In the film "After Stonewall," lesbian author Dorothy Allison said, "Thank god for poetry! Thank god for bad poetry!" The point Allison was making was that the reading circles of the early liberation movements were often the only places where everyday gay folk could try out their voice in an open and caring space. Venues were rare where a woman or man just coming to terms with their sexuality had a safe haven to try on their new, discovered identity -- awkwardly as it might have fit at first -- and still feel the comfort from others in the same situation.
Regardless of one's literary means, one could generally find an audience eager to hear a good "coming out" story in these circles. They sought poems about same sex lovers, or tales of first encounters laced with homecoming in the writer's quest for identity and liberation. Such work comprises a continuous anthem of literature in the lesbigaytrans community. Sooner or later, anybody queer who writes will probably write from this experience. It's just part of putting self-discovery in words. It's something of a tradition, both a political and a personal declaration of self upon coming out.
The Stonewall Riots were back in 1969. Today, in 2000, the work has improved as lesbigaytrans authors have advanced their work from their immediate circles on an ever wider and more public critique. Being "out" is not as political as it once was. The average citizen is more accepting. And lesbigaytrans literature is easy to find, too. Some of the greatest American and European writers of the 20th century have been outed to positive effect -- Tennessee Williams, W.H. Auden, and Gertrude Stein being prime examples -- assuming they were ever "in the closet" in the first place from the public's point of view. Their gayness is no longer a liability but a virtue. Furthermore, living writers continue their tradition in popular and experimental literatures, often identifying themselves plainly for the public as being "out," or at the very least not identifying themselves as "straight" in the traditional sense -- David Sedaris, Pat Califia, Dennis Cooper, Regie Cabico, and (of course) Dorothy Allison being popular examples.
But traditions live on. Women and Children First Books continues with the reading circle, and thus has become a place to watch the evolution of lesbigaytrans literature in Chicago. Gregg Shapiro has always had a hand in curating these presentations. He, with Women and Children proprietor Ann Christophersen, annually select a crew of writers with an eye for accessibility and high craft, inviting them from the local community. True to the reading circle form, any guest can read their own work after the featured authors have had their turn. And each year, the effect has been both warming and stimulating. Our community is reconnected and renewed. New voices step forward. Old friends are re-acquainted. We've watched collectively, for example, one writer from the neighborhood come forward to read in 1998 as a man, and in 1999 to read as a woman full with pride in her new being. I know from witnessing, our hearts soared with hers. And, much like this guest has done within her own life, our communion spans our genders in all their diversity.
To hear poetry and prose from the 2000 Pride Reading, simply click on an author's name on the left, and follow the links to their recorded samples.
- Kurt Heintz, e-poets network, Chicago
Special thanks to: Ann Christopherson, of Women and Children First Books; Gregg Shapiro, reading curator; and the participating poets for their kind cooperation.
All audio recordings within this site are copyright © 2000 by their respective authors and the e-poets network. All rights reserved. RealPlayer G2 or later by Real Networks is recommended for playback of these recordings from the e-poets.net website.