Some people's first love is a girl or boy, a woman or a man. Not mine. The first time I fell in love it was with the city of Chicago, and that love remains as unreasonable and passionate now as it was when I moved there at the age of seventeen. I have always personified Chicago as a woman, and as with a woman I forgive her all her faults, because I loved her when I was very young.
So it was particularly special for me to come "home" to Chicago to read. I was further delighted by the quality of all the readings. I am not a reviewer, and folks who know me know that I am not inclined to praise unless I'm truly impressed by something!
First up was Tracey Richardson, a finalist in Lesbian Romance. Tracey read a haunting passage from No Rules of Engagement, about a Canadian military doctor in Afghanistan. The deep issues--equal treatment for gays in the Canadian Forces, the war in which Canada is participating, life and death--show why that novel stands out from ordinary romances. I don't envy the judge of that category: Karin Kallmaker, Colette Moody, KG MacGregor, and Carsen Taite are the other finalists!
Next was Kristin Naca reading from her first book (Lesbian Poetry). Kristin is the kind of poet that makes me want to write poetry (a category in which it is probably safe to say I would never be nominated). Other members of the audience were also impressed with the accessibility of her poems, which reflect a broad range of human experience. She has some real stars in her corner, too: Yusef Komunyakaa, Sandra Cisneros, and Joy Harjo have all praised Bird Eating Bird.
After Arusha was Deborah B. Gould's Moving Politics, in the category of LGBT ("quiltbag") Studies. While I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, coming out in the context of gay-bashing and demonstrations, Debbie was a graduate student and member of ACT UP--the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power. So I was very interested in her history of that provocative alliance between lesbians and gay men. Her closing passage, about what was to be the final meeting of ACT UP Chicago, was a poignant evocation of what it feels like to watch the passing of a movement to which we have been deeply committed. No wonder her book's subtitle is: Emotion and ACT UP's Fight against AIDS.
Mystery writer Rob Byrnes was unable to make it (damn those day jobs!), but Karen wrapped up the evening, appropriately, by reading from Sugarless. James Magruder's book (Gay Debut Fiction) made me laugh, and I brought a copy home.
Let me just say, if all the other finalists are as excellent as these authors with whom I was privileged to share a stage, quiltbag literature is in very good shape indeed.
Photography: Susan Franz