Firebrands: Activists You Didn't Learn About in School

Firebrands: Activists You Didn't Learn About in School

by Justseeds Illustrator, Shaun Slifer Editor, Bec Young Editor, Josh MacPhee Contributor and Alec Dunn Contributor

Look to the past to incite the riots of today

This illustrated history celebrates American changemakers and revolutionaries that are often left out of public narratives about our shared past. These firebrands hail from Canada, Chile, and everywhere in between, from the 1500s to today. Instead of focusing on the powerful, rich white folks so often featured in textbooks, these gorgeous portraits with accompanying biographies recognize the work of grassroots organizers, revolutionaries, visionaries, anarchists, workers, and artists. These heroes put their bodies and souls into fighting injustice and making their communities better, and they often gave their lives for the causes they believed in. Each story is vividly illustrated by a member of Justseeds Artists' Cooperative and offers a radical glimpse into how individuals can work to change the world. A new introduction by editor Shaun Slifer launches the third edition of this beloved collection, which 15 years later remains a powerful resource for anyone of any age seeking the role models they missed out on in school.

Firebrands include Frida Kahlo, Audre Lorde, Sitting Bull, Gloria Anzaldúa, Pablo Neruda, Nina Simone, Emma Goldman, Fred Hampton, Buckminster Fuller, Paulo Freire, W.E.B. Du Bois, Sojourner Truth, Chico Mendes, Tupac Shakur, Grace Lee Boggs, Muhammad Ali, Yuri Kochiyama, and many more. 

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Comments & Reviews


Worded in such a way to inspire further exploration...each of them challenged with great conviction the accepted norms of their day, offering alternatives far too radical to be considered at the time.


" ... I was also impressed by the book's genuine inclusiveness—it covered a wide array of warriors, artists, leaders, and it did so while pushing beyond the typical "inclusive" boundaries. For example, as a sex-positive activist I was thrilled to note that the painter Frida Kahlo was acknowledged to be both bisexual and polyamorous.

The illustrations add a lot to Firebrands. I particularly love the images by Roger Peet. It goes with the last biography in the book, Zumbi dos Palmares, a Portuguese slave in Brazil who led an insurrection in the 1600s. Firebrands was produced by an artists' cooperative called Justseeds, and it's clear that the whole group pitched in for this book and thought carefully about each element. So you could benefit a bunch of artists by giving this charming collection as a gift! What’s not to love?"


"If you’re looking for new heroes, Firebrands is the book for you. ...I was excited when I started reading Firebrands. I felt happy to be alive, to have shared or to be sharing a world with these people and people like them. I felt and still feel inspired to always ask myself what values and ideals are important enough for me to take these kinds of risks and to always try my best to live up to them. I like this book, it feels good in my hands, it makes me smile and I love the artwork that accompagnies each profile ... "


"Curated by the Justseeds Artists' Collective, Firebrands is 192 pages of art, world history, and dangerous information. These beautifully illustrated mini-poster pages showcase radicals, dissidents, folk singers, and rabble-rousers, from Emma Goldman to Tupac, Pablo Neruda to Fred Hampton. As say editors Shaun Slifer and Bec Young in the introduction, the book "is especially made for anyone who has sat, trembling with frustration and disappointment in history class, or reading a text book heavily edited of anything interesting or useful. It's for all our ancestors, especially for the ones left out of or misrepresented in said textbook, because they were too brown, too female, too poor, too queer, too uneducated, too disabled, or because they felt or thought too much." This is a real people's history, a book packed with dynamite, desire, and, above all, courage."


"Besides being the almost-perfect accompaniment to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (his influence and inspiration are noted in the foreword), Justseeds has made in Firebrands a gorgeous and readable text as well."


"The book’s one-page-each-image-essay-image-essay design builds a nice rhythm that connects the disparate personalities through the momentum it creates. Although the strength of the writing and art varies throughout, that is to be expected in such a compilation and Firebrands certainly never commits the sin of being uninteresting.

... Slifer knows his stuff and when – in the book’s introduction – he suggests that readers should “stick this book in your back pocket and stick these stories in your mind” we can only agree. He’s never steered us wrong."


"Pick it up, read it and pass it on."


"The book showcases 78 often overlooked or barely spoken abut in history. The rabble-rousers highlighted shaped the world around you, possibly without you even realizing. Pick it up, read it and pass it on."


" ... it must be said the art featured in Firebrands is outstanding. Justseeds outdid itself with a cachet of almost two dozen movement artists, from Melanie Cervantes to Josh MacPhee to Favianna Rodriguez. Each of the renderings captures the power of the profile, whether it is a standard portrait or a creative cut at one. The imaginative design gives a lot of heart to a volume brimming with soul. Firebrands is a valuable successor to works like the late Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and deserves a wide audience."


"This is a great book. The introduction says this book is: 'For all our ancestors, especially those misrepresented in those textbooks, left out because they were too brown, too female, too poor, too queer, too uneducated, too disabled, or because they daydreamed too much.' I think that sums things up rather nicely. Basically this book is a compilation of radical thinkers and doers who have stood up for what they have believed in no matter the cost. Each entry has a great one page drawing depicting them and a one page biography telling us why they are important. For the most part these folks are left out of the history books. Those that are included like John Brown or Muhammad Ali are included in main stream history books as such small blurbs that a lot of their importance is lost.

You will know of some of the people listed here like the aforementioned John Brown, Muhammad Ali, Fred Hampton and Geronimo, but there are many folks here like Pablo Neruda that I was less familiar with. My only regret is that I wish that some of the drawings were available as posters."