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Posts Tagged ‘lesbian authors’

Today, I heard from an old lesbian-feminist colleague and editor Jan Hardy. In the early 1990s, Jan edited and compiled two important anthologies that I was included in:  Wanting Women, an Anthology of Erotic Lesbian Poetry and Sister Stranger: Lesbians Loving Across the Lines (both from Sidewalk Revolution Press).

Jan picked up a copy of my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mother’s and daughters (Bella Books; 2012)  and wrote the following review for Goodreads.

“Very moving and sometimes difficult to read only because I’ve taken care of both my father and my mother as they grew older and became unable to care for themselves. Janet Mason captures so well the conflicts between caring for her mother’s daily needs and yet granting her privacy and dignity, between reminiscing about the past, providing strength for each day, and trying to face her mother’s imminent passing. Her writing is honest and clear, yet poetic and meditative. Many of her insights about working class life in Philadelphia shed light on the character of her mother, her grandmother and her father, and show how she developed as a woman and as a writer. This memoir must have been so painful to write, but it flows easily on the page and will last in my memory.”

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Hearing from Jan caused me to reflect on the past.  In many ways, it seems like I was a different person then. For one thing, I migrated from poetry to prose.  (The poems kept getting longer and there was dialogue in them.) I was a rather loud mouthed lesbian as a young adult. Well, someone had to be.  Now, there are more of us.  But really I haven’t changed that much.  For one thing, the poetry taught me a lot. There has to be rhythm and the writing has to be spare — regardless.

Jan was touched that the anthology she edited, Wanting Woman, was mentioned in Tea Leaves. I didn’t remember my exact words, but I remembered the context because well it is memoir and it actually happened. I wanted to find the actual quote in Tea Leaves and I did.I thought you might enjoy it too:

Now, as we sat in the living room talking, I looked over at the breakfront against the wall near the front door—the gold framed photographs on the top shelf, my parents on their wedding day, my high school graduation photograph and under that, on a lower shelf, the journals and anthologies where my writing was published. My mother took pride in my work, commenting on the other pieces as well as on my own, and seemed oblivious to the fact that the plumber or the next-door neighbor might come in the front door and see the purple cover of “By Word Of Mouth: Lesbians Write the Erotic,” the first anthology I published in. I had given my mother copies of the other anthologies that I had published in also, although at first I was hesitant. I was worried that she wouldn’t approve of the sexual content, not because it was lesbian but because some references were explicit. “I was afraid you might think it was dirty,” I once said to my mother a few years earlier when we were in the city shopping at Giovanni’s Room bookstore and I came across Wanting Women: an Anthology of Erotic Lesbian Poetry—a collection that included my work. My mother read the poem and, to my surprise, simply shrugged. “Who do you think taught you dirty?”

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Last night a friend and I went to see the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am and I loved every minute of it.  For as long as I can remember, I have long been inspired by the work of Toni Morrison and was again inspired by the movie as a writer and as a human being.

I am far enough outside the mainstream not to have heard the criticism of the white, male (straight I assume) literary establishment who criticized her and said she did not deserve to win the Nobel Prize.  But the comments were, unfortunately, predictable.

I have long considered Morrison America’s greatest living writer and was motivated by the movie to go back and reread her books.

As a writing teacher, I have often quoted Morrison’s statement that revising is the “delicious” part of writing, that the writer goes back and sculpts the hollows that brings forth the characters.

The movie brought me to tears more than once.

I was moved by her discussion on internalized self-hated – that her first book, The Bluest Eye, strongly addresses.  As a lesbian writer, I have often written and thought about internalized oppression – the fact of its existence, where it comes from, and how it can be overcome.

 

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I was struck with what she said about white people and racism.  She said that racist white people are “bereft” and that by being racist, they are also damaging themselves. She asked the question that what are you without your racism? Are you still strong? And she said that if someone needs to feel better than someone else, they need to process that by themselves – without her.

So, thank you Toni Morrison. I recognize genius when I see it/read it – and am uplifted by your gifts not threatened by them.

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.
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Note: a version of this review is being aired this week on the international LGBTQ radio syndicate This Way Out, headquartered in Los Angeles. To listen to the entire news wrap, click here.

 

Before being a lesbian was trendy, before marriage equality, before we were part of the LGBT movement, lesbians were simply women –  labeled “sick” and “deviant” – who somehow found a way to live in an extremely oppressive environment.

Of course, those were the old days – when almost everyone was oppressed.

Fast forward half a century, at least. Things have changed so much. I am guilty of being lesbian statue of libertyone of the lesbians who think that society has moved on. Well, it should have at least.

But hate crimes are up – including hate crimes against those of us in the LGBT community.

And as The Advocate reports in its most recent issue, “Hate crimes (against those in the Progress doesn’t always move in a straight line. I was reminded of this when I read Olympus Nights On the Square, LGBT Life in the Early Post-War Years (1945-1955) (2017, Sans Merci Press) by Vanda.  I read  and reviewed the first volume of this series last year (Juliana (vol 1: 1941 – 1944) which gave me the back story – and while the first book, too, is an interesting page turner about lesbian history, it is not necessary to read the first book in order to understand the most recent book.

In Olympus Nights On The Square we meet Al short for Alice, a lesbian – although she was in denial for a long time – from a small town who moved to New York City and now works in the entertainment industry.  Vanda is also a playwright and dialogue drives her novels – making for interesting and engaging writing.  In the 1950s – during the time of the McCarthy witch hunts where homosexuality was often synonymous with communist – her characters reflect on the fact that things are harder for them than during the 1940s when they first met.

The novel gives us a panoramic view of the times seen through the eyes of her characters.

I found it all very fascinating.

I did at one point, however, find the oppressive tenor of the times tedious.  It was the sexism that got to me.  Women could not even be served in bars without a male escort.

Gay men and lesbians lived in fear of being found out as what society labeled a sick person, sexual deviant, or a pervert.  But the novel chronicles the changes in society too – as when Alice first sees the word “homosexual” in print (even a negative reference is an admission that such people do exist).

As the author writes in the introduction, “Knowing this history is important for both gay and straight.  It’s already starting to repeat itself.”

History is starting to repeat itself.  But things have changed. For one thing, we have stepped out of the shadows and we have allies.

In her CD, Dreamland (offered by Woodstock Arts), Jennifer Maidmen, writes of “The Conspiracy of Dreamers” where you can be anything you like there.” She sings of an invisible “revolution that is dangerous and free.”

Jennifer is transgender and identifies as “two-spirit” person. She recorded this album with her long-time partner Annie Whitehead on horns and she has toured with other musicians such as Joan Armatrading and Boy George.

Her music is haunting and liberating and tells us that not only have things changed – but that we are part of the change.

There used to be a saying in the lesbian community that we are everywhere.  Now things are different and most of us acknowledge that we are more alike than different.  Perhaps the new saying could be that, we are everyone.

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