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Posts Tagged ‘Tea Leaves a memoir of mothers and daughters’

Note: This piece is airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

As a lesbian writer, I am continually confronted with the fact that we are many things – at the heart LGBTQ but perhaps not in everything we do.  I’ve come to the conclusion that LGBTQ status shouldn’t matter even when it does.

Recently, I was reminded of this dilemma in the reading of two books from Other Press about men who happen to be gay in the Middle East. Both books are well-written and delightfully complex. Both also represent stories within a story. coexist rainbow flag two

In The Parting Gift (Other Press 2018), a novel by Evan Fallenberg, we meet an unnamed narrator who tells us the story by writing a letter to his former lover Adam who he knew in a university in the states when the narrator left abruptly for Israel where he fell in love with a for a time lived with an alpha male who was previously heterosexual – and who in fact, as the narrator tells us, may not have an orientation other than being macho and selfish.

The story line, like the sexuality of the two male beloveds, is fluid. “This story, like most stories, could begin in a number of different places,” writes Fallenberg.  His narrator explains that he chose to go to go to Israel “because if you’re a Jew you can get off the plane in Tel Aviv, tell them you want to be a citizen, and you get processed right there at the airport.  Full rights and benefits – housing, education, medical.”

Once in Israel he meets and falls in love and lust with a spice-dealer who is close to his ex-wife and his children. The gay narrator becomes totally ensnared in the relationship and once things quickly begin to go bad, he is forced to examine entitlement – first that of his lover but then also the entitlement that he himself grew up with even as he acknowledges that he is now on the receiving end of entitlement.  It is being used against him. The narrator explains to Adam (and to the reader) that he didn’t leave abruptly because, “I had no friends, no real prospects. I was suddenly a 1950s housewife, trapped and helpless.”

The Diamond Setter, a novel by Moshe Saka (Other Press 2017) which was translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen is a sprawling novel that traces the role of a blue diamond — a cursed but inanimate object with a storied past — in connecting people and communities.

A main character — Fareed a young Arab man from Syria who crosses the border and sneaks into Israel with the destination of Yafa – is gay. Fareed (who is carrying the diamond) finds himself in a community that evokes his past.

In addition to being culturally significant, or perhaps as a result, the novel has love at its core. It begins with a few paragraphs that contain the passage that this a story “from back in the days when the Middle East was steeped not only in blood but also in love.”

When Fareed is amazed at the acceptance of gays in Israel, one of his new friends in Yafa warns that,

“Most gay Palestinians in Israel are closeted. It’s a very conservative society. Even our leaders, the ones in the Knesset, say things like, ‘Arab society is not yet mature enough to contend with this issue.’ What is it mature enough for it to deal with then? … What’s for sure is that the Shami Bar, here in Yafa, is an oasis.  It doesn’t represent anything going on in this country, certainly not the discrimination and racism against Arabs.”

Perhaps the novel can be summed up by what Sakal writes in the Afterword:  “Anyone who lived in Palestine before the State of Israel was established in 1948 had tales of brave relationships that survived even the bloodiest of times, love affairs and friendships between Jews and Arabs … “

As complex as The Diamond Setter is, it can leave the reader with the feeling that with love, anything is possible.

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

Amazon THEY

 

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I was delighted to find that Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room is carrying my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — NY/Lisbon). You can order a copy when you’re in their store at 12th and Pine Streets in Center City, Philadelphia.

Or you can order your copy of THEY  on their website — and also peruse the other titles — by clicking here.

I was particularly happy to hear that Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room is carrying THEY because Giovanni’s Room bookstore in it’s earlier incarnation and now its new incarnation is/was so important to me (and to many of us).Amazon THEY

I’m republishing two articles that I wrote for The Huffington Post about Giovanni’s Room and Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room.

06/05/2014 12:57 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

When Bookstores Save Lives and Preserve Culture: Reflections on Giovanni’s Room

I still remember the first time that I set foot in Giovanni’s Room, the beloved LGBT bookstore that recently closed its doors this past May. It was 1981, the year that I came out. I was in my early twenties. I had known about Giovanni’s Room, the gay and lesbian beacon on the corner of Twelfth and Pine Streets in Center City, Philadelphia. The store was founded in 1973.

The storefront was a rare and welcome presence for gay men and lesbians like myself who came out in a hostile time before the television shows Will and Grace, and Ellen, but after the Stonewall Gay Liberation Riots in 1969 which meant that gay bookstores, gay, lesbian and women’s presses were in existence. Gay marriage was just a glimmer in the eyes of our forebears (such as Gertrude and Alice) and still way in the future for us.

Stepping into Giovanni’s Room in 1981 felt like an act of courage and it was. Years later, the bookstore hosted Rita Mae Brown as a guest signing her books. I stood in the long line that went up the narrow staircase to the second floor where Rita Mae was signing her books. I arrived upstairs just in time to hear Rita Mae ask Ed Hermance, the owner, how many rocks had been thrown through his store windows over the years. As I recall, it was a high number.

On that first visit to Giovanni’s Room in 1981, I bought a book about Sojourner Truth, the African American abolitionist (born into slavery) and women’s rights activist. The book was hardback and had an off-white dust jacket with a pebbly feel to it. The title was Sojourner Truth: A Self Made Woman. It was in many ways a safe pick for me. If I ran into someone on the street and they asked me where I had been, I could be honest and say Giovanni’s Room which was a feminist bookstore, too. But Sojourner Truth had been an important figure in history and someone who gave me courage in my young life.

After my first trip to Giovanni’s, it was easier to go back. Inside the walls of that corner city house turned bookstore, I found a community of past and present. It was where I heard activists and authors of all types speak. And it was where I became most intimately acquainted with James Baldwin (whose pioneering novel Giovanni’s Room the store was named for), Willa Cather, Sappho, of course, and so many others.

Finally, Giovanni’s was a place where I came to find myself as a lesbian and as an author. I had been writing since childhood and began taking it seriously at the age of twenty-nine, the same age I learned that Gertrude had been when she started writing as a daily practice. When I began to get published in journals and anthologies, I would come into the store and find myself on the shelves. A little while later, when a small press began publishing my chapbooks, they were in the poetry section. A poster with one of my poems on it was in the rack upstairs. In the last five years, when I had readings for a novel and then a memoir, I had my book launches at the store.

I was part of many readings at Giovanni’s over the years, but that is what not I remember most. I remember that Giovanni’s shaped me as a writer and that Ed Hermance nurtured my talent. Ed and I would often talk when I came into the store, and he was always let me know when a new book had come out that I should check out, including a new translation of Sappho and a collection of James Baldwin’s letters. It was more than just good business. Ed really cared.

One of the people we both cared about was Toni Brown, the late lesbian poet, who worked at Giovanni’s Room for a stint when she first moved to Philadelphia from Amherst, Massachusetts. Toni died, unexpectedly, at the age of fifty-five. I had a very large print made from a photograph that I had taken of Toni made for her memorial service in April of 2008. The photograph was displayed on the stage of The Painted Bride Art Center where the memorial was held. Toni was a tall African American woman, about the same height as I, and the service was packed with a diverse crowd. I remember standing on the stage talking to Ed Hermance, both of us crying, and me handing him the photograph. He displayed it in the store for a time, on the wall behind the cash register. I remember thinking that I could walk into Giovanni’s Room at any time and see Toni.

Losing Giovanni’s Room is in many ways similar to losing a good friend. It was a place that contained our history, as a movement, as a people. It was a place that gave testament to our lives. It was a store that gave so many of us a safe haven and, in reality, saved many lives.

It was a place where we could be ourselves.

Note: as of this writing, Giovanni’s Room is still awaiting the decision of a potential buyer — which most likely will come by the middle of June.

History Repeating Itself: Odd Girl Out and Under This Beautiful Dome

July 17, 2015 

Note:  This piece aired as commentary this week on the international LGBT syndicate This Way Out.   It was previously published on The Huffington Post.

History repeats itself.

Just last week, I went into the new Philadelphia AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room, the organization that took bought the old Giovanni’s Room Bookstore, the iconic bookstore that opened in 1973. I was thrilled to hear that Giovanni’s Room was continuing in some form, of course. But friends had told me that, alas, it just wasn’t the same. For lesbians and gay men of a certain generation, Giovanni’s Room was more than a store. It was a safe haven. It even has a mention in my book Tea Leaves, a Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012).

So I was delighted to wander in and find that the store is charming — and remarkably similar to the old bookstore. In line at the register were a couple of very young gay men with short spiky hair and flesh plug earrings. (They looked like the young dykes of my time.) One was buying a used copy of the collected works of Oscar Wilde, and telling his young friend (who was unfamiliar with the author) who Wilde was and how important his work is. My heart was warmed, of course.

Later I reflected that it was more than heartwarming, the fact that Giovanni’s Room is continuing is historic survival.

A few years ago, I heard a rumor that many young people in the LGBT community were not interested in learning their history. I don’t know if this is true, and I certainly hope it is not true.

However, if it is true, it is understandable. We live in a time of rapid acceptance of LGBT rights. Same-sex marriage is legal in far more states than it is banned. And while federal recognition of marriage and other LGBT rights may be an ongoing battle — it is sure to follow. But not that long ago (everything being relative), gay rights were dismal and before that they were nonexistent.

I’ve always preferred learning my history through literature. That’s why I was excited when I heard that Cleis Press reissued Ann Bannon’s Odd Girl Out, a lesbian “pulp” classic first published in 1957. The “pulp” lesbian novels published roughly from 1950 to 1965, were written by such authors as Valerie Taylor, Claire Morgan and Marijane Maeaker ( who wrote under the pen names of Vin Packer and Ann Aldrich) among others. Ann Bannon (also a pen name) was known as the “Queen of lesbian pulp fiction” with her “Beebo Brinker Chronicles.”

The pulps were published during McCarthyism, a severely repressive time of U.S. history. In 1952 the House Un-American Activities Commission investigated gay men and lesbians in the public arena. The lesbian pulps were an important window into an identity that was illegal.

In the introduction to the re-issued edition (from Cleis) of Odd Girl Out, Bannon writes that she was a young housewife when she wrote these books, explaining that she was:

“just plain scared of to assume an identity that seemed to me full of mystery…I also had a fully reasonably fear of the public consequences. God forbid that a policeman should ever pluck me from a table in a lesbian bar, shove me into a paddy wagon, and put my name on a roster of criminals. The bars underwent regular police raids in those days…”

She also puts lesbian “pulp” fiction into perspective:

How did we get away with it, those of us writing these books? No doubt it had a lot to do with the fact that we were not even a blip on the radar screens of the literary critics. No one ever reviewed a lesbian pulp paperback for the New York Times Review of Books, the Saturday Review, The Atlantic Monthly. We were lavishly ignored, except by the customers at the drugstores, airports, train stations, and newsstands who bought our books off the kiosks by the millions. The readers tended to enjoy them furtively: probably feeling as wary as I did when I wrote them.

For a novel labeled as “pulp,” Odd Girl Out is remarkably well written and with an ending that is empowering rather than tragic — unusual in literature with lesbian characters at that time. When my partner asked me if it were worth reading, I gave her a resounding, “YES.”

I was also excited when I heard about Terry Mutchler’s heart-wrenching memoir, Under This Beautiful Dome: A Senator, a Journalist, and the Politics of Gay Love in America. I read this back to back with Ann Bannon’s lesbian classic and quickly realized that the two books shared the similar emotional underpinnings of the love that dare not speak its name: lesbianism.

The difference is that while Ann Bannon’s book was first published in 1957, Under This Beautiful Dome was published (by Seal Press) in 2014 and recounts the facts of a relationship that ended tragically when Penny Severns, an Illinois state senator and one of the mentors of the now President Barack Obama, died at the age of forty six from metastatic breast cancer.

It is a poignant love story about two women who fall in love. There are other reasons not to disclose their relationship — Penny is a journalist and it presents an ethical dilemma for her to be involved with a politician. But the primary reason — especially after Penny is diagnosed and Terry becomes her press secretary so they can spend more time together — is homophobia. In the high powered world in which they lived, being openly lesbian was a career killer.

After Penny dies (without a will) and her relatives step in and take over, Terry is locked out of the home she shared with her lover (but does not have her name on it). Wills would be public — which is why the two women did not have them — but Terry had an agreement with Penny’s twin sister, Patty. As often happens after the death of a loved one, the sister’s behavior quickly changed. She shut Terry out completely. Mutchler, who has experienced the loss of her lover plus the betrayal of someone she thought of as family, writes:

“I felt as though I had split into two people, two Terrys: the lesbian Terry whose mate has just died and was grieving deeply and needed help, and the press secretary and good friend Terry, who created a life of lies very carefully to keep her love and partnership a secret.”

The book is flawlessly and unflinchingly written. Especially touching is the caring that Terry did for her dying lover. But for me, the saddest part was that this story in different details and variations is one that I’ve heard more than a few times when one partner dies without a will, and the surviving partner is left unprotected to the vagaries of the deceased’s biological family.

In addition to being a moving memoir, Under This Beautiful Dome is a reminder that we have to protect ourselves and our rights — or history will repeat itself.

 

 

 

 

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Note: This piece is airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

(TWO is the first international LGBTQ radio news magazine.)

When I heard that the lesbian writer Vanda had a new book out, book three of her Juliana Series, I was very excited.  You see, I love historic novels and when a historic novel is written by a lesbian and includes lesbian characters that makes me very happy.

Vanda three

Paris, Adrift is the title of Vanda’s newest novel, and it may be written as the third book in a series, but it can be read on its own.  At the same time, there are allusions to previous circumstances that were in the early novels, that the reader all the entire series will get.  And if that reader is like me – who has read the series as the individual books were published – this means that the characters are even more real. They have become people with histories – backstories that make the novel I am reading even more complex.

The two main characters Alice (Al) and Juliana, a famous singer whose career Al is managing.  The two women are also lovers.  They are from New York City and when the novel opens in 1955, they are taking an ocean liner to Paris where Juliana is booked to sing in nightclubs.

The tenor of the times – which are so real that Al and Juliana experience blackmail – reveal to the reader that intense homophobia is as alive and well in Paris as it is in New York.  Vanda writes a passage from the point of view of Al that sadly echoes sentiments that I have heard in the not so distant past:

Of course, Max would have no choice but to fire me.  I’d lose all my clients. Who’d want to be represented by a mentally disturbed, potentially criminal, unnatural woman? A thing. I’d lose my gay clients too, like Marty. It would be too dangerous for him to be represented by me.  I’d never work again, at least not in show business or government or civil service; Is there anything left?  I’d be poor again. Maybe scraping by in low level jobs like my father.  I’d hate that.  I did have savings and stocks so I could hang on for a while. But my work in cabaret. I must have that. It was my life.  Still – I’d survive it.  Somehow. But Juliana….? She was used to being adored. If it came out that she was … The worst for me would be that this would most likely be the end of us, and that I didn’t know how I would live through.

The novel takes the reader through history – a factually accurate history – that provides for plenty of interesting asides and insights. But ultimately it is a love story between these two women Al and Juliana – and it is a tale of how their lesbian love which must remain hidden is able to survive.  As Vanda writes:

Oh, there have been a few women like us who lived in Paris somewhat openly; women artists who were already considered odd like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.  They weren’t really accepted by most, merely tolerated.  Many others who came here to write or be artists kept their relationships secret. No. I don’t think we’ll ever be treated like everyone else.”

    “Then let’s stay here all day and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. “

     She kissed me, and we made love again.  Everything would have been perfect …. [except]

 

There has been much written about the importance of telling our stories.   For me, as a member of the lesbian community, as someone who recognizes that our stories are so often marginalized and dismissed, the importance of telling our story – especially in an historic novel in a lesbian context – is proof that we do exist and, in fact, have always existed.

 

To read my review of Vanda’s first book in the series, Juliania, click here.

To read my review of Vanda’s second book in the series, Olympus Nights On the Square, LGBT Life in the Early Post-War Years (1945-1955), click here.

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders

 

 

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I was delighted to find that my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books; 2018) is being featured on the Adelaide Books and Adelaide Literary Magazine website.

Adelaide Books has also been tweeting this new photo of THEY.

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders

 

The Picture of the Month on the Adelaide website is from my book launch last July:

 

Janet-Mason-and-Emily-Pena-Murphy

Our authors Janet Mason (right) and Emily Peña Murphy at the Launch of the book THEY:A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders by Janet Mason in the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia on July 26

Adelaide’s website also links to the YouTube videos of my reading. You can learn more about Adelaide Books and Literary Magazine — and their other fabulous authors by clicking here.

You can also learn more about the book launch for THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders by clicking here.

or you can click here to read the interview with me in The Chestnut Hill Local.

To read an excerpt of THEY, published in BlazeVox, click here.

 

Amazon THEY

 

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Janet Mason will launch her new book THEY, a  biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — New York/Lisbon) on Thursday, July 26, at 7 p.m., at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy.

From the Chestnut Hill Local — interview by Len Lear:

“I hope the story lets everyone know that religion/spirituality is open to them,” said Janet, “whether or not they chose it. The story was in part inspired by a young woman who lived on my block and whose child transitioned genders at an early age. A few years ago, this young mother left her church in tears after a rather judgmental remark from another congregant.

“Of course, my neighbor never returned to that church. When I was writing, that story was in my head, and I think consciously it means that I wrote the book to let everyone know, especially that child, that there is room for them. They are valued.”

To read the entire interview, click here.

Amazon THEY

 

To read a published excerpt from my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders

(Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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This morning, I took part in Poetry Sunday, a Unitarian Universalist summer service that is a tradition. In my talk, I reflected on the nature of love and read from my recently completed novel The Unicorn, The Mystery. I also read a poem by Sappho and read my own work that it inspired (“Sapphics for Aphrodite”).

The YouTube video of my talk  is below. The complete text of my talk is below that.  The service took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Ave. in Philadelphia.

 

 

There are many types of love. I explore the many types of love in the novel that I just completed The Unicorn, The Mystery which I am going to read from briefly:

 “The point I was going to make is that romantic love is far from the most important type of love,” said the Priest with his usual authority. “Christians believe that pure love—the kind of love that is selfless and creates goodness—is the way that God loves us. This is why the saying, ‘love you neighbor’ is so important. There are numerous references to this in the Bible. But the most important is from the Gospel According to Mark in which he says ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than this.

“This kind of love is called ‘agape,’” continued the priest. “Agape is the highest form of pure, selfless love. It is the kind of love that God has for us—and the kind of love that we strive to have for our fellow man.”

“I recognize the word,” I replied. “It’s Ancient Greek, from the time of Homer.”

The Priest narrowed his eyes.

 Of course, many of the great poets have been inspired by romantic love, especially the Greeks.  But some may argue–and I do–that love (regardless of the kind of love) is the inspiration for all poetry.

Sappho statue

 

 

One of the poets from antiquity who greatly inspired me was Sappho, who lived around 600 B.C.E.  Of course, she lived before labels but many of Sappho’s love poems were written to women.  And she was technically a Lesbian since she lived on the Isle of Lesbos, now called Lesvos.  Most of what is left from Sappho is in fragments. One of the complete poems that survived is her “Hymn to Aphrodite” which I’ll read now: 

 

On your dazzling throne. Aphrodite,
Sly eternal daughter of Zeus,
I beg you: do not crush me
With grief

 But come to me now – as once
You heard my far cry, and yielded,
slipping from your
father’s house 

to yoke the birds to your gold
chariot, and came.  Handsome sparrows
brought you swiftly to
the dark earth, 

their wings whipping the middle sky
Happy, with deathless lips, you smiled:
“What is wrong, Sappho, why have
You called me? 

What does your mad heart desire?
Whom shall I make love you,
Who is turning her back
on you? 

Let her run away, soon she’ll chase you;
Refuse your gifts, soon she’ll give them.
She will love you, though
unwillingly.”

 Then come to me now and free me
From fearful agony.  Labor
for my mad heart, and be
my ally.

 

Almost twenty years ago, when I took a pilgrimage to Greece, including a stay in Sappho’s birthplace of Skala Eressos, a beach town on the Isle of Lesvos, I wrote the following response to Sappho’s hymn to the goddess of love.  The title is “Sapphics for Aphrodite” —

 

Aphrodite, in your blazing chariot,
I do not ask to be loved by anyone
against her will, to be fled from
or to be pursued. 

I do not ask for anything that will
sever my breath with anguish; I do not wish
to destroy or to be destroyed.
I do not wish for 

anything other than for the stars to blaze
in my pulse until breaking, shattered, and
incandescent, I am consumed: the moon’s rays
intent upon me. 

Aphrodite this is all I ask of you,
you who hold the Fates in my hands,
and you, of the golden winged chariot, in
whose temple I burn.

 

The priest in my novel has a point. Romantic love can have its limitations.  But love is love – regardless of what it is called. And love can lead to goodness.

 

Namaste

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Janet Mason is holding her book launch for her novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon — 2018) at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore on July 26, a Thursday evening, at 7 p.m.  The Big Blue Marble Bookstore is located at 551 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia 19119.

Amazon THEY

 

Mason, who teaches at Temple University Center City and the Mt. Airy Learning Tree, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for a section of the novel.

Mason is also an award-winning creative writer, teacher, radio commentator, and blogger for The Huffington Post. She records commentary for This Way Out, the internationally-aired LGBTQ radio syndicate based in Los Angeles. Her book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters, published by Bella Books in 2012, was chosen by the American Library Association for its 2013 Over the Rainbow List. Tea Leaves also received a Goldie Award. She is the author of three poetry books. Mason is a lay minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of The Restoration located on Stenton Avenue in East Mt. Airy.

From the back cover of THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders:

Janet Mason has a storyteller’s gift, weaving rich imagery with provocative twists to create a world where gender is as complex and fluid as the emotional bond between twins. With its Biblical, Pagan, fantastical and modernist roots, THEY is not easily categorized – and even harder to put down.

Susan Gore, PhD, Editor, Coming Out in Faith: Voices of LGBTQ Unitarian Universalists

 

To read an excerpt from THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, click here.

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