Claire L. Evans is a writer and musician. She is the singer of the pop group YACHT, founding editor of VICE’s science-fiction vertical Terraform, and the co-founder of the Los Angeles-based events calendar 5 Every Day. She has contributed to Rhizome, The Guardian, WIRED, and Aeon. Evans is an advisor to graduate design students at Art Center College of Design and a member of the cyberfeminist collective Deep Lab.
In April, Evans discussed her book Broad Band: The Untold History of Women Who Made the Internet at the Edendale Branch Library.
Broad Band is written chronologically from the Industrial Revolution through the collapse of the dot com boom. As Claire mentioned in her talk, books about technology generally ignore the women in the room, so her book “briefly” ignores the men in the room. Evans also made clear that the boys’ club dominant in today’s Silicon Valley is an anachronism. It took a generation or so to create, and she believes it will only take another generation to undo it. As a follow-up to her appearance at the library, I asked Evans some questions about her influences, her writing process, and the books that inspired Broad Band.
What was your research process like for writing the book, Broad Band? Did you use the library?
I used the Los Angeles Public Library extensively while writing this book, picking up holds at my neighborhood branch, Arroyo Seco in Highland Park. As much as I love buying books for my personal collection, being able to cast a wide net and browse a large amount of printed material through LAPL’s collection was invaluable, as were the online databases, like Proquest and the Newspaper Archive, which I used to track down older journals, newspaper and magazine articles for reference. I even used the wonderful Ask a Librarian service for help with my more obscure sources. There’s nothing like writing about the Internet to make you realize how much material isn’t online.
Would you be willing to share the bibliography for Broad Band?
The bibliography for Broad Band is far too long to share here, but here are some of the books that most influenced my thinking and my approach:
- Sadie Plant - Zeros + Ones
- Julian Dibbell - My Tiny Life
- Stacy Horn - Cyberville
- Janet Murray - Hamlet on the Holodeck
- Tracy Kidder - The Soul of a New Machine
- Sherry Turkle - Life on the Screen
- David Alan Grier - When Computers Were Human
- Brenda Laurel - Computers as Theatre
I read in an article that you want folks to continue to write about women in technology. Whose voice do you want to hear more of?
The project of re-writing women into the history of technology is far, far bigger than my book. I am definitely not the first—and I sincerely hope I am not the last—to take it on. I want to know so much more about how this history unfolded elsewhere, beyond the United States and the UK, and how it is continuing to develop and change globally. Technology is a deeply human thing; it touches all of us.
Since you’ve been touring with your book, what kind of feedback have you been getting?
There’s clearly a significant need for female representation in technology, and I’ve been fortunate in the sense that people are rooting for this book based on its subject matter alone. When I first started working on Broad Band three years ago, I couldn’t have anticipated the seismic, landscape-altering events that would lead to a heightened focus on women’s stories: the #MeToo movement, the fallout from Google engineer James Damore’s internal memo, the uptick in misogynist behavior online and the ways that the normalization of such behavior flows out into the “real” world. A lot of the folks that I’ve talked to about the book have wanted to situate Broad Band in this larger context; I hope the stories I share, of female resilience, humor and insight, can provide some sustenance for what is clearly, still, a long journey ahead.
What books did you read as a girl? What are you reading these days?
I was an only child, so I read a lot. My father is a compulsive book-buyer and my mother has a Master’s in English Lit, so our house was full of books. I pulled from my parents’ shelves a lot of classic fiction and theater, and in doing so I inherited their taste: Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Fitzgerald, Kipling, Salinger, Shakespeare. Very English-major-in-the-making. At the same time, I was really fixated on pulp science fiction. Ray Bradbury was huge for me—that fertile territory borrowing from classic literature while looking outward, free in the fantasy. I still read a lot of science fiction today, but I’ve moved onto the New-Wave and (big surprise) feminist masters of the genre: Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ, Samuel Delany, J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick. Unrelated to any of this, I just started reading this book called The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing; it’s an ethnography about the global commerce of wild Matsutake mushrooms, which grow in forests that have been logged or otherwise altered by human meddling, and it’s blowing my mind. We don’t deserve fungi.
Who are some of your influences as a writer? How about as a musician?
I always try to read a little bit before I sit down to write; it helps to get me into the slowed-down flow of thinking, and reminds me what’s possible. Sometimes I’ll read some great longform journalism, or a few pages of a novel I really love—I’ll usually end up building a kind of thematic library of reference and inspiration texts around a writing project. But when I sit down to make music, I can’t listen to any other music—I suddenly find myself comparing my own output to classic songs, and it paralyzes me. I need to make music in a vacuum. I don’t know why that is.
Do you have any book recommendations?
My only further recommendation is: read women!