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Today, we have Cassandra Rose Clarke on bisexuality in fiction. This is a topic holding particular interest to me, and I found myself agreeing with lots of Cassandra's points. Here. Enjoy.
A few years ago, I read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, by John LeCarre. It’s a spy novel—an excellent one, in fact, that swaps out running the bad guy down in a car with sifting through old records, showing just how unrealistic James Bond really is. It also features a bisexual character named Bill Haydon. This inclusion struck me as notable partially because the book was published in 1974 and partially because Haydon’s bisexuality is a significant part of the plot (which I’m about to spoil for you BIG TIME, by the way) without being portrayed as deviant in and of itself (mostly). Seriously, these spoilers will ruin both the book and the movie, so turn away now if that’s a problem.
Bill Haydon is the spy in the title, the mole who’s giving British secrets to the Russians. The main character, George Smiley, is unable to see him as such because Haydon carried on an affair with Smiley’s wife, creating a blind spot of sorts for Smiley as he investigates the case (all depicted so beautifully in the 2011 film, by the way). But Haydon is also involved with Jim Prideaux, another agent who was tortured when his mission was blown by the Soviets—because of Haydon’s betrayal. In fact, I would argue that the relationship between Haydon and Prideaux is one of the most emotionally arresting in the novel.
When I read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I enjoyed seeing a bisexual villain whose villainy came from his political affiliations rather than his bisexuality. That being said, Haydon’s character still reveals some of the troubling attitudes about bi- and pansexuals, forty years after the book’s publication.
Remember, Bill Haydon is a spy, a double agent who works both sides: Western and Russian, straight and gay. Was this connection made on purpose? I honestly don’t know. It’s never clearly stated whether Prideaux is bisexual as well, the way it is with Haydon, and so as much as I love this book, it still hints at that unsettling concept of the double-crossing bisexual. It’s not an unfamiliar concept, either. Bisexuality inhabits a space on the LGBT spectrum that is at once too gay and too straight. While most people don’t assume bisexuals are international double agents (most of us don’t have lives nearly that interesting), people do accuse bisexuals of refusing to “pick a side.” To many, male bisexuality is a rest stop on the road to gayness, while female bisexuality is a detour on the path to heterosexuality. These attitudes often make it difficult to write about bisexuality because so many readers will make assumptions and ignore bisexuality as on option. Just as a bisexual woman in a relationship with a man will frequently have her identity called into question, bi- and pansexual characters in fiction often have their identities erased and replaced with the more easily categorizable “gay” or “straight.” A character in one of my current WIPs is bisexual, and I’ve struggled with establishing this clearly in a way that won’t read simply as lesbian. Her sexuality is not a significant part of the plot—that is, this isn’t a book about being bisexual—but it is a significant part of her character. I suspect that may be where some of the difficulty lies. After all, I want her bisexuality to be there, but I don’t it to be a thing. Which, of course, is how bisexuality (and any other sexual identity) works in real life.
Fortunately, there are a handful of bisexual characters in fiction already out there! A great place to start if you’re interested is the Bisexual Books tumblr, which offers loads of reviews and resources about bisexuality in popular culture. I would also recommend L.R. Lam’s Pantomime. Now, she is a fellow Strange Chemistry author, but, to be clear, I’m recommending this as fan more than anything else. The main character’s bisexuality is included as a facet of his character in a lovely, subtle way. Malinda Lo is perhaps a more obvious example, but her latest book, Adaptation features a bisexual love triangle (something I’ve ALWAYS wanted to see!), and the main character of Ash has always read as bisexual to me as well. You can also go for more of a college assigned reading thing with Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, arguably one of the first novels to feature a bisexual character. Woolf gets around the restrictions of the time by making her main character switch genders, but the book w as based on a bisexual lover of Woolf’s and that definitely shines through in the text. Finally, one last interesting note: I learned while researching this post that Mystique from the X-Men was going to be written as bisexual! Unfortunately, this was during the early 80s, and depictions of homosexuality were banned in comics at the time. Thirty years on, such bans have (mostly) disappeared, and as we work to broaden the range of representation in literature, I hope to see more bi- and pansexuals in the future.
Fantastic post, Cassandra. Thank you for raising such excellent points! Cassandra can be found at her website, goodreads, twitter, tumblr and facebook. You can buy The Assassin's Curse here and The Pirate's Wish here. She has also written The Mad Scientist's Daughter and two shorts in the Assassin's Curse verse.
Although there has been much progress in many European countries regarding social acceptance of LGBT individuals in recent decades, much discrimination, social injustice, and intolerance still exists with adverse consequences for both physical and mental health in these populations.
Awareness of health disparities in specific populations, in particular based on ethnical background, gender, age, socioeconomic status, geography, and disability has increased during the past decades. And lately, public health policy and research have begun to address the issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) populations, and many official public health agencies call for programs addressing the specific needs of LGBT individuals.
An increasing number of studies, although still limited, points to a higher prevalence of certain conditions among LGBT people that call for the attention of public health researchers and professionals. The most significant area of concern is the increased prevalence of mental health disorders. Recent studies show that LGBT youth are at greater risk for suicide attempts than non-LGBT youths and have higher prevalence of depression and anxiety diagnoses. Studies also show that transgender individuals are regularly stigmatized and discriminated against both in the health care sector and in the society as a whole.
Traditionally LGBT public health research has almost exclusively focused on sexually transmitted diseases. In particular, the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s brought visibility to the LGBT population as a group with specific health needs. However, the public health consequences of discrimination of LGBT individuals have only recently been focus of greater attention.
The level of acceptance for minority sexual orientations differs greatly between countries. In the European Social Survey 2010, a question was used to assess level of acceptance of gay men and lesbians. The proportion of respondents that agreed to a statement that ‘Gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own life as they wish’ varied greatly between countries, from around 90% in the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway to about one third of the respondents in Russia and Ukraine.
These results indicate that in many countries LGBT people still live in communities where a majority of the population supports discrimination and inequality for sexual minorities. In many countries, LGBT people are also subject to legal discrimination concerning basic civil rights, e.g. regarding recognition of same-sex unions.
But are these large differences in acceptance and legal discrimination influencing the health of LGBT individuals, and what needs to be done to overcome inequality in Europe’s health based on sexual orientation and gender identities? These questions are difficult to answer in the absence of sufficient data.
In a recent commentary in the European Journal of Public Health, we argue for greater awareness of these issues, and the need for more knowledge about the public health situation of LGBT populations through improved data quality and well-designed studies. Systematic data collection regarding sexual orientation and gender identity is required to better understand factors that can help us reduce and better understand disparities, as well as increase quality of health care provision for LGBT individuals. In addition to working towards greater acceptance to end discrimination and social injustice, greater efforts from public health researchers and policy makers are needed to reduce health disparities among LGBT populations.
Richard Bränström is a health psychologist and researcher. He is currently associate professor at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, and he works with public health analyses at the Swedish National Institute of Public Health. His main research interest concern health inequalities, predictors of physical and mental health, and health related behaviors. He is the author of the commentary ‘All inclusive Public Health—what about LGBT populations?’, which is published in the European Journal of Public Health.
The European Journal of Public Health is a multidisciplinary journal in the field of public health, publishing contributions from social medicine, epidemiology, health services research, management, ethics and law, health economics, social sciences and environmental health.
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Image credit: Gay Pride. By chatursnil, via iStockphoto.
In a groundbreaking announcement, First Book, a non-profit social enterprise launched the Stories for All Project. The project’s aim is to introduce a significant number of multicultural books into the hands of low-income children. LEE & LOW was chosen as one of two publishers to be a part of this endeavor and receive a $500,000 award.
For us the presence of this project further addresses the fact that diverse books are a necessity. Making multicultural books available to low-income families is a step toward addressing the chasm between people who believe these books are important to actually making the books available to the children who need them.
For years I have been involved in conversations with librarians and educators on the subject of how we need more diverse books. However, there is this strange disconnect where people continue to point out the lack of diverse books without doing the most obvious thing, which is supporting the companies that publish these books in the first place. The support is simple. It involves buying the books. It also involves telling people about the books and recommending them to buy the books. The more this happens the more books we can publish.
What First Book has done is monumental in supporting multicultural books. It is a bold statement that I hope is just the beginning. An infusion of this many diverse books increases the chances of a child being able to see a face like his or her own staring back at them from the pages of a book. This moment of recognition for a child will create a profound experience that will be forever associated with the act of reading. This powerful relationship to books is one that they will hopefully cultivate for the rest of their lives.
On behalf of everyone at LEE & LOW I want to thank CEO Kyle Zimmer, Executive Vice President Chandler Arnold, Vice President Erica Perl, along with all the dedicated people working on the Stories for All Project. First Book’s commitment and dedication to literacy and multicultural literature is to be commended. This will be a game changer for many children who will be receiving their very first book ever.
The twice-married (to each other), domestic-partnered producers and self-described “Pix-Mos”, Anderson (Monsters Inc., Cars, Toy Story 3) and Rae (Up, The Incredibles) started dating in 2001 during the production of Monsters Inc. and when they eloped in 2004, infuriated their family and friends, including Steve Jobs. “I remember Steve Jobs was mad,” Anderson recounted. “He said, ‘I can’t believe you didn’t invite Laurene and I to come down to City Hall to be with you guys.’”
“I was willing to leave the company at that point,” said Rae, expecting professional consequences to their new romance. “But [Pixar was] completely great. They were nothing but supportive, and have been the whole time.” The two maintain the sanity in their relationship by never working on the same film and maintaining strong boundaries. “It’s hard enough making one of these giant movies, and you put your heart and souls into them,” Anderson explained. “If we carried too much of that at home, we would just turn into animated characters ourselves.”
When asked if there will ever be (or has been) a gay character in a Pixar film, Anderson replied, “Our goal is to create great art, and if we’re telling true stories with great characters, people will project and identify with a lot of our films. A lot of people feel like a lot of our characters are gay, and have projected their stories onto it. If we’re doing our job right, that’s what should happen.”
Other info: Alex has written The Rainbow Boys trilogy (which I was going to review for Rainbow Reads but gave up after three pages so I'm not) and many other prominant LGBT books.
Summary : Lance has always known he was gay, but he's never had a real boyfriend. Sergio is bisexual, but his only real relationship was with a girl. When the two of them meet, they have an instant connection--but will it be enough to overcome their differences? Allie's been in a relationship with a guy for the last two years--but when she meets Kimiko, she can't get her out of her mind. Does this mean she's gay? Does it mean she's bi? Kimiko, falling hard for Allie, and finding it impossible to believe that a gorgeous girl like Allie would be into her, is willing to stick around and help Allie figure it out. Boyfriends with Girlfriends is Alex Sanchez at his best, writing with a sensitive hand to portray four very real teens striving to find their places in the world--and with each other.
Review:Sergio is bisexual, Lance and Kimiko are gay, Allie's not entirely sure. A meet up with Sergio and Lance leads to them getting together, and to Kimiko and Allie maybe getting together. There's a lot of differences in between them, and lots of questions to be answered.
I added this to my wishlist because there's just not that many books with prominent bisexual characters (at least, I can't think of many), and I feel like I should know about what representation we do have.
Boyfriends with Girlfriends is a very character book. centering around two sets of romantic relationships and the relevant friendships involved. Both romantic relationships start at the start of the novel and develop very differently over the course of the novel.
I like the racial diversity (Sergio is Latino, I think, and Kimiko is Japanese). Sorry, in literature (most media really) there's not that many non-white queer characters, which is something I'd really like to see change over time.
The characters, I felt, were very stock-y. Three secure in their sexuality, one not, the lesbian being your standard cut out of cardboard uber dyke, many stereotypes for all of them, not much more than that to them. I kind of related to Sergio and Kimiko, Allie was nice enough, and Lance pissed me off to no end in the first half of the book.
The writing isn’t very good. It’s immature at times, and simple, and it didn’t make me want to keep reading.
Boyfriends with Girlfriends approaches bisexuality from opposite ends of the spectrum-the one confident and secure with his, and the one starting to discover hers.
I very much like the fact that Sergio constantly challenges Lance’s opinion that bisexuals are closeted homosexuals. Thank you someone for making that clear!
There’s some nice scenes with Kimiko’s family and Sergio’s family regarding acceptance, but these seemed to take a backseat which is sad, cos these were interesting.
I like the fact that not everything ends amazingly. With the way the relationships were going, it didn’t seem likely that they would, but still. This is kind of realistic.
Overall: Strength 2.5, slightly more a 3, to a book that looks at bisexuality well, but doesn’t do very well in terms of plot and character.
This summer, Kimberly is embarking on the Diversify Your Reading Challenge! Authors Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo of Diversity in YA are challenging readers to read beyond their comfort zones. Publishers have provided some awesome prizes for a library and one lucky blogger/reader to win. There's still time to join! You can get all the details on the challenge page. The deadline for entries is September 1, 2011.
Here's what Kimberly is reading for the challenge:
James Dawson is a full-time writer of YA fiction and lives in London.
It’s a good time to be a LGBT teenager. No, really. Although, and believe me, I KNOW, that there will be young people reading this who aren’t having a great time right now, there has never been so much open discussion of young people and sexuality. Visibility of this issue has never been higher.
As I’m writing this in late September 2011, Lady Gaga herself has just tweeted that she wants to meet President Obama to discuss the alarming suicide rate among young Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Curious people. On the same forum, the hashtag #YesGayYA has united authors and readers alike in support of diversity in teen fiction. YouTube is awash with celebrities and mere mortals proclaiming ‘It Gets Better’. And it does.
But the recent suicide of fourteen year-old Jamey Rodemeyer in the United States has again highlighted that much more needs to be done to end homophobic bullying. A key way in which, I believe, we can do this is to normalise sexual diversity. Everyone has a responsibility to make LGBTQC relationships so run-of-the-mill that no-one has ammunition against young people.
Until recently I was a primary school teacher in Brighton, one of the most sexually diverse cities in the UK. While working as a Personal Social Health and Citizenship Coordinator (PSHCE) I was lucky enough to be involved in what we called The Family Diversity Project, along with colleagues from the Brighton & Hove Healthy Schools Team. The goal of this project was to remove the ‘otherness’ from same-sex families.
‘Family’ is something that everyone can relate to, but for so long has been portrayed as one mum, one dad, two kids. In Brighton, we strongly felt that families come in an infinite variety of flavours – straight, gay, bi, single-parent, donor sperm, adoption, fostered and on and on…
With Year One pupils (aged five to six years), we celebrated each child’s family (whatever shape it took) and planned lessons around a series of superb picture books: And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell; The Family Book by Todd Parr and The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein.
The goal is obvious - to reach children before same-sex relationships become ‘other’. Very young children are fully able to grasp the idea of two men or two women falling in love without batting an eyelid. These simple, beautiful texts say it better than any number of popstars on YouTube. They’re not shocking or tokenistic, they’re just great stories.
The power of story-telling is key. Good schools immerse children in stories from a young age, and this is a good way of presenting the world in which they live. Through fairytales we can deliver morals and values, and as they get older we can introduce more complex emotions, dilemmas and conflicts. Good examples are Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses saga or David Almond’s Skellig or Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night – each of which seek to expand and challenge young adult readers’ perspecti
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Some of you may be familiar with Diversity in YA (DiYA), a lovely project started last year by authors Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo to bring more attention to diversity in children’s literature. During the year-long DiYA project, Cindy and Malinda were kind enough to do a roundup each month of new titles coming out that featured diversity, and they defined diversity in the following way: (1) main characters or major secondary characters (e.g., a love interest or best friend kind of character) who are of color or are LGBT; or (2) written by a person of color or LGBT author.
Since DiYA is on hiatus, Cindy and Malinda gave us their blessing to continue their monthly roundup. We all felt that it was important to keep the spotlight on diverse books, and we hope you’ll join us in that mission!
Throughout the history of the United States, equality for all people has been fought for and won time and time again. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence ”that all men are created equal,” and over time equal rights have been gradually extended to different groups of people. However, equality has never been achieved without heated debate, despite our country’s founding principle that all people are created equal in the first place.
The language used to seek equality has remained familiar over time. Posters demanding equal rights (pictured) contain messages we have all seen or heard. One of my theories is that since the human life span is finite, the message of equality has to be relearned by each generation as it comes to realize that more work needs to be done.
If humans lived longer, would full equality across racial and gender lines have been acquired by now? Ask yourself: Would women suffragists from the 1920s, who so vehemently demanded the right to vote, think it was fine for African Americans to be denied this same right? It depends. My theory also includes the caveat that empathy for others does not always translate into citizens banding together for the greater good. Then again, the social evolution of the United States is progressing. This progression is the reason the language and message of equality remains relevant.
Equality is a shared goal that not everyone enjoys. Racial intolerance for one group is no different than bigotry for another. Denying equality for a particular group plays into the kind of discriminatory trap that makes no sense if one applies the very same principles of equality indiscriminately. All people are created equal, period.
The Declaration of Independence was written with the hope of possibility. Think about it—the signers of this document were declaring a new and independent country! Jefferson’s words made a statement about human rights that became the foundation for a country unlike any other in the world. The signers never anticipated that their vision would eventually embrace so many different kinds of people, but that is the beauty of it. The Declaration was groundbreaking because it provided a foundation of principles and moral standards that have endured to modern times and that accommodate human evolution and its capacity for acceptance.
Stepping back and viewing all these posters as a whole, one could come to two conclusions. First: the human race does not learn from history. Second: humans repeat the same mistakes over and over. However, I believe that the preservation and repurposing of the messages of protest in all their different forms are evidence that we do learn from history, and that we apply these tactics when the moment calls for them.
Similar to my previous posts on Race-Based Comedy and Race in Advertising, this post is a small glimpse into a bigger topic that welcomes further discussion. These subjects would be commonplace in a college syllabus, but is there any reason why we shouldn’t introduce dialogue about such issues into our daily lives? At the dinner table, instead of asking your kids how their day was at school and receiving a one-word answer, try bringing
Many people have been telling me to read this one for quite some time now, but it just never came across my desk. I put matters into my own hands, downloaded a copy, and read it in virtually one gulp.
Fern feels a bit invisible in her busy family. They own Harry's, a casual restaurant and ice cream joint that takes up most of her parents' energy. All of the kids are expected to pitch in, and Fern's after-school time is usually spent in a booth doing homework and trying to keep an eye on her sticky ball of energy little brother Charlie. But things in Fern's world are beginning to shift.
First off, she is starting middle school. Now she is going to school with big brother Holden since the high school and middle school share a building. After a somewhat cryptic warning about bus etiquette from Holden, Fern is distressed to realize just what goes on during the bus ride. She has always been closest to Holden, and now he wants her to pretend she doesn't know him...all for her own good. Her big sister Sara has been teasing Holden about his J-Crew sense of style and has been egging him to address who he really is, but Fern had never considered how this might translate on the bus and at school.
Then there are her father's crazy schemes to get more business into their restaurant. Just before school started, he had the family shoot a basic cable style commercial, and now everywhere she goes she hears little brother Charlie's tagline - "See you at Hawwy's!". She tries to channel her best-friend Ran's zen nature and starts thinking of his mantra - all will be well.
But suddenly, all is decidedly not well. After a tragic turn of events, Fern's busy family is broken. At this time when she needs her parents and brother and sister more than ever, Fern finds herself feeling incredibly misunderstood and guilty.
Jo Knowles has written a powerful story about family and self that packs a punch. Readers will be able to see themselves in each character turn by turn for better and for worse. The idea that families really are sets of individuals who fulfill different roles at different times is explored gracefully. Knowles also gets the voice of the kids and the adults down perfectly. From Holden's excitement and distance in his first relationship, to Fern's concern for Charlie to her mother's need to get away rather than argue, each character feels authentic and whole. See You At Harry's is a definite must-read for the tween set.
Just a word of warning...make sure to have some tissues handy!
June is LGBT Pride Month, and throughout this month people everywhere (including President Obama) have been celebrating the positive impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have had in the world. The fight for LGBT rights has always been a matter of civil rights and equality, as our publisher noted in a recent post, and it’s nice that we live in an era when that’s acknowledged by so many people.
As for us, we’re excited to continue expanding our definition of diversity to include LGBT diversity. Here are three titles with gay or lesbian main characters:
Antonio’s Card was originally published by Children’s Book Press in 2006 and is now part of our new CBP imprint. It tells the story of Antonio as he struggles to find the words to express his love for his mother and her partner, Leslie, as Mother’s Day approaches.
In this YA novel, Nat’s Talent of talking to cats pulls her into a madcap adventure through Chicago with best friends Melly and Oscar (who is gay).
Diverse Energies, edited by Joe Monti and Tobias S. Buckell
Coming this fall, Diverse Energies is a dystopian anthology with a focus on diversity – all types of diversity, including racial diversity, LGBT diversity, and of course, some very diverse visions of both the future and the past. Contributing authors include Ursula K. LeGuin, Paolo Bacigalupi, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, and more. Stay tuned on the blog for more information.
We hope to add more titles to this list soon. Adding more books with LGBT diversity is a natural extension of our mission to meet the need for stories that all children can identify with and enjoy.
What are your favorite LGBT books? Share ‘em in the comments!
June has been content living with her mother on the shores of Lake Champlain, spending her time baking and selling sweets at the Stillwater Marina, and swimming with her friend Luke. This summer she is dreaming of what pie she is going to enter in the Champlain Valley Fair. It seems pretty ideal, yes?
It is pretty ideal except for Eva. Eva has just moved in with June and her mom. It's not like June didn't know that her mom was gay, but having Eva living with them is making June uncomfortable. After all, June and MJ have always had a rhythm, and Eva just doesn't fit. Now that Vermont's civil union law has passed, Eva and MJ are even talking about getting married!
But not everyone in their town is happy with the idea of civil unions. In fact, someone even had the nerve to put a "Take Back Vermont" sign on their front lawn. June isn't even sure what that means, but she doesn't stick around to find out. After Eva tears up the sign, June takes off with Luke to see the secret blueberry bushes that he found up by the jumping cliff. June can't wait to come back the next week to pick some for her pies. Before she and Luke leave, however, June's friend Tina's brother Sam and some of his friends show up. Sam calls June a "lezzie" for being too scared to jump off the cliff, and June starts to wonder if Sam put up the sign on her lawn. And does Tina feel the same way her brother does?
Soon the "Take Back Vermont" campaign starts to take off in town. Folks stop coming into the marina, and June starts to worry about her mom. But there are others who are willing to stick up for June, Eva and MJ, and June starts to realize that she needs to stick up for her family as well.
Overall this is a coming of age story that easily could have turned into a didactic piece about marriage equity. Gennari has managed to balance the discussion with June's struggles with friendships, her blossoming crush on Luke as well as the everyday growing pains that families go through. I am always on the look out for LGBT books to put in our collection, and honestly ones that fit the tween audience are hard to come by. My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer fits nicely into not only the LGBT collection, but into tween summer reads as well.
Luz Maria Umpierre has wrought a legacy, a challenge, a history, a love letter, a sinuous and sentient record of personal identity, revealing the crosshatched scars and singing victories of a warrior, the yielding body and the body politic in "I'm still standing- 30 Years of Poetry -available through her website http://luzmaumpierre.com
"Luz Maria Umpierre is, quite simply, one of my heroes in a postmodern world that insists on ridding us of icons and pedestals in an attempt to level all people and institutions. Paradoxically, some institutions seem to merit such debasement when they never miss an opportunity to hound the historically marginalized and alternative voices out of the academy." Dr.Eric Pennington (Seton Hall)
She is an established scholar in the fields of Puerto Rican, Caribbean, Latina/o Studies, Poetry, and Gender Studies, with multiple publications in leading journals, including Hispania, Latin American Theatre Review, Revista do Estudios Hispánicos, Bilingual Review, Chasqui, Explicación do Textos Literarios, Chicana/Latina Studies and The Americas Review. Co-founder of the journal, Third Woman. Also published in internet journals, including La Acera, Diálogo Digital, Cruce and La Bloga.
Author of two books of literary criticism, ten collections of bilingual poetry, numerous book chapters and over 50 articles of literary criticism on Latin American scholars and writers from several generations, including a seminal article on writers and migration published in MELUS in 2002 and currently included in an anthology of essays in honor of Isabel Allende.
Her collected works and personal papers currently housed at De Paul University, Latina rare book collection housed at Bryn Mawr College.
She is recognized internationally as an authority on the interdisciplinary study of Literature, the Social Sciences, History and Language, especially regarding race, culture, gender identity and ethnicity. Complete list of publications available on request.
What do you believe is the purpose of poetry? The purpose of poetry is to liberate the spirit, our soul, so that it has a concrete expression that is palpable. And as Julia Alvarez said in one of my favorite poems of all times, to be able to say "Whoever reads this poem, touches a woman." I am hoping that I am quoting her correctly because my copy of her book is at my rare book collection at Bryn Mawr. I can and will accept to be corrected in my quote but not in my idea. LOL
What do you consider to be "Latino/a" themes? All themes are Latina themes. It is the vision or the approach we take as Latinas what gives them a sabor or authenticity that is ours. For example, many years ago I took Vanguardista poetry which was highly non-politicized and turned it into political poetry. From there, for example, emerged my Poemas Concretistas.
To say that there are Latina themes is to reduce us. Granted there are subject matters such as identity that we explore more than other groups of writers but I would not say that there are Latina themes and non Latina themes. All themes are human themes and that is overall the most important theme to me.
Describe the intersection of sexual identity and culture as it lives in your writing? I learned from Audre Lorde years and years ago that I cannot be asked to divide my Self into separate pieces of identity and ignore some in favor of others. That to me would be mutilation. I refuse to mutilate my rich identity for the sake of pleasing the eye of a beholder or for an aesthetics of a political correctdness of beauty. Thus all aspects of my identity and culture live in harmony in my works.
What would you say to critics of your lesbian-identified work? That they get a life and start living in the 21st. century. I never forced them to leave their heterosexist and nationalist macho agenda views through meanness, non inclusion or actual shuning. On the contrary, I questioned them publicly and made my dissenting opinions known to them. I did not go back stabbing them, making calls to bad mouth them into being denied jobs, I did not refuse to teach them in my classes. To the contrary, I included them because I wanted to have an open dialogue about difference. But "I'm Still Standing" as the only dancer on that inclusion floor because some of these people are so petty that they refuse to engage me in public and face to face or, as Lorraine Sutton marvelously said in one of her poems: "to cunt-front" me.
How has academia enhanced/impinged upon your creative process? They have always wanted to deny me a claim to my poetry as an academic achievement. However, I have not allowed them to infringe on my freedom to write. I have used my academic struggles precisely to question antics and tactics in academia and make fun, mock and criticize their elitism and snobbery.
Who are some authors who move you and why? Adrienne Rich, her book The Dream of A Common Language has been my Bible since the 1980s. Nemir Matos Cintron has poems in her collections A través del aire y del fuego pero no del cristal and in Aliens in NYC that have made me cry time and time again because of her portrayal of genuine human identity angst. I recently re/read a poem by Ana Castillo entitled: "I Ask The Impossible" and I am afraid that I ruined the Thai Lemon Tilapia dish that I was eating while reading it because I began to cry uncontrollably. I feel that we have all have wanted to be loved that way and her poem is a voicing of a human need that I had never read exposed in poetry. Lorde also moved me with some of her poems on women. Marge Piercy's book The Moon is Always Female has some of my favorite poems of all times because of her delving into what constitutes to be a strong woman. Julia de Burgos, of course she is part of our collective unconscious as Puerto Ricans. The theme of the river in her poetry and the sea attracts me.
What are some thoughts you would share with newer poetas/poetisas/Nuyorican poets? To remember that many people paved a path for them and they should be honored, not bullied, harassed, shunned and most importantly, not disrespected.
I think Puerto Rican poets of the younger generation have no respect towards their elders, their sages, those who broke a path for them now to enjoy. They are not like other Latina groups. I am marveled by the respect of Mexican Americans towards their wiser older Latinas/Latinos something that is totally lacking among young poets be they Puerto Rican or Nuyorican.
I would like to let them know that one day they will inevitably be older and if they do not change their ways and attitudes, they too will be the subject of disrespect.
What sustains your creative and spiritual longevity? The power to love, to find love, to see everything with fresh eyes, to be able to marvel at beauty and to be passionate about living. But also, as the poem says: "To be of use."
It’s 1851, and Amelia her mother Sophie, and her mother’s companion Estelle have just made the journey from Boston to San Francisco. The journey was most difficult for Estelle, who suffered from seasickness the entire time. Amelia, however, had befriended some of the sailors and learned a thing or two about tying knots.
As their ship, the Unicorn, makes its way into the harbor, Amelia’s sailor friend Jim asks her to make herself useful. She helps Jim by tying up the bundles of newspapers he has with him. Amelia is surprised to find that the newspapers are from the east and are 3 months old. She soon learns that folks in California are hungry for news back east and will pay a pretty penny for it.
Once Amelia and her family are on dry land, Amelia’s mother reveals that the journey over was much more expensive than she had planned for. When Amelia goes to find a cart to help them haul their belongings, she has a brainstorm. She unpacks her dress shoes that are wrapped in a newspaper. A newspaper that is indeed newer than the ones that she bundled up and the newsboys were currently selling. When Amelia takes up on a street corner to sell her lone paper, she soon finds out that one kid, especially a girl, can’t sell in Julius’ turf. She is quickly and physically taken out of the game.
Amelia finds it difficult to be one of only a handful of women around. Yes it’s nice that all of the women gravitate toward each other and help each other out, but how is Amelia to help her family if all of the jobs from newsboy to printer’s devil are for boys?
Maybe Amelia would be better off as a boy.
Liza Ketchum has written a rip-roaring piece of historical fiction that will captivate all readers. Amelia’s intrepid nature and the vast chaos of San Francisco in the 1850s are fascinating. Sophie and Estelle are obviously partners, though Ketchum’s treatment of the relationship is simply matter of fact, and the book never strays into lesson territory. It is more of a scandal that Sophie never married. The action is non-stop, and readers will delight in Amelia’s adventures, whether they be up in the sky, down in the streets, or along the journey.
I am constantly looking for LGBT books to share with our kids and families. I am very lucky to work in a school that celebrates all kinds of families. Generally speaking, picture books and young adult books dealing with LGBT themes are pretty easy to find. It's the middle grade area that gets sticky.
Luckily for us, Lee Wind over at I'm Here, I'm Queer. What The Hell Do I Read? has put together a Middle Grade Bookshelf featuring titles where the tweens/teens are LGBT or questioning, and another list that features titles with family members or people in a tween's/teen's life are LGBT. Head on over to check it out!
Some interesting essays round the blogosphere this week touching on all kinds of diversity—race and more!
Cynic’s blogging for Ta-Nehisi Coates, and he has a really interesting look at the progression of ethnic groups through his neighborhood: first the Irish, then the Jews, now the African Americans. Each group starts as outsiders, whom the insiders swear never to accept, so they create their own institutions and maintain their culture but eventually assimilate, spread out and leave the enclave available for the next group of outsiders—and with the vibrant African American community there now, he wonders, what comes next for them?
Jonathan Rauch looks at changing patterns of life, adulthood, and marriage in different American communities—communities that are generally either liberal or conservative—and how they influence the debate about gay marriage. It’s a long essay, but it’s worth the time to get such a good read on both sides of the debate, and where they’re coming from.
On The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer talks about why it’s good to add a few strangers to your Twitter feed—and by extension, why it’s good to expose ourselves to people who don’t look and think and sound just like we do.
And lastly, ColorLines brings us news from an insufficiently-recognized community. An Iroquois lacrosse team composed of Iroquois citizens residing in the US and Canada were unable to attend the World Lacrosse Championships because their Iroquois passports—issued by the sovereign Iroquois nation—weren’t accepted by JFK airport or, later, the British government.
Emma Freke doesn’t have it easy.Why couldn’t her mother have at least said her name aloud before naming her: “am a freak”?That is exactly how Emma feels.She doesn’t fit in with her expressive Italian mom, Donatella, who likes to leave out the fact that she has a daughter while she is meeting potential suitors.Her Nonno, who lives with them above their bead shop, is either asleep in his chair or out walking the dog. And you can imagine what school can be like for a 5’ 10’’ tall 11-year-old with her name.
Donatella, in a rare instance of maternal action, gives Emma a thoughtful birthday gift this year. Home-schooling! Donatella says that Emma’s Nonno will help out with the teaching by bringing Emma to the library daily, as home-schooled kids generally do.Emma realizes that the materials her mom gave her to use are a bit dated, so she enlists the librarian Stevie, to suggest some more recent workbooks at a higher grade-level. Stevie makes a few phonecalls, and Emma isn’t really surprised to hear that Donatella didn’t exactly go through the proper channels to get Emma into home-schooling in the first place. This makes Emma think on something that her neighbor and best friend Penelope planted in her brain…maybe Emma, like Penelope, is actually adopted. It would explain a few things. She doesn’t look like her mom or her other relatives, and she certainly doesn’t act like them.
No such luck. In an unexpected turn of events, Emma is soon whisked off to the Freke family reunion. She knows that her own father who she has never met will not be there due to a rift in his own family relations, but maybe Emma will find some sense of place in her namesake family.
Elizabeth Atkinson has written a story about family and finding your place in it. What is a family, after all? Can you ever fight how you fit in yours? What traits do you pull from the folks who raise you, and what do you get from genetics? It’s also a story about finding your voice, your courage and your confidence. Diversity of all sorts is woven into the story, from Phoebe’s lesbian moms, and Phoebe’s own Liberian decent, to Emma’s own inter-generational family and her cousin Fred’s non-conformity. Feeling like the square peg is very understandable for tweens, and readers will be charmed by Emma’s journey.
MySpace launches its redesigned interface today (though the overhaul won't be complete until mid-November. A new design is part of the struggling site's shift toward music and movies — an attempt to transform the social network into a "social... Read the rest of this post
One of us posted this on our Twitter feed, and I can’t help but add it here too. I watched this and got really choked up, same as any time I watch any of the It Gets Better testimonials, because years ago I also considered suicide as a closeted teen.
So I’d like to issue a call of action to my fellow LGBT illustrators, comic creators, designers, and artists: let’s make our contribution to this project too. Get in touch, let’s make it happen. (Especially if you volunteer to edit the videos together!)
The Lambda Literary Foundation revealed the 114 finalists for the 23rd Annual Lambda Literary Awards. These awards honor the best lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) authors from 2010.
The nominees in the 24 categories were picked by 90 volunteer booksellers, book reviewers, librarians, authors, and previous winners. More than 230 publishers submitted a record-breaking pool of 520-plus titles this year. We’ve listed a few of this year’s nominees below.
Lambda Awards administrator Richard Labonté had this statement: “Some of the increase in nominations stems from the growth in recent years of self-published books, reflecting an expanding reliance on ever-more-accessible publish-on-demand technology by talented LGBT authors with worthwhile stories to tell–a do-it-yourself approach that hearkens back to the late 1970s and 1980s, when lesbians and gay men established their own presses and launched the queer book boom.”
With Book Expo going full-blast in town and my library celebrating its Centennial all at the same time, blogging is possible but slightly more difficult than usual. I am amused to find that when I skip a day some folks worry that I might be in labor. Fear not. I’ll find a way to update the blog with that news, come hell or high water. Tonight, meanwhile, is also my final Kidlit Drink Night (at least for a while) so if you’d like to view my largess (or, rather, largeness) here are the details. Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .
So I go into the administrative office the other day to pick up my room’s checks and WHAM! Two gigantic Lego statues of Patience and Fortitude (the library lions) are just sitting there, chewing their cuds (or whatever it is Lego lions chew). I showed them to a class of second graders on a tour a day or so later (they’re on display in our main hall, if you’re curious) and one kid said that looking at them was like looking at a computer screen. He had a point. They’re mighty pixilated.
Wow. That’s pretty cool. The organization Keshet (“a national organization working for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews in Jewish life”) is releasing posters of LGBT Jewish Heroes. One of the posters available? Leslea Newman of Heather Has Two Mommies and my favorite LGBT board books Mommy, Mama and Me and Daddy, Papa, and Me. Thanks to Marjorie Ingall for the link.
Do you have what it takes to take on the Sixth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge? I don’t want to hear your excuses! I want to see you reading. You’ve some time to prep so get those eyeball stalks limbered up.
Recently I attended SLJ’s Day of Dialog (slooooow emerging blog post to come on the subject). The keynote speech was delivered by Katherine Paterson who began, much to my delight, with some praise of New Zealand children’s book superstar Margaret Mahy (who would be a superstar here if they just friggin’ republished The Changeover *coughcough*). Anyway, it seems she recently won in the picture book category of the 2011 New Zealand Children’s Book Awards. What would you like to bet me that someday they’ll rename those awards “The Mahys”? I give it ten years, tops.
Sexuality in art is a very personal thing, expressed and interpreted in many different ways. What does sexuality in art mean to you?
That depends on what you mean by “personal.” It’s true, of course, we all experience our own erotic and aesthetic emotions personally, but they are experienced in relation to other people or things. And the categories of “Sexuality” and “art” are social and collective. Different cultures create and develop them in different ways. The book is about hose patterns.
One of the primary ways our culture has defined art and sexuality is as expressions of individualism — that is as “personal.” Our culture puts huge — probably historically unprecedented — value on the idea of individualism. Because we have made art and sexuality primary markers of individualism, they are enormously important to our culture. Just look at the expenditures of time and money we devote to them — and at the intense pleasures and frustrations they bring us.
But if we look at how tastes change — takes in sex and in art — we see that they do so across cultures. It’s paradoxical but true: our sense of what individualism is is shared and collective.
What this book does is trace the way modern culture conjoined the kinds of individualism represented by the “artist” and the “homosexual” so that these were seen as closely interrelated types: outsiders, sensitive to aesthetics, who gravitated to cities and shocked conventional sensibilities by acting on their unconventional impulses.
As you say in the book, “it is one thing to sell copies of a book with a lesbian plot that can be secreted in personal libraries, and quite another to market an expensive painting that marks the buyer’s rooms for any visitor to see.” (pg. 76) Could you further discuss the differences and similarities between the acceptance of paintings, prints, and sculptures versus other forms of art (including literature and film)?
One of the great modern myths is that the art-world “avant-garde” is a realm of radical, free-wheeling, anything goes experimentation. The persistence of this myth is evidenced of its importance to our culture’s ideas about individualism, because if you think about it rationally for two seconds, the myth simply can’t be true.
Historically the “avant-garde” was created by the upper-middle classes, who paid for it by subsidizing its institutions, buying its products, entertaining its members. Clearly, the “avant-garde” produced something that the wealthy classes wanted. That something was exemplary individualism, but it had to be a kind of individualism that did not fundamentally threaten established values. This is the fundamental dilemm