Mary Mackey

Author of Immersion

Mary Mackey

Mary Mackey

Interview by Catharine Bramkamp

Immersion was first published in 1972 by Shameless Hussy Press, and according to the summary on it is: “a ground -breaking novel, cinematic, poetic, and hallucinatory which tells the story of a young woman named Kirsten who rebels against traditional female roles and wages a desperate struggle for intellectual, spiritual, personal, and sexual liberation in the jungles of Costa Rica.”  

The publishing journey of Immersion is as exciting as its plot.  Immersion was the first novel in the world published by a Second Wave Feminist Press, Shameless Hussy. Mary Mackey wrote the book in the late ‘60s and sought publication during a time when the publishing industry was still not taking women’s writing seriously. As late as 1978, “a powerful editor at a major New York publishing house told me in all seriousness: ‘Women have peaked. The fad is for women is over, so we’re not interested in publishing any more novels by women.’ ” 

Mary explained the journey with Shameless Hussy Press as positive but challenging. “One of the low points was that no one knew what to make of the book. Since at the time there was no category of ‘women’s fiction’ or ‘feminist fiction,’ it got shelved next to books about science fiction or gardening. I’ve calculated that Immersion was about 15 years ahead of its time. You’d think being on the cutting edge would be a plus, but often it’s an obstacle. I’d written a novel that would be important in the history of women’s literature, but most of what became that history hadn’t taken place yet. 

In the years since, the publishing landscape for women’s literature has changed for the better—no one suggests that ‘women have peaked.’  As we know, women buy more books than men and read a great deal more fiction than men.” 

Mary pointed out that the subsequent 12 novels she wrote after Immersion were all published by major houses like Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, and Putnam, “so I’ve benefited greatly from this” change in attitude. 

The next high point for Immersion came 40 years later in 2012, when Immersion came out as an ebook and the Authors Guild simultaneously re-issued it in hard copy. “Suddenly I was getting emails from readers all over the world and it was being adopted as a text for courses in Women’s Fiction, Women’s Studies, and Environmental Literature.  At present it’s selling in much greater numbers than it sold 40 years ago. Better yet, large numbers of people are reading it. This feels like a resurrection.” 

Mary Mackey

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