reports, royalties statements, and loan records. The financial records originally included 26 records boxes of materials, but invoices and other redundant documents were removed from the collection. Receipts and invoices from 1976 to 1983 were retained to better document The Seal Press’s inception. Restricted materials are denoted in the inventory.
  12. Women in Translation, 1984-2001, [Some materials restricted]
    Scope: (4 boxes, 3.2 l.f.)
    Women in Translation began as an imprint of The Seal Press, but was incorporated as a separate non-profit entity in 1989. The materials in this series are organized into five subseries: Organization, Editorial Files, Production, Publicity, and Financial Records. Subseries 1, Organization, contains the original planning documents for Women in Translation, employee information, by-laws, and resolutions. Subseries 2, Editorial Files, includes correspondence with authors and translators, contracts, manuscript drafts, and galleys. Subseries 3, Production, comprises art and design materials, correspondence, galleys, and invoices for typesetting. Subseries 4, Publicity, includes promotional materials and reviews of books. Subseries 5, Financial Records, contains funding and fundraising documents, correspondence regarding financial matters, royalties statements, financial planning materials, board meeting information, and projected incomes. Restricted materials are denoted in the inventory.

Initial processing and inventories compiled by Elizabeth Ehrenhalt, Wallis Adams, and Elinor Anderson. Collection reviewed and edited by Haley Antell in 2016.

Last updated:
August 21, 2018