A 'Whole Earth Catalog' for Women

Eve had it. So did Pandora. Curiosity, that is. An unquenchable passion for knowledge. Ilene Rosoff still has it, but luckily for us, her curiosity goes unpunished. She is being published instead. She is the editor of The WomanSource Catalog & Review (Ten Speed Press), a cornucopia of resources for women on everything from car repair to sexuality. "There's nothing like this book out there for women," says Ilene, whose quest to know and share hard-to-find information inspired this project. "It's very primary. It provides the tools for women to build and design their lives the way they want to." Say you have this crazy dream of traveling to Peru alone. You know the right question can open a thousand doors, but who has the insider information? Or your sister's doctor insists that the lump in her breast can't be cancer because she's only 33. You want to know more. WomanSource was created by Ilene and her nonprofit organization, The Launch Pad, specifically to help women open a few doors on travel, spirituality, art, wellness, technology, relationships, gardening, childcare, and sports. You name it, this five-hundred page book has it. "One barrier to women achieving what they want, to self-reliance and independence is access to information," says Ilene. "Women are not taught how to ferret it out, to aggressively seek, find, and use information. The system takes advantage of that in a lot of ways." Take car repair. "There's so much bad information out there, it makes me angry. Now if I take my car into the mechanic and I know a little something about cars, and I know that guy is ripping me off, I'm not going to let him get away with it. I'm going to stand out in front of there and tell the next fifty women that drive up what's really going on." Consider this book The Launch Pad's way of telling the next fifty, or fifty million women what's going on so they can take positive action in their lives. Only this project wasn't a simple matter of standing in front of a mechanic's shop. Ilene and a core staff of twelve women spent two intense years researching, writing, editing, and designing this book out of Ilene's Tampa, Florida home. "Because we were all new, we had to re-invent the wheel forty or fifty times. But we got there. The Whole Earth Catalog was a real inspiration. They are the information seekers in the global community. They really paved the way for us." Amazingly, four publishers showed immediate interest in this first-time book after seeing only a sample chapter. The publisher they chose, Ten Speed Press, which also produces the What Color is Your Parachute? series was "totally hands-off." They did all their business over the phone, never even meeting Ilene in person. "They just plopped a big chunk of money down and said, `Go for it.'" So The Launch Pad did. They attracted writers and experts from all over the country, and with their help, each one of their considerable resources -- organizations, books, periodicals, films, and software was individually reviewed. Well-known women such as Joan Jett, Anita Roddick, and Mary Daly wrote lead articles about their fields. This variety of perspectives from local and national women, aged between twenty-something and fifty-something, is what makes WomanSource so invaluable. Instead of viewing a flat, two-dimensional list of definitions, the reader experiences a hologram of information on each topic. For example, in the chapter on food, in addition to the basics, you'll discover The BloodRoot Collective's discussion on food, feminism, and women's spirituality. You'll also learn about Food Not Bombs, which is a fifteen-year-old program that initiates small programs all over the country for feeding the homeless. "We wanted to turn people on to the idea of thinking of things in their essence, understanding how the wheels turn, how everything is interconnected," Ilene explains. "Our information is very non-linear. We use a system in the book that references you to other information, like little road signs to another page. So that once get a lead you can keep on digging and digging and digging." The road signs make it easy for the reader to travel from one section to another, but just think, someone had to create them all, to connect them all. Someone had to design and lay out each one of the five hundred pages of this book. That someone is the graphics designer, Stacy O'Connor, a woman who had barely even turned on a computer before starting this project. After the original graphics designer fled, Ilene cried help and Stacy, a longtime friend, came to the rescue. "I've never worked with anyone who has the creative talent she does," says Ilene. "This woman is not a straight line thinker. She should be a comedienne on the stage. The relations that she draws between things...She did an incredible job." Stacy worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day, experimenting with the spaces, creating innovative backgrounds to the pages. She scanned a dead computer board and used it in the background of the page where feminism questions technology. She even scanned her face and put it beneath the words of another page. Apparently, she and Ilene and the rest of the women of The Launch Pad did something right. WomanSource has sold ten thousand advance copies, attracted international attention, and is expected to sell a million more copies to become a best-seller.


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