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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lambda 3--Reading in New York

I'll be reading the night after the Lambda Literary Awards in New York City. If you're in town, please come along for Bi Lines III: A Celebration of Bisexual Writing in Reading, Music & Culture. Arusha is featured as a finalist in the Bisexual Fiction category.

Date and time: Friday, May 28. Program 7:00-9:30pm; doors open 6:30
Location: The LGBT Center, 208 W. 13th Street
Suggested donation: $7 US (to cover the costs of space, art exhibits and music) or FREE for Lambda Awards ceremony attendees

Authors and the books we'll be reading from:
Blake Bailey Cheever: A Life
Audrey Beth Stein Map
J.E. Knowles Arusha
Ann Herendeen Pride/Prejudice
Herukhuti Conjuring Black Funk
Bobbie Geary The Janeid

Music: Meech Morrison, Jade Zabric, Drew
Photography: Efrain Gonzalez, Amanda Morgan

Hosted by the Bi Writers Association. Co-sponsored by BiRequest, Lambda Literary Foundation & Bi Women of All Colors

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lambda 2--Chicago

On the 4th of May, I was in Chicago, visiting some of my favorite people and places. What serendipity that that evening was also the Lambda Finalists Reading at the Gerber/Hart Library! Hosted by Karen Sendziak and Lambda's Judith Markowitz (right), it was a terrific success, meaning that the library had to put out more chairs. Always better than looking out at empty ones.

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

Lambda 1

A reader (oh, how thankful I am for readers) suggested I use this space to share a bit about being a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. Strictly speaking, it is my novel, Arusha, that is the finalist. I have nice gold stickers to put on copies of the book that say so!

Being shortlisted for a Lambda Award is, truly, an honor, something I hoped would happen someday but did not expect for my first book. These awards have been around since the 1980s, and some of our most admired writers have won: Nicola Griffith. Emma Donoghue. Jane Rule. Mark Doty. The list of winners for a single year can read like a Who's Who of writers in our community. And, since this is my rambling post, I would like to borrow an expression from Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge: instead of the cumbersome "LGBT" I am going to use the more pronounceable nickname QLTBG or "quiltbag."

Not everyone, of course, is familiar with the Lambda Awards. Here in Britain, for example, I'm not sure writers understand why the USA has special awards for literature relating to quiltbag people. This might have something to do with the fact that writers in other countries who are quiltbag, or who write about quiltbag characters, are just part of mainstream publishing. And that, in turn, might have something to do with the fact that in a country like Britain, we have achieved more or less full equality. What a different experience from that of an American, whose entire adult life has been shaped by homophobic laws!

So, why the Lambdas? Quiltbag literature is literature, and it is global. The Lambdas are given to US-published books regardless of where the winners live, or are from. Griffith is English and lives in the US. Donoghue is Irish and lives in Canada. Rule was a US-born Canadian, and one of our greats.

So, that's why I'm honored that Arusha is among the finalists for this year's award, the first ever in the category of Bisexual Fiction.