In honor of the SISTER SPIT 2014 FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN, I present another offering from the 1997 Sister Spit Tour Diary! This entry was written from a CYBER CAFE by one of the Valencia directors Samuael Topiary!!!
DAY 4 or 5, from topiary
Hello and hope you are well. We are now on day 4 or is it 5? Driving all night through major heat and find ourselves in Tuscon.
After nice opening shows in Santa Cruz and LA, we really hit our stride in Las Vegas, out-performing ourselves to a rowdy and diverse Vegas crowd of locals, a mix of heckling straight men and appreciative dykes and many others in between. Our most excellent and talented host Dave had hooked us up w/ free rooms at the illustrious Stardust Casino and even got us a grant from the Nevada State Council on the Arts. The free “ass juice” the bar kept doling out definitely heightened the energy. Heckling was raised to a new level. And believe it or not, we even did a second set!
I think it’s safe to report that we all had a blast in Vegas especially after Ali treated some of us to her expert slot machine techniques.
It’s fucking hot as hell here in Tucson and we’re all a bit punchy now after driving all night from Vegas to Tucson. Am writing you from the cyber cafe next to the Hotel Congress.
Hit a traffic jam in the middle of the desert on the road from Vegas to here at about 3 am. We wondered about the alien abduction possibilities, but it turns out there was a murder…. probably by human hands, though. The landscape is surreal here.
I lost $3 to the nickel slots. It’s very hot in the van. We have to drive at night and sleep by day. Wish we had more time in Tucson, it seem so interesting, picturesque.
The tour is really starting to get rolling now. I can feel us as a show gelling, getting the hang of it, getting funnier and easier and less precious with each other. The traveling is harsh, though.
gripping the chain link fence that kept me caged in the
front yard and hollering to passersby, my big line was
“I got books!” My mom loves to talk about me in the
front yard trying to bribe strangers into hanging out
with me by bragging about my library. It didn’t work,
or my mom made me stop because the only people
to my cries were old men who maybe thought
I was charming or maybe were creeps. Ya nevah know.
I spent the weekend in New York City at Book Expo America way out at the Javits Center. The BEA is the book industry’s annual trade show – a huge (though shrinking) gathering of presses from City Lights and McSweeney’s to University Presses to behemoths like Penguin and Simon & Schuster to genre monsterslike Harlequin and DK to enormous Christian publishing empires to little random publishers whose only title is, like, a book about fairies, and you wonder how they scraped up the dough to buy a booth at such a $$$ show.
Not only are publishers there, book stores are there, and writers and agents and publicists and journalists. It can get a little intense, especially if you are averse to schmoozing, which is perhaps the point of the whole thing. It can also get intense if you are a small press writer sensitive to how dwarfed or non-existent you are by the industry. Proof of your worst fears are all over the place, like that banner the size of an apartment building advertising the latest tacky lady-fiction from Cosmo books. That placement probably cost more than the last printing of your last book. It can stress some writers out, but I find it strangely relaxing. Sometimes you can get caught up in your mind, wondering if there was something you could do or should do or didn’t do that would make you, like, the king of the book world. And then you see all this shit and you understand that the industry is stacked against you and there is little you can do to change that. Phew. It’s hard enough just to write a book, you know?
Anyway, I like to go to the BEA because I actually enjoy schmoozing (I like to think of it as ‘making new friends’) and I find the best way to protect your delicate writer-ego and really make the most of it is to go not so much as a writer, but as a reader. Because there are tons and tons and tons of books to be had at the BEA, for free! So I came to NYC equipped with an extra bag just to tote all my Advanced Readers Copies and hard-husted hardcovers and paperbacks back home. Publishers don’t always want to give you the books – they’re generally saving them for important people or they want you to come at a particular time and get it signed by the author. Especially the publishers I like don’t have the biggest budgets and are the most thoughtful with their freebies, so I promise you I worked fairly hard for the titles I am now going to share with you. All photographed in my humble single room at the Hotel 17.
Possibly I shrieked when I saw this galley hanging out at McSweeny’s BEA booth (Which, BTWs, was easily the cutest booth at the Expo, with tiled floor trimmed in fake grass and lounge furniture and a giant sun umbrella dressed in blue lights. When I last saw them, the McSweeney’s crew was wondering how they were going to transport it all back to IKEA to get their money back.). I am obsessed with Hilton Als. Hilton Als, if you are reading this, I think you are the most important voice in any media today, and I am so swoony at how smart and queer and Black you are,how straight-up and experimental, how tightly your ear is pressed to the ground. You make many things worth reading and if there is anything I can ever do to serve your excellence, like make you a dinner or throw you a party or something, come and knock on my door! Who are these White Girls? Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, Malcolm X and Louise Brooks, among others. ‘An invaluable guide to the culture of our time,’ this is Als’ first book in 14 years and it’s going to be a Big Deal.
I love this new trend of artists getting in there and illustrated classic books that previously had no pictures. Like what R. Crumb did with the Bible, and Hope Larson’s recent re-creation of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time as a graphic novel. Oh, and Sandow Birk’s illustrated Divine Comedy, with Hell being a post-apocalyptic California. So, I’m excited about Tin House’s forthcoming Heart of Darkness reprint with full-color illustrations by Matt Kish. The art is sort of abstract and groovy and creeps me out the way Yellow Submarine and Fantastic Voyage creeped me out when I was a kid. This is totally the push I needed to actually read this book.
Hey, I’m going to have a baby! I mean I’m not pregnant yet but if Western Medicine is all it’s cracked up to be I’ll be knocked up with a test tube baby in about a month, so I thought I should avail myself of all the free parenting books scattered throughout the BEA. There were a lot that looked icky, if you are to judge a book by it’s cover, which you have to with Mom books. This one was fairly inoffensive – someone fought hard against pink and got purple, maybe? – and when I opened it up I landed on how to skim your kid’s scalp for head lice, so I grabbed it.
T Cooper and his wife Allison Glock-Cooper were at Akashic Books, right across the aisle from where I was perched at City Lights, promoting the Sister Spit Books imprint. They are co-writing a YA fantasy series, and had the best book-related schwag – chocolate chip cookie frosting-filled pies they brought with them from Magpie Bakery in Tennessee. I’d show you a picture but I ate it. I’m psyched to learn Akashic, an amazing press, is publishing YA – while shopping my latest Mermaid in Chelsea Creek and having not luck with the big houses, I mourned the lack of indie presses taking chances with teen lit. T and I commiserated about the dumb feedback we’ve gotten, including an editor who informed him that his trans people are really miserable because their lives are so hard and their trans character is too happy. So, this is something real to look forward to!
Okay I went NUTS when I learned about the upcoming Lizzie Skurnick imprint with Ig Books. You might know Skurnick from her Fine Lines column on Jezebel.com, or checked out her reading memoir Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classic We Never Stopped Reading. An obsessive aficionado of Teen Lit from my own YA reading heyday, Lizzie Skurnick Books is bringing back into print titles I actually forgot I loved. Paging through this sampler Ig was handing out at the BEA I had waves of recognition, wonder and excitement wash over my like good body memories. Me and Fat Glenda! To All My Fans With Love From Sylvie! I’ll Love You When You’re More Like Me! Spooky Debutante Hill from Lois Duncan, the most prolific and spooky YA writer ever. These are titles from the real golden age of YA publishing, when the books for teens were actually literary, and not a bunch of vampires or other tacky genre pulp. She’ll be releasing Sandra Scoppettone’s teen lez classic Happy Endings Are All Alike, as well as old work from M.E. Karr, who you might know as Marijean Meaker, who sparked the queer pulp craze with her writing under the moniker Vin Packer. (And not to get too gossipy but she was also Patricia Highsmith’s GF). Lizzie Skurnick Books will be releasing a new classic teen book from 1930-1980 each month. I wish you could get a subscription so I could have them ferried right to my door!
I love love love a brainy book of art criticism that brings real life into the rarefied world and blends political and social concerns with an appreciation and understanding of the work it’s talking about. Perfect example, Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty, which simultaneously offered essays and thought that brought you deeper into the work she discussed while not being afraid to call bullshit on lots of it. I think Ben Davis’ 9.5 Theses on Art and Class, published by muckrakers Haymarket Books, is going to be a similarly heady and righteous read, as it calls out the massive stainless-steel balloon elephant in the art room – class. I’m also super intrigued by the piece on the book’s cover, Brooklyn artist William Powhida’s Relational Wall, which boldly traces the relationships between all the major, moneyed players at the top of the art world.
There is a lot of cheesy non-book schwag all over the BEA, and I’ve learned from past mistakes that grabbing things that seem ironic or ridiculous to show your friends back home results in a stack of shitty books abandoned in your hotel room. So this time I practiced restraint (it’s actually very triggering to my deep-seeded scarcity issues to be in a place full of freebies and not compulsively take everything) and the only non-book things I took were a bag of popcorn from a kid’s books booth, a shopping bag with a picture of a gargoyle-esque French Bulldog from Taschen, a dinosaur finger-puppet mitt abandoned ona Scholastic table for my nephew, a How-to-Quit-Smoking book for my mom, and this here facsimile of the Merck Manual’s 1899 edition, wherein they proscribe weed for lots of ailments, to pass to my friend who likes old-timey things. Oh and some Milky Ways, mini-Hershey’s bars, Double-Stuff Oreos, sheet cake and Italian cookies. Around 3 or 4om each day many of the booths bust out sugar and booze.
I am really, really excited about this book. It’s a total triumph. If you don’t already know, Amber Dawn, who has been publishing anthologies and performing in spoken word, queer and sex-positiver events forever, blew the world away with her first novel, a piece of speculative fiction called Sub Rosa, which turned her experience as a sex worker into a sort of fairy tale, grimly chilling, sweetly candied, a parallel world (well, neighborhood) of prostitutes operating on its own spooky, magical terms. I inhaled it, and was deeply impressed by how masterfully she translated her own personal experience into this lush fiction. Not that she was trying to hide anything – Amber Dawn has always been 1005 out about her experiences as a sex worker and a survivor. But after the success of Sub Rosa she kept experiencing well-meaning fans telling her that she didn’t need to be so out about her personal story in her bio and interviews. Her writing, they said, stood on its own.
But Amber Dawn, a community-oriented writer for whom writing and literature, spoken word and activism all coalesce into a life-saving, game-changing revelation and identity, understands that the writing she creates does not stand alone – it stands on the shoulders of her own hard-won survival and the survival of her peers, heroines and mentors. And she she put together How Poetry Saved My Life as a graceful, absorbing retort, showing us the hardscrabble reality behind Sub Rosa’s gothic stardust. Working low track on the streets of Vancouver; having a panic attack during a Riot Grrrl poetry reading; experiencing true, lived feminism while taking down the license plate of the trick her bestie rode off with and waiting for her as the sun goes down. It’s a terrific book full of poetry and short stories that link together easily into a full narrative. And it’s one of the only books in my giant BEA pile I’ve cracked since the Expo ended, taking it with me to Veselka for some cold borscht and egg salad. I’ve eaten at Veselka six times on this trip, and since I’m not leaving for another fifteen hours or so I imagine I will eat there again before I get on my plane.
I was so psyched to pass by the Tin House booth and see that they snagged Kevin Sampsell’s latest book! Kevin is a writer after my own heart – a pillar of the Portland literary scene, he’s been doing events at Powell’s forever, and continues to support and promoter other writers by publishing them on his own excellent small press, Future Tense. He published teenaged Zoe Trope’s smash Don’t Kill the Freshman; Sister Spitter Myriam Gurba, Vegas legend Dayvid Figler, and many others. He himself traffics in sweetly edgy short story, fearless memoir and now this new one, This is Between Us, which takes you through the life of a relationship from the crazed hook-ups through getting pregs and splitting up. I know it’s going to be excellent – edgy and funny and true – cause that’s what the man does.
Sister Spit Books’ next release will be Beth Lisick’s Yokohama Threeway and Other Small Shames, a collection of stories, vignettes and poetry that track every cringe-worthy memory she could mind from her daring and hilarious brain. It will be out this October, but for the BEA City Lights’ printed up this cool little sampler stuffed with some choice tales from the manuscript – when she was chased out of an an engagement party by a crowd of toddlers screaming that she was a man in a wig; her early college sell-out to Seventeen magazine, and a surprising and glittered dildo that sabotages a Craig’s List appliance sale. IT’S SO GOOD! Also, Kathleen Hanna blurbed it! Who knew? “This book is fucking great. There is a story in it called PANDA AMBULANCE!!!’ How is Beth Lisick not as famous as David Sedaris?” Thank you Kathleen, that is a great question, and likely one that will not need answering after the release of Yokohama Threeway this fall.
Last night was a hot Saturday night in New York City, the most exciting place in the entire world, and you know what I did? I laid in my twin bed win my underwear with the air conditioner cranked and read Tara Ison’s Rockaway. The fact that it is such a deeply New York book – Queens over Manhattan, but with lots of Brooklyn thrown in – helped me not feel like I was, you know, turning my back on real life to hole up with a book. I did leave once, to stroll over to Union Square for a Ice from an Italian Ice truck (Pineapple + Sour Apple), but it was tough leaving book. A blocked painter scores an empty house on Rockaway Beach and goes off to create work for an upcoming exhibition in total seclusion. THIS NEVER GOES WELL! And it doesn’t here. As the book progresses, main character Sarah’s procrastination becomes increasingly pathological, and what underlies her psyche is revealed masterfully. I haven’t finished the book yet, but where I’m at she’s sketched part of a Mussel shell in charcoal and is either ruining or saving her life hanging out with a has-been rock n roller who plays county fairs and is either a bug cheesy mistake or some sort of Jewish Buddha. Throughout it is written so beautifully, certain passages had me gasping.Okay, that’s it! There are way more tomes for me to stuff in my suitcase – hardcovers my agent passed to me (like bestselling Gone Girl), freebies from bookstores I read at on my trip (thanks for The Flamethrowers, Brookline Booksmith) plus books I actually bought at other bookstore readings – Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life at Food for Thought in Amherst; Marci Blackman’s Tradition at Bluestockings. And G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen, which I brought with me from San Francisco and spent other nights avoiding reality to sink myself in the gripping, fantastical story of Middle-Eastern literary mysticism, with much sly, casual commentary about class, race, gander and religion. It’s so good! Oh, and I got the newest Lucky Peach and the last Believer, with an interview with Jeanette Winterson by Andrea Tetrick. Plus all the other BEA steals I didn’t even get to. But it’s my last night in NYC, and I should grab a book and find an Italian Ice truck.
Can you tell us about Texta and your amazing superhero aesthetic?
‘Texta’ means felt-tip marker in Australia and it’s been my pseudonym for nearly 15 years. I sometimes dress in a superhero costume, the first version, in 1997, got created when I was doing kids’ drawing and workshops and then I carried it over into my art world persona. Markers are an accessible medium, and the superhero adds to my accessibility in the often cold, alienating, elitist gallery. And personally being a texta superhero is a way for me to feel a bit empowered in spaces that I’m marginalised, as brown, queer and seen as female. I mostly wear my marker themed superhero outfit only for kids’ activities these days, though I have other spandex outfits too.
Tell us about your most recent solo project “Unknown Artist” and the shift from earlier works, particularly the nude form and critical engagement with white bodies to the self portraiture.
‘Unknown Artist’ is a series of self-portraits, where I drew myself as different characters exploring aspects of my identities, especially race, sexuality and gender. Many of them are about me trying to connect with cultural heritage and cultural identity. They include one where I’m Gandhi the literally imperfect leader as a zombie, one reclaiming Indian mythology around the hyena, a self-love self-portrait of a superhero me rescuing a nude me, and one about internalizied patriarchy and white supremacy of me with blonde hair, blue contacts, holding a Ken doll being puppetted by Animal from the Muppets. It is a pretty big concept shift from my previous work; nudes of mostly white queers posed in scenarios of their choosing. I guess I’ve changed a lot as a person in the last few years, engaged more in what it means to be a racialised person in mostly white environments, acknowledging the ways I’ve adapted to and prioritised white people, and trying to change that conditioning. The last few years i’ve been trying to focus on finding and creating queer people of colour ‘community’’, so my creative and friendship circles have shifted a lot, and my art has too. Before the Unknown Artist series I did a series called We Dont Need Another Hero, where Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous people of colour living in Australia posed as protagonists of post-apocalyptic movies, with colonialism obviously being our apocalypse. My earlier work celebrated queerness, and what some might see as radical queerness, but I now acknowledge that it was very white-centric ideas of queerness, bodies, and beauty I was honouring. Shifting to a queer POC focus in my art and drawing the self-portraits has been indescribably healing and empowering, especially when I’ve had relatively few images of brownness, especially queer brownness, around me for my entire life.
Can you talk some about your writing project “Harshbrowns” and my favorite piece “The Kreayshawn complex: cultural appropriation as counter-cultural expression”?
I started writing my harshbrowns blog kind of anonymously, when I had just begun to race rage, catalysed by a few specific events mostly around cultural appropriation and racial fetishism in the white-centric queer ‘radical’ Melbourne scene. The race rage had been bubbling under the surface for a long time but the reaction of most of my white close friends to my explanations of how these events had impacted on me, quite suddenly alienated me from most of the people who had been really close in my life as I realised their racisms. Writing the blog, I processed these experiences, and even though the posts or poems are often addressed to white people, they were as much a way for me to connect with others with similar experiences, to try to build new connections in the face of an intense disillusionment in the idea of community I had known.
The responses to the blog have been really overwhelming, not just the high visitor stats, but the touching personal messages from people positively connecting with it as well as the intense reactions to people who have been confronted by the content. I think that the Kreayshawn complex post, on how cultural appropriation often seems an expression of people’s counter-cultural identity, using hip-hop as it’s main reference, spoke to a lot of people beyond the specific Melbourne-based events the post referenced. My words as a non-black person writing about appropriation, using mostly the example of appropriated black culture in the predominately non-black context of Australia could never articulate the complexity of the issues, but hopefully through my own lens as a racialised person I wrote something relatable, putting into a broader white-appropriation-of-other-cultures’ context.
What is your writing process like and how does it lie in conjecture with your illustrative art? Are there any writing projects in the works?
I hadn’t officially been a writer before starting play the pokies online the blog, other than song lyrics, casual travel blogging, journalling and brief writing about the people in my drawings. I’ve come to realise that I really enjoy the writing process and am a pretty articulate yet accessible writer. I have long periods where I only write for myself, if at all, keeping a very personal and ranty journal, but this processing usually bubbles into a form that I share. Writing often helps me conceptualise my visual art, and my visual art is usually emotional tangent to my writing. However, my writing has been more outwardly critical while my art is more focused on construction of identity. I was race raging hard at the world when I was drawing the We Don’t Need Another Hero post-apocalypse movie poster series at the same time as I was writing uncomfortable-for-white-people-poetry, whereas I did a lot of self-reflective, private writing while making my Unknown Artist self-portrait series. The Unknown Artist series reflects a lot on what ‘cultural heritage’ means and on completing that series I wrote a new piece about cultural identity and the personal effects of cultural appropriation on my connection to cultural heritage. This will soon be published in Peril magazine online, on the harshbrowns blog and sometimes read on tour with Sister Spit while showing the self-portraits as projections.
I’m really interested in your oppositional gaze onto structures and populaces of power within your work particularly, your critiques of whiteness, normativity, patriarchy, and coloniality. How is this politics of critical dissent informed within your art and writing?
I hope that especially my visual art is about constructing queer, POC, feminist, decolonized identity and that the representation and centering of these identities is the focus. My art values empowerment (though also vulnerability) over directly de-constructing the structures of power that affect these identities, which I feel is an effective way of resisting those structures. My writing has more directly critiqued, especially whiteness, though I’ve been trying lately to focus my energies in constructing identity, so that the ‘you’ pictured in my writing are those I identity with rather than addressing those who don’t share my experiences.
You work a lot with youth- we met at Girls Rock Camp, Oakland in Summer of 2012- and do a great number of workshops in Australia. Can you tell us about the import of young people for your work and your involvement with volunteer spaces?
I teach youth (and adult) drawing workshops, superhero identity workshops, contour line drawing and other stuff, but most of my ‘work’ with youth at the moment is hanging out with my friends’ kids. I do like working with young people and my artwork is generally accessible to many of them, not just in the felt-tip marker medium, but the playfulness is a friendly vehicle to deliver the complex content.
I’ve worked creatively, made and put my artwork in DIY, punk, and volunteer spaces as much as I have in white-walled commercial art spaces. I wouldn’t be making a living from my art without the commercial contexts I show in, I’m really pleased that my last show sold out in Melbourne, but I don’t often feel comfortable in those spaces. I am happy that my work is in major public institutions because many people will see it that aren’t going to access it at commercial galleries or punk environments. There’s definitely much to negotiate in less commercial environments, but I have more hope to make connections with and be inspired by folks, and contribute something real to people through my art and inter-personally, when I’m with people and in spaces that share aspects of my own identity. I’ve put a bit of energy into figuring out what QPOC community means in Melbourne, helping organise some social and performance events, but lately I’ve mostly been reclusively working on my visual art.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a series of ‘Poem Portraits’, seeking out queer, trans and two-spirit people of colour writers and poets to pose in a scenario with their words. I’ve made a few in this theme, and it’s been a great challenge to bring together these two creative practices that I enjoy. I’m hoping to show the series in Australia in February at a great Indigenous run gallery called Blak Dot in Melbourne, and I’d love to show them somewhere in the US or Canada too, if anyone has any leads. Other than that, I hope to write more that I share, keep making art I’m proud of, look after myself and look out for my friends.
Essence Harden is a current graduate student in the department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley. When she is not researching articulations of Black masculinity through 1980/90′s hair and styling practices you can find her reading sci-fi and eating bagels in her back lot/garden.
Hello! And welcome to my Better-Late-Than-Never ART Monday. This week I’m so excited to recommend Spit and Passion by Cristy C. Road.
Spit and Passion is a graphic coming out memoir focusing on the often-overlooked moment of secret childhood queer-revelation, rather than the more common narrative of adolescent queer-declaration. This isn’t a story about coming out to others- it’s about coming out to oneself. And for some of us, coming out to oneself looks a lot like this:
You could say the book takes place in early 90s Miami- but the setting would be more aptly described as in the mind of preteen Cristy as she navigates, and second-guesses, the realization that she’s probably a dyke.
The story tracks Cristy as she reconciles her Cuban-American Catholic upbringing with her new queer punk leanings.
She seeks solace in Ren & Stimpy, Freddy Mercury, Broadway musicals, Rosanne Barr, and most fanatically, Green Day. Her story is filled with references, as varied as they seem, that all outsider-gays will identify with. Ren & Stimpy is the millennial Burt & Ernie, no?
I’m a HUGE fan of Cristy C. Road’s illustrations and this book does not disappoint with incredibly beautiful artwork. Each panel is a stand-alone piece.
Buy a copy of Spit and Passion RIGHT NOW and come see Cristy C. Road when she’s on tour with Sister Spit 2013! (For those in the Bay Area- come to the Sister Spit Kick Off at The San Francisco Public Library on March 31)
AND ANOTHER THING: Cristy C. Road is also working on a tarot deck with our own Michelle Tea! Check out some of the drawings in the works- THEY ARE AMAZING.
Amber Dawn is the winner of Radar’s 3rd annual Eli Coppola Memorial Chapbook Contest. I recently got a sneak peak of her winning chapbook, How I Got My Tattoo, and it’s completely lovely. Amber will be coming all the way from her native Vancouver, Canada to read at the Radar Reading Series on March 6th. She will also be on hand at the East Baydar Literary Cabaret to answer your Hot Probs advice questions. In the mean time she took the time to answer some questions I posed to her about her zodiac, artistic process and upcoming projects.
When did you begin writing and/or identifying as a writer?
I began writing in my late-teens, but it took years before I had the confidence to call myself a writer. Maybe by the time I was in grad school, completing an MFA in Creative Writing, I identified as a writer. Before then, I just identified as a loud mouth, who sometimes wrote shit down on paper.
Would you recommend doing a Creative Writing graduate program to budding writers?
I think it’s a way to develop one’s writing practice and complete a book, but it’s not the only way. For me, the structure and institutional support was a gift. I still reflect on my grad with fond feelings. My grad cohort was populated with fantastic writers, who I miss dearly. Since graduating, I still haven’t found a writing group or community quite the same. I should also say that Canadian university fees are significantly lower than in the USA. While I always had a job, or two, during university, I never took out loans. I’d feel pretty peeved if I had to go into debt to write!
Which writers, and artists, have inspired you and your work?
Beth Goobie, Lynn Crosby, Larissa Lai, Nalo Hopkinson, Barbara Gowdy, Hiromi Goto, Persimmon Blackbridge … I’m naming Canadian authors because I encourage folks in the USA to read CanLit. What do all these authors have in common, you may ask? They all unflinchingly understand that complex identities and literature make wonderful companions.
What is your process like? Do you have a favorite place you like to write? Do you have any interesting quirks, or rituals, regarding how things should be to have a good creative session?
I’m lazy, and I was raised Italian-Catholic. So I procrastinate when writing, then I guilt and shame myself for not being as productive as I should be. Currently, my wife is also writing a book-length project, so the two of us support each other. Sometimes we joke about our writing projects in the bedroom, like “I wrote 1500 words today, so now you totally owe me a blowjob …” It helps us not slip into writing-depression.
Your piece, “To All the Butches I Loved Between 1995 and 2005: An Open Letter about Selling Sex, Selling Out, and Soldiering On,” in the anthology Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme is one of my favorite pieces of writing about sex work. In it you discuss many of the personal sacrifices that come with working in the industry, especially in regards to relationships, and it reads as a sort of confessional. Often times we sex workers must justify our occupation in the face of societal judgment so we play down the darker sides of the trade. Has this been true for you at all, and if so, did you ever find it difficult to write about the challenges of the work with this external pressure at play?
This has been very true for me. Sex workers are a silenced population and so I understand the privilege I have in being about to use my voice and speak up around sex work. With this privilege comes a sort of duty to represent sex workers as the dignified peoples that we are. Being worthy of esteem and dignity does not mean that I haven’t grappled with many personal low moments, in sex work and in other areas of my life, and these stories of vulnerability are important to me too. It’s bullshit that sex workers (or anyone) have to represent themselves infallible. More recently, I decided that I am forwarding sex workers’ by showing myself as a complex human being. I hope readers see strength and find solidarity in what I write about—even the darker parts.
What was one of your favorite memories from touring with Annie Oakley’s Sex Workers’ Art Show?
That tour was is rich with memories for me, it’s hard to pick one. I toured four times with SWAS. I said things on stage I had never actually told anyone before. I developed my voice as we went from city to city. Young women in the audience would disclose their own truths to me after the show. It was truly empowering. But I guess my favourite memories was simply sharing stories and wisdoms with the other performers backstage. Here were other sex workers who were making outstanding art and leading inspiring lives. My tour mates gave me such hope, you know, SWAS tour made it okay to be who I am.
I know you must be busy gearing up for promo for the spring release of your new book, How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir, but what’s next? Do you have a new project in the works?
After launching a memoir, I’m looking forward to returning to Speculative Fiction. I love fantasy and magic. I’ve recently begun writing a queer ghost story that takes place in my birth home—Crystal Beach, Ontario—a small amusement park town that went bankrupt and lost the amusement park in 1989. The book will be something of a salute to my childhood.
Rhiannon Argo is a writer of fiction, a schooled librarian, and a seasoned Sister Spitter. She is the author of the Lambda Award winning novel The Creamsickle and a forthcoming novel, Girls I’ve Run Away With, (September, 2013) about two teenage girls in love and on the run. More info can be found at www.rhiannonargo.com.
OMG, I bussed over to North Beach to record a video for Banned Book Week at City Lights (I read from Genet’s The Thief’s Journal ) and what did I find on the counter but Sister Spit: Writing, Rants and Reminiscences from the Road, Sister Spit’s first anthology AND the first book out on the new Sister Spit / City Lights imprint!
City Lights is the pub house that Lawrence Ferlinghetti built, and I got to shoot my video in his office, which looks the way you’d want it to look, replete with a broken-down Poet’s Chair in the corner. You guys, the Poet’s Chair is off it’s rocker! Like, it’s a rocking chair and one of the thingies came off the bottom and if you have any carpentry or handy-person skillz you should offer your services to City Lights and save the Poet’s Chair! I can’t even imagine all the illustrious poet behinds that have rested on this hallowed piece of furniture.
Mr. Ferlinghetti’s chapeau.
Here is where I sat and read Genet. Apparently, John Waters sat there only a bit before, reading one of the smuttier parts of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I caught Facebook posts from Kevin Killian (he read The Chocolate War, a book nearly challenged by my catholic school in the 80s) and Sister Spit contributor MariNaomi talking about their Banned Book Week videos – this project is going to be soooo cool! Banned Book Week begins September 24th.
Check it out – a box of Sister Spit books! We’ve come a long way since the days of stealing our annual zines from Kinko’s! I can’t wait to hand these out to contributors at all our upcoming book parties – Skylight in LA Oct. 18, Capitola Book Cafe Oct. 22, right here at CITY LIGHTS Oct. 24, Pegasus Books on Shattuck in Berekely Oct. 25th, Powell’s in Portland Nov. 8, Greenlight in Brooklyn Nov. 14 and Bluestocking in NYC Nov. 15! See you there!
Hey, look! It’s the very first book cover of the very first publication by Sister Spit Books! Sister Spit: Writing, Rants and Reminiscence from the Road will be out this October, and we’ve already got some book parties lined up – mark your calendars for October 24th at City Lights (let’s take over Spec’s after!) and Pegasus Books on Shattuck on the 25th. We’ll also be doing events in Los Angeles, Portland, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and in Boston during the AWP this winter. The anthology contains new and old work by people who’ve been hopping in the van with Sister Spit since 1997: an excerpt from 3-time Spitter Ali Liebegott’s forthcoming novel Ch-Ching! (out next year on Sister Spit books), witchery from Kirk Read, art from Cassie J Sneider, a crazy European tour diary from Rhiannon Argo and a hilarious US tour journal from Blake Nelson, and waaaaaay more – Cooper Lee Bombardier (whose iconic 90s Spit art graces the cover!), Eileen Myles, Tamara Llosa-Sandor, Tara Jepsen, Kat Marie Yoas, Sara Seinberg, Elisha Lim, Nicole J Georges, Lenelle Moise, Myriam Gurba, Ben McCoy, Beth Lisick, Harry Dodge, MariNaomi and Cristy C Road. WOW! And these are only some of the people who’ve jumped in the Sister Spit van! More volumes are forthcoming, as are new works from Ali Liebegott, Beth Lisick, Dia Felix, Lenelle Moise and more! Just wanted to brag. I’m excited!
And check out Sister(Spit)hood is Powerful! – 15 Years of Sister Spit on the Road featuring Michelle Tea, Texta Queen, Brontez Purnell, MariNaomi, Nomy Lam, Tamara Llosa-Sandor and Kat Marie Yoas! Friday, May 18th at La Pena Cultural Center, Berkeley, 8pm. Get tickets here!