Email Interview with Melita Abrego
Photo by Danny Schweers, 1975, in The Rag; Courtesy of New Journalism Project.
Email Interview with Melita Abrego: November 12, 2021
Sarah Pike: Here are the questions. I appreciate you taking the time to respond!
1. What was your relationship to Fly by Night? I’ve seen your name mentioned in some of the articles I find, but I’m not sure if you’re one of the founding members or not and I want to make sure I get that right.
2. If you were a founding member, why did y’all decide to start Fly by Night?
3. If you joined after its founding, why did you join Fly by Night?
4. In your opinion, what was y’alls most meaningful project?
5. What do you think the lasting legacy of FBN is, or hope it is?
6. What was your favourite part about FBN/Red River Women’s?
Answer to Question #1….Alice Embree, Cynthia Roberts & I were students at Austin Community College in Austin at the East Austin campus around 1973. One day Alice told me she was starting a women’s press collective & had been working on soliciting financial donations. Alice mentioned Rita Starpattern. I told her she was a friend of mine & to mention me at their next meeting. [Rita Starpattern lived in a duplex next to Cynthia Roberts. Rita was founding Women & Their Work & Cynthia, Common Woman Bookstore, now Bookwomen – both entities exist today]. Rita Starpattern donated enough money from Women & Their Work’s budget & Alice was able to buy the equipment & rent a very small upstairs room on 24th Street near the Drag. I was present when we received the printing press & moved printing press to its room. I became one of FBN’s printers & binders. So I am not sure if I was an official founding member of FBNWP but was involved early on.
I will continue on another page bc I am writing this on my cell phone & afraid I might lose the copy if something happens
MA: Answer to Question 1 continued: Rita Starpattern was a phenomenal person & an excellent artist. She turned down a scholarship to a prestigious art institution to attend the University of Texas. Rita was a real shero during the mass murders by Charles Whitman on the UT Tower in 1966 or 67 & is featured in a recent award-winning documentary on the shooting.
Cynthia Robert founded the women’s bookstore with donations from friends & relatives. I remember the day she received the first shipment of books. We joked about closing all the blinds & locking the doors so no one can find out what we were doing in fear of retaliation. Cynthia was another printer; I considered the main one. I saw her there the most. One day she was cleaning the ink off her hands with a solvent when she turned to me & said she would probably get cancer from the solvent but didn’t care bc the printing was important to her. Sadly she died from cancer a couple of years ago.
Rita died of cancer too but not from solvent. However, a common denominator was ink.
MA: Answer to Question #1, continued.
So, I don’t think I was a founder of FBN but I was involved in its infancy. Alice Embree was the founder. I will continue answering later today starting with #3.
SP: Thank you for the response! I look forward to hearing your other answers!
I don’t remember working on a project as a whole group but my most meaningful project was a women’s calendar printed on recycled paper which was more costly but we thought it was important contribution to the environment & I think the paper had to be special ordered. It was a calendar about women, printed by women, distributed & sold by women. Rita Starpattern was involved in this project but I can’t remember what her exact role was; however, if it is important to know I can ask Robin Birdfeather. I just remember Rita was present in the pre & post production meetings.
It has been so long that I think there were more details but I would have to talk to Robin again for recollection.
Another thing I wanted to mention is info about some other early non-mainstream social activism in Austin in the 70s.
One is the Bertolt Brecht Memorial Guerilla Theater that created plays about current global political events & acted on street corners, UT campus & other places. One I acted in was about Watergate (I played Holderman) and I would need to consult a friend about the other play I was involved in but I remember it was about a revolutionary incident in a central american country with USA government involvment. If you are interested in knowing more I can give you info about the main people, Wendell who moved to LA & Mary who is now a producer at one of the major TV networks. I think Wendell has a wealth of info.
The other two are the Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus & Austin Lesbian/Latino Gay Organization.
There were other east Austin (then, Brown & Black communities) organizations involved in activities for social change but details are sketchy in my memory.
Margaret Gomez would have lots of info on early mainstream social activism in Austin.
My favorite part about being involved in FBN is proving that women work successfully as a collective, networking with other alternative political groups & providing a printing service to them & being directly involved in printing Cyclar.