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In the evening, I had the pleasure of going to a $3 outdoor concert at Prospect Park in Brooklyn with my friends Sarah Van Arsdale (that's a great picture of her at the link, with info about her most recent book, Blue. She also wrote the wonderful Toward Amnesia) and Alison Smith (the link has info about her beautiful memoir, Name All the Animals, plus a picture of Alison, too). I wore my cherry sundress, and we had a picnic on a blanket on the grassy hill (Alison pointed out that the trembling of the ground was the subway passing underneath!) and ate chicken and salads and heard great, invigorating, moving music from Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely with Bernice Johnson Reagon and the band Juca, too. I was kind of swooning from contentment, except when rocking out. I ran into [livejournal.com profile] stillwell and her partner on the sidewalk afterwards! And Sarah and I had lovely talks on the subway, and at her apartment with her partner over breakfast.

Before I had to catch the train home on Sunday morning, I went to the New York Historical Society and saw a great show, Legacies, in which contemporary artists reflect on slavery. This helps me in thinking about slavery in the novel I'm working on now. It was all powerful work, but the most intense, for me, was Ellen Driscoll's complex piece. It was a camera obscura inspired by the story of Harriet Jacobs, who, in escaping from her slave owner, lived for seven years in the eaves of her grandmother's shed, with only a small peephole through which to look out at the world. When the guard told me that I could open the door to the small space and go into the camera, I was disoriented by the total darkness, and then rivetted by the floating images from the peephole camera of the objects circling outside. I stayed so long that it was hard to find the door when I was ready to leave.

I also went upstairs to see paintings from the Hudson River School, including the series "Course of Empire" by Thomas Cole -- seeing those paintings help me thinking about my brother's work and the possibility of collaboration with him.
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[livejournal.com profile] charlottecooper is right: a lot of good stuff has been happening. For instance:


  • I've been invited to be part of a reading for Out, the queer affinity group at Time, Inc, in Manhattan next week. I'll be reading with my friend Alison Smith for the first time, which should be lovely, and also Stacey D'Erasmo and Damian McNicholl. Jonathan Harper, who organized the Lambda finalist reading I participated in a while back, sang my praises when he was asked to recommend readers, which I appreciate no end.

    All of the other readers have been published by big mainstream presses. I've mentioned Alison and Stacey's books here before, but haven't yet read Damian's, A Son Called Gabriel, which is a coming of age novel set in Northern Ireland. I'm looking forward to it. The paperback was released Friday. I just read in his blog that Alexandria, one of the reading organizers, told him that more than a hundred Time employees have already signed up for the event. Time to take a deep breath and do laundry.


  • You might remember that my friend, the fabulous writer Sally Bellerose, gave me a ring that she had had for forty years for a talisman for the trip last week. (When I told her that I'd dropped it on the train, and had to search under seats on my hands and knees with help from the teenaged girls in the next seat, she said,"That's the theme of the trip. Everything you think you lost will be found." I love my friends.) Anyway, Sally wrote a story about an incident a few years ago when we were hanging out in downtown Pulaski Park with Janet Aalfs, celebrating that Janet had been chosen as Northampton's Poet Laureate, when I whipped off my shirt to do a push-up or two in my shorts and sport bra, just like the shirtless young men we'd been watching show-off in front of the roses. (What can I say, sometimes something comes over me.) There are pictures to prove it. Sally sent the story to the local paper, and it's been accepted, so, locals take note, it may appear in this Friday's Hampshire Life. One of the editor's questions was whether I'd be offended by it, since Sally very lovingly and accurately describes what I looked like doing those push ups. Me, I'm delighted. In fact, I've been trying to wrangle full credit, but last I heard, it's first names only.

  • Please welcome my wonderful friend [livejournal.com profile] minna_bromberg. Some may remember her beautiful singing from her lullaby line. She's thoughtful, fun and interesting, and about to start rabbinical school in Newton, MA.

Awards

Jun. 7th, 2005 11:35 am
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I lost! I cried and cried. I took it hard.

I kept crying (off and on) for days. I was deeply consoled by magnificent friends, spectacularly generous and attentive strangers, ordinary human kindness, and -- wowsa -- talented entertainers and great Broadway plays. Also, I got many, many compliments on my outfits.

My friends Judy Frank (Crybaby Butch) and Alison Smith (Name All the Animals) won -- yay! and so did Greg and Ian of Suspect Thoughts Press. I came home with more great stories than I know what to do with (or have time to write), and hope to tell more, but for now:


  • Somebody introduce me to Lea Delaria, please! We'd like each other. I'm sure of it. She was a GREAT emcee, and she only realized at 2 pm that afternoon that the ceremony was on Thursday instead of Saturday...

  • Jessica Lange is brilliant as the mother in The Glass Menagerie. Her skin changed color with the emotions of the play -- I was seriously feeling it with her. I hadn't ever seen this play, but there was a line at the end that I remembered so wrenchingly and clearly from reading it in high school, after the brother leaves his desperate family, when his fragile sister, Laura, who he loves and doesn't save, is still kneeling on the stage in candlelight, and he, as the long distant narrator, says, "I tried to leave you, Laura, but it turns out that I was more loyal than I intended." Breaks your heart!

  • The Spelling Bee, a musical with songs by the brilliant William Finn and a wonderful, funny book by my friend Alison's friend Rachel Sheinkin was so so so so so good! Fat people, fairies, nerds and weirdos of all description should absolutely see it. And all these desperate, funny, strange kids who really, really, really want to win a spelling bee made me sob throughout. Oh, my good, the fat boy with the collapsed nasal passage who has to spell out the words with his foot! He was up for a Tony, and I hope he won! It was cathartic! It was perfect! My friends who treated me to both of these plays (and much else) absolutely transformed the ways I dealt with how much having my book lose turned out to hurt.


If I won, I wanted to thank middle-aged lesbians, home economists, men who like dresses, and fat girls (some of various categories by name). Then, I wanted to say this:

I'd like to thank all of the writers in the room and in my life for all of the gorgeous, persistent, foolish, profound work. I know it's not easy, but these books, these stories, give regular shocks of much needed life to a numb but still aching world.

I didn't get to say it to them, but I'll say it to you. Thanks, gang.

Here's the official account of the ceremony. A lot went on! )
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They've announced the winners of the Publishing Triangle Awards, for which I was a judge in poetry. The number and range of outstanding books of poetry by queer men was especially exceptional -- in addition to the finalists, I'd mention Voluntary Servitude by Mark Wunderlich, which I've written about here before, More Than Peace and Cypresses by Cyrus Cassells -- here's a link to the stunning title poem -- and Nothing Ugly Fly by Marvin K. White.

Special congrats to my friend Alison Smith, whose memoir, Name All the Animals, won in the nonfiction category.
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Everyone who read was very good. Love that. Jonathan Harper, the editor from Lambda Book Report who had organized the event, was sweet and gracious and had clearly worked both effectively and very hard.

  • Sarah Schulman told me that my friend Alison had given my book to her, put it right into her hands when they were both at a writers colony. That is such a concrete, electric kind of gift for me. Sarah, who was sitting behind me, touched my shoulders when I finished reading, told me it was good. This was a small, beautiful thing, and a comfort.


  • I think that Mark Wunderlich does amazing stuff in his poetry with assumptions about rural life, human beings' animal natures, passion and power, and he does it with this incredible technical control.


  • Colm Toibin, whose most recent book I had been reading with such pleasure on the train, read a scene in which Henry James and a gondolier go out into the water in Venice to try to submerge a dead friend's clothes, a woman, as a kind of burial at sea. The big skirts do not sink easily. One piece, in particular, goes under then rises stubbornly until the gondolier holds it under with his oar. There was so much about grief in this.

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OOOOOOOOOOOOO! I'm so excited!!!

They've just posted the list on the Lambda Literary Award site, and Venus of Chalk is a FINALIST!!! in the lesbian fiction category!!!!!

This is just so fabulous!! YAY!!

Crybaby Butch by Judy Frank and Dish It Up Baby by Kristie Helms are nominated under Lesbian Debut Fiction!!

Up All Night, which Stacy Bias co-edited, is nominated under Erotica, too!!!

And Name All The Animals by Alison Smith!!!!!! Oh, I'm going to have a good time at the awards dinner. It's June 2 in New York City -- that's when the winners are announced!!!

Thanks everybody who suggested the book!!

Here's the list of finalists!
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Oh, I'm so excited! I'm so excited!!!!!

I just got an email that the Publishing Triangle has released lists of the Notable Lesbian Books of 2004, and Venus of Chalk is on the list of the top ten!!! Yayyyyyy!!!


Here it is, here it is!

Alison Smith's book Name All The Animals is on there, too, which is so great because she's a friend!!! And Crybaby Butch by Judy Frank made the lists, too!! Oh, and a bunch of other really fabulous writers -- Emma Donoghue's Life Mask is there (I wrote a review of it for Lambda Book Report which hasn't appeared yet), and Rent Girl by Michelle Tea, and a biography of Audre Lorde by Alexis De Veaux and another of Alice Walker by Evelyn C. White and poems by Mary Oliver and novels by Katherine V. Forrest and Stacy D'Erasmo, also Luna, which was nominated for a national book award in children's literature! Adrienne Rich is on there. Oh, go read the lists, please!!! I am SO happy and SO excited!!
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Her memoir, Name All the Animals is going to be out in February -- early indications are that it's going to be a big deal -- says me. It's already a big deal, but a bunch of folks are probably going to know about it. It's so wild to watch writers negotiating all these different degrees of success in the mainstream publishing world and getting back to how deeply the heart of it is still getting stuff written as cleanly and truly as you can, just like it is when you're writing in a secret pocket of the culture, nestled in with the fat girls, queers and artists, like I am. It's so great that in the middle of all her prepublication excitements, Alison wrote something very cool about Venus of Chalk )

Blue

Oct. 19th, 2003 11:30 am
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I went to a beautiful reading in New York this weekend. It was my dear friend, Sarah Van Arsdale, reading from her second novel Blue, which was just released by the University of Tennessee Press, where it won the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel.

I was in the Valley Lesbian Writers Group with Sarah for a whole bunch of years in the late eighties and early nineties, and it's so great to see her getting compared to Faulkner (!) and to witness her persistent love of language getting her back into print, surrounded by people who love and/or admire her and her work, happy in her happiness.

The book itself I could fall in love with simply for all of the music in the ways she describes the sounds of cars passing, so that the sounds of their tires on the road come shushing past, and the traffic sounds like water in a river. I think that, too -- that the sound of traffic is like great waves of modern life and motion, people going places in rhythmic, incessant spurts and ebbs, washing past people walking or sitting or sleeping like a river rolling on. Blue uses suspense and mystery very effectively, but its strongest pull on me was as a meditation on the repetitive qualities of grief and loss, how much these human experiences overlap and are the same from one person to another, as if we were all dangling our feet into the same slow river, and how dizzy we get with memory, or with lack of memory, of all that we've suffered, all that we've loved. And, still, there are the specifics of each person's story: a cleft lip, a culture, one particular Halloween. People don't become one another, even if we have common experiences, and are inextricably joined. In Blue, which uses repetition in a beautiful way that is both revelatory and disorienting, the novel begins one woman witnessing another being dumped from a moving car. Both are without coherent memories of who they are, and where they're from.

I also got to talk with my friend Alison about her memoir, about moving to Brooklyn. I'm getting less and less intimidated by the city, for all that I still have trouble getting through the subway turnstyles without wasting a fare or two, more and more present when I'm there with the hardworking, ordinary affections that do the heavy-lifting in my life. I stayed with the wonderful [livejournal.com profile] beccawrites who told me stories of her trip to the civil rights museum in Memphis and gave me such a sweet, ringing, "Happy Birthday" as the first thing I heard the next day.

It was a good trip. And turning 43 left me drenched with the kindness of the people I love. Lucky.

Gifts

Sep. 18th, 2003 08:55 am
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Oh, yesterday, really good writers wrote me these beautiful, beautiful emails to tell me that they would be happy to give blurbs for my new book.

The writers were Alice Sebold (who wrote The Lovely Bones and Lucky), Lesléa Newman (who has written something like 40 books, with new ones on the way) Marilyn Wann (who wrote Fat!So? and is busy as all get-out organizing Bypass the Bypass, the SF response to the corporate-funded, weight-loss surgeon launched pro-weight loss surgery walk, and still found time to be very sweet) and Alison Smith (who has written a memoir that the publishing world is very excited about which will be out in the spring -- actually February, I think. I haven't read it yet, but I'm betting that it will be quite amazing -- remember, you heard it here first! )

This totally makes me swim through the air as if all the world were my ocean. Oh, and it's such a good thing for my beloved book, which has been on its way for so many years...and so generous of them. I love how writers root for each other, because the work of writing books can be so hard to sustain -- impossible, I think, without that.

Here's what Lesléa already said )

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