Artist and Quail Bell Press co-founder Christine Sloan Stoddard’s latest book, Force Fed, views the global issue of food insecurity and wealth disparity through an intensely personal lens.
There’s a new book out on the shelves by Christine Sloan Stoddard, the interdisciplinary artist and writer who founded the feminist publication Quail Bell Magazine here in Richmond as a VCUarts undergraduate student. Force Fed is a fictional one-sided correspondence between two sisters, presented through a short series of letters and napkin poems that confront their unequal burdens suffered in childhood.
The book explores food insecurity as a catalyst of familial trauma, an intimate dimension of the global issue that often gets overlooked in media because it happens behind closed doors. Like all trauma, it isn’t something that’s easy to talk about — nor is it easy to read about. Force Fed is only 24 pages long (so you have no excuse not to read it), but it’s written with a poignancy that is disproportionately heavier than the physical weight of the book.
The premise of Force Fed was inspired by experiences and observations throughout Stoddard’s entire life. Born and raised in Arlington, Virginia, she remembers when D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood had not even one full-sized supermarket. “Yet you could see the U.S Capitol — a clear symbol of power and wealth — from there, from the food desert,” says Stoddard. “We have an unhealthy relationship with food in this world.”
During her final year of undergraduate studies at VCU, she and an engineering classmate at the da Vinci Center won the 2012 Energy Efficient Sprint Challenge with a project uncovering how much food VCU’s Shafer Court Dining Center threw away each day. Meanwhile, just a short walk away, Stoddard was serving as an Americorps volunteer in a first grade classroom at Carver Elementary, located in a predominantly black neighborhood where food insecurity was and still is a pervasive issue.
“My first graders would come to school hungry, so the teacher I assisted always kept a stash of snack bars. At the same time, VCU’s Shafer threw away so much food every single day,” says Stoddard. “I hope that amount, which I’d have to look up, has long since decreased, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it remained the same.”
In 2018, Stoddard visited her mother’s home country, El Salvador, for the first time. “I was reminded of the intentional disparity that exists,” she says. “There are the lucky few — the fabled 14 families — who live on haciendas and eat lavish meals while others starve. Yet the earth there is quite fertile, and the ecosystem is very lush. The land can provide as much food as people need.”
“In all of these cases, a true lack of food isn’t really the issue,” says Stoddard. “People are denied food because those in power want to deny them, and it’s one of the ways in which they maintain power.” It’s evident that Stoddard’s realizations about the relationship between food and power heavily inspired the characterization of the sisters’ mother in Force Fed, who weaponizes food in her household as a method to abuse and control her daughters — one of them more than the other.
There are only two mentions of specific locations in Force Fed: a residential Cary Street address in Richmond, and PS 44 in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. The urban setting of the story is non-specific.
“I didn’t need readers to know where the sisters grew up, because this story could happen anywhere,” says Stoddard. “The location isn’t real, it’s in my head. My fictional world merges all of the places I have lived or spent significant time: NoVa, Washington D.C., Richmond, Baltimore, Southern Maryland, New York City, Miami, Iowa, and Glasgow, Scotland.”
Stoddard continued to run Quail Bell Press & Productions after moving to Northern Virginia in 2014. She relocated to New York City in 2016 and currently lives in Brooklyn, but still remains active in running Quail Bell along with Gretchen Gales, a fellow VCU alumna and Virginia native.
In the time since earning a film degree and B.A. in English from VCU and a certificate in Product Innovation from the da Vinci Center, Stoddard has been steadily making additions to her resume and artist’s portfolio. During the summer of 2017, she was the artist-in-residence at Annmarie Sculpture Garden-Smithsonian affiliate. Her work has appeared in Bustle, Marie Claire, The Huffington Post, the New York Transit Museum, the Queens Museum, and the Poe Museum, just to name a few.
2019 was a banner year for Stoddard. In addition to publishing Force Fed, she earned her M.F.A. in Digital & Interdisciplinary Art Practice from The City College of New York-CUNY in Harlem, completed her residency as the first-ever artist-in-residence at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House in Manhattan, and made her debut at the Kennedy Center. She is currently the artist-in-residence at Heartshare Human Services of New York, and curates public programs for the Art Deco Society of New York.
While currently New York-based, Stoddard maintains a strong relationship with Richmond. “I was a Space Grant resident at VCUarts Anderson Gallery through July and August of 2019, so I haunted the city last summer,” she says. “More recently, I celebrated my 2019 poetry and photography book, Belladonna Magic, at Brew Ho-Ho, an annual holiday party and book signing event that Chop Suey Books hosts at Hardywood.”
Force Fed is the third book Stoddard has released through Quail Bell Press & Productions, along with Things Mother Said To Me During Puberty and My Centaur The Beloved. She’s authored and/or illustrated a number of other books, the complete list of which can be found on her website. Force Fed is available for purchase on Amazon, Blurb, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books, among other platforms.
Quail Bell Magazine is still alive and well, continuing to challenge the gap between literary and journalistic worlds by merging “The Real” and “The Unreal” via its commitment to an overarching theme of “the imaginary, nostalgic, and otherworldly.” “We are willing to play with those divisions,” says Stoddard. “It’s a little tongue-in-cheek.”
The Quail Bell Crew is a self-described “team of fairy punks who are citizens of the world” and consists of kick-ass, powerhouse intersectional feminists like Stoddard herself. Her significant contributions to the feminist literary community of the River City have continued to stand the test of both time and distance.
Top Image via worldofchristinesloanstoddard.com