Email Interview with Alice Embree
Photo by Danny Schweers, 1975, in The Rag; Courtesy of New Journalism Project.
Email Interview with Alice Embree: November 4, 2021
Sarah Pike: Hello! You’re one of the founding members of Fly by Night, right? Thank you for talking with me! I was wondering if you’d answer some questions for me?
1. What did y’all decide to start Fly by Night?
2. In your opinion, what was y’alls most meaningful project?
3. What do you think the lasting legacy of FBN is, or hope it is?
4. What was your favourite part about FBN/Red River Women’s?
There are no right answers to those questions. I’m honestly just genuinely curious to know as it’ll help me fill in some of the blanks I’ve been unable to find via research.
In the 70s, quite a few women were enrolling in printing classes at Austin Community College. It was a non-traditional skill for women and we were all about breaking down gender barriers in skills and employment. I started classes at ACC in the fall of 1973, taking bindery, beginning press, darkroom, and intermediate press. We talked the director of the program into letting us overhaul a community press (a Multilith 1250) as part of an ACC class. It was hauled upstairs in June 1974 to the location at 901 West 24th Street and we began operations as Fly By Night in September 1974.
At first, Fly By Night was an ad hoc operation with highly variable hours and volunteers. In November 1975, the press relocated to its 2204 San Gabriel Street location in the Bread and Roses Center. We literally rolled it down the street. We began to pay a staffer and have more stable hours.
In January 1977, we re-christened the operation as Red River Women’s Press and rented a storefront on 908-C West 12th Street in the Enfield Shopping. As Red River Women’s Press, we operated as a local of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). We got a second press, set up a darkroom, and a silk-screening area, and produced leaflets for the women’s movement, Chile solidarity, the Brown Berets, and more, along with more traditional printing orders such as business cards, stationery and envelopes.
Perhaps the best remembered projects at Fly By Night were the Women’s Community Calendar, Cyclar and the Soeur Queens Songbook. Red River Women’s Press is best known for stunning silk-screen posters.
We imagined a press run by women and we pulled it off. That was what was most meaningful impact that we had. We made a lasting mark on the community for nearly eight years from the beginning of Fly By Night to the end of Red River Women’s Press. It all went well until the creek behind the press flooded in the 1981 Memorial Day flood, inundating the basement darkroom and rising a foot on the presses upstairs.
I loved being able to take a design from paste-up to darkroom negative, to burned plate, to an offset press where you could watch hundreds of flyers roll off as a finished product. It was a both a practical and creative movement skill. I like the ink and even the solvent. I loved silk screening operation in the basement at Red River Women’s Press. I ran wire across the basement and drilled holes in clothespins to dry silk-screened posters.
SP: I was wondering if you could tell me who the people in this picture are? [see picture on “Home” page]
AE: Sarah, The photo is in my book, Voice Lessons, p. 166. It’s also in Celebrating The Rag, p. 262. It was taken at the West 24th Street upstairs location. Missy Bondy and Suzanne Gott are the printers. Photo by Danny Schweers. I think he donated this photo and others to the Austin History Center. It’s the only location photo I have seen. Robin may have taken others with Melita Abrego, Rita Starpattern, Cynthia Roberts, etc. as the Cyclar calendar was being printed.
Check out some of Alice’s writing here!