The Lambda Literary Awards were Monday night, and I’m still coming down from accepting the Dr. Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award and as such, what was one of the most incredible experiences not only as a writer, but in my life as a whole. I got my start in writing as a queer punk zinester, not unlike many of the characters who appear in my stories. I started writing first to save myself, to make myself feel, even for a moment less isolated, and a little more alive. Then, I began writing as a way to connect with others: folks, other queer kids trying to save themselves would shove crumpled dollar bills into envelopes that wound their way through the USPS (and numerous change of address forwardings) and in return received zines in their mailboxes. We were writing the stories we had been told not to, the kinds of stories we had never seen on a library bookshelf, the kinds of stories that made everything hurt a little bit less.
I don’t have an MFA. I am, at my core not only a community based writer, but a community educated one as well. As I said, I was a zinester; most of my writing skills have been picked up, or made-up along the way. For a while, especially when I was working on Kicked Out, this was something I was ashamed of, something I tried to hide. Somewhere about halfway through the Roving Pack manuscript I found the power in claiming that, and moved forward with the intentional decision to keep the raw and grittiness in my writing that I believe comes directly my creative roots. I write queer stories, explicitly with queer readers in mind, and as such I can think of no bigger honor at this point in my career to have received this kind of recognition from my queer literary community.
As I sit here looking at the beautiful blooming bouquet of flowers my partner Kestryl brought home as a surprise on Monday, my mind keeps replaying snippets of the Lammys. From the moment I learned I had received the award, until the Lammys themselves I continued to use the word “shocked” to describe what it felt to know I was receiving such an award. I still feel that way: the surprise that someone like me, from my writing background, could be at this place where the most important organization in queer literature believes that my work embodies “the future of LGBTQ literature” completely blows my mind. But, at the same time I walked away from the Lammys feeling like in one more way I’ve found a home, my queer literary home.
Nicola Griffith who (along with Trebor Healey) at the Lammys received the Mid-Career Award gave a beautiful acceptance speech where she talked about having always felt like an outsider be it because of her nationality, disability, and/or sexuality but that there, on that stage at the Lammy’s she felt as though she’d been welcomed home, as though she belonged within this queer literary world. She said it far more beautifully than I am paraphrasing here, but her words resonated deeply with me. This award means so much more to me than I have even fully understood, it’s a validation for the path’s that I have walked as a writer, and the stories that have come from that place.
We didn’t have long for acceptance speeches (with good reason these kind of award ceremonies are always VERY long) but I tried my best to pack in as many thanks as I could. I discovered while writing the initial drafts of my remarks just how many people I had to thank, and how many seconds it takes to do that! Most important for me was to thank Kestryl who for the past 9 years has stood by me and all of my creative projects, my chosen queer family, the authors that have in some way taken me under their wing – especially Kate Bornstein, independent feminist bookstores, the queer youth center that raised me up, and my first writing teacher Linda Hummer – who taught creativity and healing classes in the women’s studies department at my college (where I almost flunked out numerous times) she was the first person to tell me I was a writer, who handed me the books that have changed my life and shifted my career, who died right before Kicked Out was published. I also wanted to thank all of you who read my books and stories, who write me letters talking about how something I wrote really resonated with how you see and experience the world. You are my biggest inspiration to keep writing, and I wanted to say that from stage.
I’m so grateful that Kestryl was able to capture on video my acceptance speech so that I could share it with all of you
When I first began working on Roving Pack I conceptualized of the book as being outside of the general course of my work. I saw Roving Pack as a story that needed to be told, but in some ways separate from what I generally do. I thought of it as a fringe book, small project that would appeal to a small niche of the community. I didn’t expect the kind of widespread response that the novel and I received. I especially didn’t anticipate that I would fall so deeply in love with writing queer fiction. What began two and a half years ago, as a creative experiment has become my home, but also my future.
Now the work begins. I’m so intensely grateful for the ways that my books have been seen and validated in such an official way. I never expected to be here, but now that I am I intend to take full advantage of every opportunity I’m given. This is not in anyway to say that prior to this award, or without this award I wasn’t driven to continue putting these kinds of queer stories into the world, I absolutely was. However, I would be lying if I said something hadn’t shifted within me as a direct result of receiving the Berzon Award from the Lambda Foundation. This award is a validation it means that my work an I will be taken more seriously in the literary world, and as such I believe that with this award comes a responsibility. I must continue to be worthy of having received it. I cannot be lazy; to write the easy story that is less threatening, or more comfortable (to me, or readers), and I must do what it takes to get those edgy stories out into the community and into the hands of the queers that need them. I see it as my obligation write the best and most dangerous queer stories that I can, and to continue to queer the future of LGBTQ literature in every story I write, and every book I publish.
It’s time to start writing……….