It’s been two days and yet I’m still sitting here in complete shock at the news that I have been chosen by Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund as an honorable mention this year. The lesbian and feminist literary community has always been my home, and to be honored so publically in this way completely takes my breath away. I’m so grateful to Astraea and to the whole community which has and continues to support me and my work in really profound ways.
As I was finding out about receiving this award I’ve been reading articles about the ongoing financial troubles of ‘In Other Words’ feminist bookstore in Portland Oregon. They were just forced to lay off their only two staff members and how it’s looking pretty certain that they are moving towards closure. In Other Words has barely been hanging on for years now, but still I’m broken hearted over what I fear is the inevitable closure of what had been my home bookstore for many years.
I remember first walking into that little storefront on SE Hawthorne and feeling like that place could be a home for me. I would wander the store marveling at how there were all these books about my people. It never even occurred to me that one day I might be writing them. I don’t really know what they thought of my scruffy baby dyke self back then, but everyone was always incredibly nice to me. They knew I’d been homeless and the volunteers always made a point to know my name and pronoun (no matter how many times I changed it). They would ask how I was doing and in general just made me feel part of the community regardless of if I was their to window shop at books, or if I was paying my $3 or rent yet another lesbian VHS tape that I would put myself to sleep at night watching.
A couple years after first stumbling into In Other Words I was asked to take on ‘The Last Word’ which at the time was the bookstore’s monthly open mic which I turned into a monthly queer zine read and ran for three years. The Last Word was one of my first attempts at combining community organizing and art and was a really pivotal moment for me both as an activist and an artist. In Other Words was incredibly supportive of all my early writing. They sold each and every one of my zines and gave me my first writing award, in 2004 naming me one of Portland’s Top Emerging Writers. I’ll never forget putting on a clean shirt and going to the honorees fundraising dinner with my chosen big brother at my side. We stood out from the mostly middle aged lesbian crowd with our tattoos and facial piercings but never felt judged or out of place. I remember sitting at the table with the other honored writers dreaming that one day I would be a published author like them.
To in the same week learn that I’m receiving this honor as a lesbian writer, and that my first home bookstore is likely heading towards closure is heartbreaking. In a day when authors are clamoring towards higher Amazon rankings, I believe we as queer authors have an obligation to recognize that independent LGBTQ and feminist bookstores are the fertile soil that nurtures our souls and art. They are our heritage, but they are also our future and I feel it is our responsibility to support them anyway we can. It was at In Other Words where I found the types of stories I’d never seen on the shelves of mainstream corporate bookstores. It was there, that for the first time I was able to find the stories of people like me, and where I found the encouragement and support to begin writing my own stories.