Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Tag: literature

How do you say goodbye?

Toni Morrison towered over literature. Though older than me by a generation, her early novels became my lodestones, magnets pointing me toward a new kind of literature. Her writing cracked open a world I hadn’t read on the page before, a vibrant world where Black women were accorded center stage, absent “the white gaze.” I knew how corrosive the white gaze could be from going to school in the Bahamas, and how complete, complex and nuanced were the worlds beyond its acid brow.

“Beloved” eventually became my most cherished title.

I started writing in about 1985 as an out lesbian, using mostly male protagonists. I snuck one story with lesbians into my first collection, a story about two women and their adopted autistic child. My second story collection had lots of queer protagonists, and my second poetry collection was all queer. By the time I wrote those books, I was done pretending just to get published. I understood that I’d been pandering (to use Claire Vaye Watkins’ word), though all the while I had been reaching for something else, the bravery to make up tales my way, from a queer gaze, a non-binary gaze, a disabled gaze, and to insist that mainstream Canada hear me. I honed my skills so that they would have to listen. When they wouldn’t, I submitted to literary awards, and I won contests.

That never translated, for me, into publishing contracts, and so, broken-hearted, I distanced myself. I’m sorry to have to say that we have a long way to go in Canada before parity for queers is reached.

I loved Toni Morrison, and I loved her writing, and the lessons of her writing resound with me even today. I’m grateful her literature is available to us all, and particularly grateful it and she stood as beacon and exemplar for generations of Black womxn. I’m going to be doing what many people around the world are doing now, reading her novels again, reading The Bluest Eye, Jazz, Song of Soloman, letting her literature soak back into me with all its strength and wisdom.

A white person, even one marginalized, cannot begin to understand the meaning of Toni Morrison to Black womxn. Here is a link to a touching and important eulogy by Dr Roxane Gay, NY Times. The Legacy of Toni Morrison.

At Medium, the Zora team has re-printed Toni Morrison: In Her Own Words; Cinderella’s Stepsisters, her commencement address to the Barnard graduating class of ’79.

 

An interview with Ellis Avery

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Ellis Avery

This interview was first published in 2015. Today, on Feb 15, 2019, Ellis Avery died. We will miss her and her contributions to literature, so much.

The interview:

The only writer ever to have received the American Library Association Stonewall Award for Fiction twice, Ellis Avery is the author of two novels, a memoir, and a book of poetry. Her novels, The Last Nude (Riverhead 2012) and The Teahouse Fire (Riverhead 2006) have also received Lambda, Ohioana, and Golden Crown awards, and her work has been translated into six languages. She teaches fiction writing at Columbia University and out of her home in the West Village. She is also the author of the 9/11 memoir The Smoke Week and the recently arrived memoir-zine The Family Tooth.

I want to thank Ellis Avery for her generous contribution to the interviews on this blog. It’s been my pleasure to receive such thoughtful, informative answers to my questions.

Ellis Avery’s scintillating, gorgeously woven The Last Nude (Penguin, 2011) was written about art deco artist Tamara de Lempicka, a bisexual painter in Paris during the Jazz Age, from the point of view of her American muse, Rafaela.  It is a nuanced, complex book about Parisian politics in the Jazz Age, about painting, about love and queer power dynamics.  Her writing style is sumptuous and supple. People have compared Avery’s sentences to brush strokes and as a painter (and a once-teenaged painter’s model), I felt this acutely.

JEH: Ellis, I think you know what a big fan I am of your novel The Last Nude. Both as a book that goes deeply inside the life of a painter, and in literary terms, but also, and in particular, as a lesbian writer and painter.  Can you please tell us about its inception, and then how you managed to bring it to fruition?

Ellis Avery: I’m honored by your words, and grateful for them.

If The Last Nude is a Jazz Age Girl with a Pearl Earring, then my Vermeer is the Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka, who was particularly active in Paris in the 20’s and 30’s.

Tamara De Lempicka’s most critically acclaimed painting, above, which the New York Times called “One of the most important nudes of the 20th century,” was a 1927 oil on canvas called Beautiful Rafaela. When I saw this painting at the Royal Academy in London show in 2004 it literally made me weak in the knees, it’s such a sexually forceful image.

And just as startling for me was the fact that on the wall, in prim curatorial presstype, was the information that in 1927, while in the throes of a bitter divorce, de Lempicka met Rafaela on a walk in the Bois de Boulogne and took her home. Rafaela became her model and her lover, and their relationship lasted for six months to a year. I wasn’t so much shocked to learn that lesbian cruising existed before 1990 (okay, maybe a little) as I was to see the story right there in black and white in a major art museum. Suffice to say, I found this story hair-raisingly sexy. What I found moving was to discover that fifty-some years later, in 1980, the painting Tamara was working on when she died was a copy of Beautiful Rafaela.

My novel, The Last Nude, tells the story of Tamara and Rafaela’s affair in 1927, from the model’s point of view, and the story of the last day of Tamara’s life, spent working on the copy of Beautiful Rafaela, from the painter’s own point of view.

JEH: When I was staying in Paris in 2014, you helped situate me with a link to an essay you wrote when you got back. I lived a couple of blocks from one of Tamara de Lempicka’s homes. Can you link here so readers can enjoy it, too?

Ellis Avery: Postcards

JEH: How much of the novel is factual?  Did you, for instance, know that Rafaela was American and in the Bois looking for men when Tamara cruised her?  Is it documented that they had an affair, or just known or assumed de Lempicka got involved with all/many of her models?

Ellis Avery: After seeing Beautiful Rafaela at the Royal Academy show in London, I wanted to write about her, but I had to set the idea aside for a couple of years, and it wasn’t until 2008 that I could really get going. In the intervening time, I read as much as I could about inter-war Paris and Tamara de Lempicka, including the Catalogue Raisonée of her entire oeuvre, which had assembled by Alain Blondel of Galerie Luxembourg, the curator responsible for launching the revival of interest in de Lempicka’s work in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the very last painting Tamara was working on when she died was a copy of the painting that had inspired my book, a painting inspired the girl she met in the Bois du Boulogne half a century beforehand! I get goosebumps just thinking about it even now.

Between 2004 and 2008, I also wrote about fourteen miserable pages of the book that would become The Last Nude, all the while wondering if I’d ever be able to write a book again. But I was reading, thinking and taking notes, and on a May afternoon in 2008, half under the spell of one of those epic writer naps that seize me when I’m working best, I wrote the scene that becomes the climax of my book, the scene in which Rafaela lands in the Seine. That scene was so exciting to write and gave me so much hope for the book.

From June to December of 2008, I had summer break followed by leave from my teaching job. That period began and ended with artists’ residencies, one at Yaddo and one at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. For three months in the middle, I was able to stay in Paris, accompanying my partner on a sabbatical semester. During those seven months, I wrote a thousand words a day, five days a week, and at the end of that time, I had the first draft of my novel. The craft surprises that occurred during that blessed first-draft period were the discovery that I could borrow formally from Henry James’s Washington Square to write my ending and the realization, after I thought I had finished my draft, that I needed to write the book “again,” as it were, from Tamara’s point of view. Eighty-two-year-old Tamara’s voice came to me all in a rush, and it scared me. She is based on the real Tamara de Lempicka, as described by those who knew her in Laura Claridge’s excellent biography. She is also based on my grandmother, who died at the beginning of that year.

The Last Nude is dedicated to my partner, Sharon Marcus, but it is also dedicated to the memories of Elaine Solari Kobbe, the grandmother I mentioned, and Austen scholar Katrin Burlin. a beloved professor from my undergraduate years, who died in 1998. She is the professor who shaped my thinking most radically by asking the deceptively simple question, what if we posit that the fruit of female creativity is “art”? That is, why are paintings “art,” but quilts “not art?” Why is sculpture “art,” but cooking “not art?” I was surprised to discover, as I worked, that I was trying to write the kind of novel I would have first encountered in one of Katrin’s classes, one that not introduces the reader to the dazzling work of a half-forgotten woman genius, it also takes to task the notion of genius itself.

JEH: Does The Last Nude resonate with today’s issues?

Ellis Avery: One important plot point is that Rafaela falls in love with Tamara, and when Tamara accuses her of wanting to get married, Rafaela realizes that was, in fact, what she’d most wanted. “Was it so impossible, to want what I’d wanted?”

JEH: Talk to us about the myths of the artist, particularly as they played out in Paris and in The Last Nude.

Ellis Avery: One of my working titles for The Last Nude was The Artist and Its Discontents. My novel both expresses a debt of gratitude to modernist giants Woolf, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, and Stein, and introduces readers to de Lempicka’s brilliant paintings. At the same time, it also explores my distrust in the Romantic myths of the artist—as genius, as holy innocent, as solitary, inspired creator of art for art’s sake—which continue to underlie so many novels about artists and writers published today. Instead, the painter in my novel is not only a woman who has not been canonized by the art establishment, she is a woman who was neither independently wealthy nor pretended to be above material needs: in fact, she only foundered as an artist when she no longer needed money. The author in my novel never becomes an author. The artist who finds happiness and fulfillment in her work is instead Rafaela, the model who leaves the painter to open her own dress shop. The art she makes is not permanent, but ephemeral. She does not work alone, but with colleagues. Her imagined critics are not men, but women. Her work does not project the illusion of existing for its own sake autonomously from its viewer, but is created in conversation with its wearer. The day of Katrin Burlin’s untimely death—at her desk, of an aneurysm, while translating her mother’s memoirs—before I got the news, I was thinking about something she’d said in class: “the female bildungsroman tends to get stuck in the bedroom.”   That’s like complaining that coming-of-age novels by people of color get hung up on racism, I was arguing with her in my head when I got the news. I still miss her so much. I still want to show her my work. I still want to argue with her. But at the same time, her contention turned out to be the reason it was important for me to end the Rafaela section where I did, not with the end of her love story with Tamara, but with the beginning of the story of Rafaela coming into her own as an artist. I use the demoted and trivialized art of clothing design to juxtapose Rafaela’s story of talent, ambition, and fulfillment with that of frustration and depletion that characterizes the stories of the fine artists she loves. In doing so I hope to valorize a more egalitarian perspective on art, art-making, and art appreciation.

JEH: Tell us about your relationship with research and your subject while in Paris.

Ellis Avery: Although I love Paris—who doesn’t? –it’s easy to get stuck in the rut of one’s favorite things, so I dealt with that during my three-month Paris sojourn in 2008 by giving myself a conceptual art task. After writing my thousand words, not only did I have to write my daily haiku, as I’ve done for the past eleven years, I also had to 1) Drink a cup of coffee in a different Parisian plaza every day, and 2) Eat a different French pastry every day. On the one hand, I was living my Paris fantasy adventure; on the other, I found I didn’t like the experience of constant restlessness. Never settling into a favorite café or pastry shop, never developing a routine and the relationships that build out of it— never being “a regular” anywhere—turned out to be a fast-track to expatriate melancholy, even if over very superficial things.

One surprise from my time in Paris came from getting to see Tamara de Lempicka’s homes. For reasons of plot I moved her first apartment from a posh arriviste neighborhood on the Right Bank to an older, more aristocratic neighborhood on the Left, but I got to see those apartments with my own eyes, both the real place and the fictional one. Better, I got to find the studio she designed in the Fourteenth Arrondissement. Although I didn’t get to go into the building, even seeing it from the outside—shabby and as it has become—was thrilling. They should put up a plaque. Here’s a description of the building, based on what I saw; it’s from a portion of the novel that I cut:

Tamara crossed into the Fourteenth. The ubiquitous five-story apartment buildings of Paris lined Arago, but I noticed that while some of them were clad in golden limestone pierre de taille, some were faced in stone only up to the first story, and then faced in cheaper brick the rest of the way up. Some were faced entirely in brick. I saw a long bank of newish artists’ studios, built to look like a series of Swiss chalets. I saw the high sinister wall of the old prison. What a neighborhood! I breathed a sigh of relief as we turned down a smaller street, approaching the gentler, more abbey-like wall of the Cochin hospital, the garden and graceful dome of the Observatoire.

If that was the Observatoire, then we weren’t actually that far from the Luxembourg Gardens, but the quarter still had a lost look, its smaller streets squeezed between noisy boulevards and the walled complexes of hospital and prison. Mixed into the street of apartments facing the Cochin Hospital, I even saw one or two buildings that could have been warehouses.

At first glace, 7 rue Méchain looked like a respectable but low-rent apartment building, plain-faced and shuttered. The 19th-century doorway, however, had been ripped out and replaced with a Deco one, an aperture limned only in sleek subtle curves. Two stained glass windows, round as eyes, looked out from either side of the door, each patterned with overlapping rectangles of black, white, and gray. The floor of the foyer was carved into a spare Mondrian grid of slate and inset doormatting. “I designed this entrance, and then the house in the cour is all mine,” Tamara explained.

I followed her through the shallow foyer, across a good-sized courtyard, and into a small back building. Inside, I entered a small palace of velvet, zinc, and glass: a wide, shallow room bathed in light from windows facing both the courtyard in front and a garden in back. “Northern light,” I noted grudgingly.

“All I could ever want,” Tamara said. “And set so far back I get no shadow from the building in front.”

A black staircase, glossy as lacquer, swooped up one wall toward a mezzanine that extended over the back half of the house. We stood in the high-ceilinged front half: a cold bright room we shared with only an easel and a couch. The lower-ceilinged half housed a sleek chrome-and-gray living-room set and a long dining table, on which sat two huge vases of calla lilies, lit from beneath by electric bulbs.

“Nice place.”

While I was in Paris, in addition to on-the-ground research, I kept up my reading and internet research as well. One day, while doing an online search to find out how much a houseboat might have cost in late 1920s/early 1930s Paris, I accidentally discovered my villain, Violette Morris.   My description in The Last Nude hews closely to Morris’s real biography: “A professional soccer player, she had also become the French national champion boxer in 1923, after defeating a series of male opponents. Her hobbies included motorcycle racing, auto racing, and airplane racing, and her lovers, it was rumored, included women as well as men.” Morris, who regularly cross-dressed as a man, got a double mastectomy in order to fit into her racecar more easily, which provoked so much revulsion in her boyfriend at the time that he fed the names of her female lovers to the press, which resulted in her having her membership in the French amateur athletic league revoked. This meant she couldn’t participate in the Olympics. Angry, Morris turned on France, and became, as I relate in my novel, a Nazi collaborator. “She went to the ’36 Olympics in Berlin as Hitler’s personal guest. Before the invasion, she gave Germany the plans to the Maginot Line, and she taught them how to destroy French tanks. During the Occupation, she spied on the Resistance, and she turned in Jews…When the war was over, the Resistance shot her in the head.” Learning Violette Morris’s story was one of those magical truth-is-stranger-than-fiction experiences that make all the lonely hours and blind alleys of the research process worthwhile.

One last “research surprise,” one that occurred after I came home from Paris, during the rewriting process, was my experience visiting Jill Anderson’s dressmaking atelier in the East Village. In a longer version of this novel, we get to watch Rafaela open her own dress shop with fellow students from couture school. Getting to spend a few hours in the workshop where all my favorite clothes are made was a profoundly rich experience, both in terms of the wealth of detail it offered for my novel (Jill keeps her patterns locked in a closet! Pushes a rotary cutter through ten layers of fabric at a time! Keeps buttons in jars affixed by their lids to the underside, rather than the top of, their shelves!) and in terms of the quiet, focused way that time passed as Jill and her two assistants worked. It reminded me of the way time passes while I’m writing, or, because I was watching rather than acting, the way time would pass when I modeled for a painter girlfriend many years ago. Tamara is not based on my long-ago girlfriend, but Tamara’s dog is based on her dog.

JEH: How well did the book sell in Europe?

Ellis Avery: It was translated into Polish and Romanian, and seems to have done well.

JEH: How was it to have such a thoughtful and enthusiastic overall response to your novel?

Ellis Avery: Immensely gratifying!  And not a given in my experience with publishing, so I’m all the more grateful.

JEH: I read your memoir of 9/11 called The Smoke Week which took me far into the NY tragedy.  I used to work in the Towers when I was very young.  The book is quiet and nuanced and simple  Why did you take the approach that you did?

Ellis Avery: Thank you for the lovely description.  I didn’t feel obliged to state the official news or take an ideological position.  I was certain that readers of the future would be able to find out anything they wanted about the 9/11 tragedy, both news-wise and in terms of the opinions that circulated after the attacks.  What they might not know was how ordinary people lived through the attacks and the weird, suspended, heartbroken days that followed– the millions of us New Yorkers who didn’t lose anyone personally but were nonetheless devastated.

JEH: Tell us a little about your first novel The Teahouse Fire, still on my bedside table of books-to-be-savoured.

Ellis Avery: Think Japanese Tea Ceremony and you probably picture a willowy kimono-clad woman swishing across a tatami floor. This was my image when I began five years of weekly lessons in tea ceremony, an art form that is part ritual dance, part sacramental meal, part opportunity to handle and use priceless antiques.

One question, however, confronted me early in my studies: why were all the historical tea people men, when almost all my fellow tea students were women? Until recently in its four-hundred-plus-year history, I learned, the Way of Tea was in fact the province of warriors and well-off men, with women welcome infrequently, and often expressly forbidden. Doing research, I discovered one of the two heroines of my first novel, The Teahouse Fire: a woman named Yukako.

Based on a real 19th century figure, my fictional Yukako is the daughter of Kyoto’s most prominent tea ceremony family, whose luck plummets as Japan enters a period of intense Westernization. Yukako, like her historical counterpart, changes the fate of tea ceremony in the 1880s by getting it included in the curriculum of the newly formed girls’ schools, breaking down the barriers to a male-centered discipline and shrewdly weathering the sudden devaluation of Japan’s traditional arts.

As much as The Teahouse Fire is Yukako’s story, it is also the story of its narrator, Aurelia, a nine-year-old American girl Yukako takes under her wing. The orphaned child of missionaries, Aurelia is Yukako’s first student, embraced and rejected as modernizing Japan embraces and rejects an era of radical change.

JEH: What are you current projects?

Ellis Avery: My memoir, The Family Tooth, is coming out as a zine this month and as an e-book in February of next year:  The Family Tooth

Six months after my mother’s death, in 2012, I was diagnosed with a rare uterine cancer: I was given a hysterectomy and a 26% chance of five-year survival. Going off my arthritis drugs seems to have kept the cancer from returning, but by the beginning of 2013, I was stuck in a mobility scooter, crippled by an autoimmune condition called Reiter’s Syndrome.  The Family Tooth is a cancer story sandwiched inside a grief-and-food memoir, but more than that, it’s a story of hope and, ultimately, triumph: it’s an account of the medical and psychological sleuthing that enabled me, a year later, to walk again.

The thread that pulls this book of essays together is food, both in terms of the dietary changes that helped me out of the scooter and onto my feet, and in the way I came to recognize my mother’s appetite in my own. At the time of her death, I was not sympathetic to my mother’s alcoholism. Over the course of the year that followed, as I learned both that I could control my arthritic pain through diet and that not eating what I wanted (day after day, eleven hundred meals a year) was perhaps the hardest thing I’d ever done, I discovered a deeper compassion for my mother than I had previously imagined.

JEH: What’s next?

Ellis Avery: After writing a memoir about grief and illness, I’m treating myself to a pair of projects for adults who love YA fiction.  One is loosely based on the Fukushima disaster, but with a dragon instead of a nuclear reactor.  The other is– in part– about how cats came up with their own internet long before we did.  Stay tuned!

JEH: Do you, in the meantime, have any shorter work that my readers might puruse to whet their whistles?

I have three essays selected from The Family Tooth available through the Kindle Singles program on Amazon:

The Sapphire and The Tooth
A jeweler with a law degree, for decades Elaine Solari Atwood fought crippling arthritis with hard liquor until she died of a brain aneurysm at sixty-eight, leaving two daughters in their thirties and a lifetime’s worth of unfinished business. Forced as a child to play nanny to five siblings, she grew up to become a mother who loved her girls as tenderly as her stifled pain and anger allowed. By way of telling the story of selling her mother’s jewelry in New York’s Diamond District, The Sapphire and the Tooth offers a searing portrait of alcoholism and difficult love.

On Fear
After three years on a drug called Humira, prescribed for a crippling autoimmune condition, I was diagnosed in 2012 with leiomyosarcoma, a rare uterine cancer, and given a 26% chance of five-year survival. When I learned that there was no evidence to show that the radiation and chemo I was offered would save my life, I turned down treatment. But even brave decisions can be terrifying: suddenly, I had to learn how to cope with constant fear – that I’d made the wrong choice, that my doctors would call with bad news, that my time was limited. On Fear, the second essay in a series on Kindle Singles, tells the story of how I learned to live one moment at a time, from meditating to singing in the shower to befriending a black cat named Fumiko. While most readers will never face leiomyosarcoma, the essay offers hard-won wisdom, tools, and hope.

Goodbye, Ruby
Getting one’s first period is a rite of passage, but one’s last period? Most women don’t know it at the time. I mark this unusual milestone in an essay about undergoing a hysterectomy at the age of 39 after being diagnosed with a rare uterine cancer. A wrenching account of my attempt to keep an ovary—and with it the semblance of life before cancer–Goodbye, Ruby offers a fond and funny farewell to a quarter-century of menstruation. Of course it’s also about beauty, fertility, aging, sex, my mother, Hilary Mantel, and Michelle Tea.

Other essays from The Family Tooth can be found on Buzzfeed and The Morning News:

Buzzfeed

The Morning News 1

The Morning News 2

 

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) BELIEVE THE VICTIM

This is a literary blog and exactly the place literary essays about domestic violence belong.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month in the US. November is Domestic Violence Awareness month in Canada.

S/he/they don’t have to be hitting you for you to be a victim; abuse happens with gaslighting, lying, cheating, yelling, sexual abuse, dehumanizing you, demeaning you, threatening you, throwing things, frightening you/the children. This month and next, I ask everyone to remember that this is not just a heterosexual, able-bodied crime. The disabled are victims of violence at home at a much higher rate than are the able-bodied. Queers and trans people are frequent victims of violence both outside the household perpetrated by strangers, and inside it perpetrated by their intimate partners. If you want to read more about queer violence, I started a website to collect the pieces I could find about it at www.queerviolence.com.

Thank you, readers, for having the interests of victims at heart this month and next. It is your understanding that will make a difference. Thank you for educating yourselves.

All a household needs for domestic violence to occur is one partner who feels entitled and willing to batter. It’s not about the victim. It’s entirely caused by, about and the fault of the offender.

Why doesn’t she leave? S/he/they have told her that she’s crazy, she’s imagining things, it’s not that bad, s/he/they love her. Periodically, the violence ends and the loving relationship begins anew, refreshed and revitalized This pattern of violence broken by love broken by violence broken by love eventually twists a victim’s mind. She believes in the love. She hungers for it. She needs it. It’s the “real” relationship, after that. The violence is just something to be borne. This creates a psychological condition called trauma bonding. (In a hostage situation the same dynamic would be called Stockholm Syndrome.) When there’s violence, she would give anything, do anything, be anybody just to have the pendulum swing back to where her partner loves and approves of her again.

Kids are often caught in the crossfire and this is particularly grievous because they are observing behaviour that will make them feel “at home” as adults. They won’t know how to form healthy relationships with healthy people. If you can’t make yourself leave for yourself, make yourself leave on behalf of your children.

Call your local transition house because, there, you will have breathing room to think through your circumstances and to begin the process of healing and figuring out the next steps to your free future.

What can you do? Support resources helping battered women. Educate yourself on feminism and why it’s critical to everyone’s future. BELIEVE THE VICTIMS. If you like the offender, and you don’t like the victim, nevertheless, BELIEVE THE VICTIM.

Read Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

Below, I’ll link to literary essays on abuse. Please feel free to add the ones that have been important to you in the comments.

It Will Look Like a Sunset by Kelly Sundberg, Guernica, Best American Essays

Apology Not Accepted, a blog by Kelly Sundberg with guest essayists on the topic of IPV

(Stay tuned for a book on the topic by Kelly Sundberg in 2018.)

Using CNF to Teach the Realities of Intimate Partner Violence to First Responders: An Annotated Bibliography, by Christian Exoo, Assay Journal

The Story of My Fear Over Time, by Kelly Thompson, The Rumpus

Underwater, by Kelly Thompson, Manifest Station

I Understand Why Some Women Stay, by Virginia Mátir, xojane

The Mule Deer, by Debbie Weingarten, Vela

On Car Accidents and Second Wives, by Mandy Rose, Apology Not Accepted

Never Say I Didn’t Bring You Flowers, by Jane Eaton Hamilton, Apology Not Accepted, Full Grown People, notable in Best American Essays

 

 

Skinning the Rabbit, The Sun Magazine

I got home from a trip, picked up my mail and found my contributor copies of the July 2017 issue of The Sun Magazine (along with the welcome cheque). A couple of weeks ago, I went to add The Sun to my list of places I’ve published, and it was already there. I was puzzled; I didn’t remember having already added it. But then I explored a little further, realized I’d published there a long time ago, and sought out the issue, the cover of which is above. I was bemused to find that the subject matter was quite similar to the recent essay since I haven’t written about my childhood in ages.

Here’s that original and second-person story, which was still on my desktop: Hearts

My piece this time around is called Skinning the Rabbit. I explored my relationship with my father through our collision about animal welfare, and through the bullying I experienced when I got alopecia totalis at six. I hope you like it. Tell me if you do, k? It’s not online, but you can find The Sun almost anywhere that carries literate magazines, even in Canada.

I am proud to have had essays in the NY Times and The Sun this year.

The Sun November 1993

 

 

 

 

A Happy Announcement and a Submission Opportunity

I’m delighted to be one of the editors of the new Many Gendered Mothers!

shirleyjacksonbyjeh2016

Shirley Jackson by Jane Eaton Hamilton 2016

From the site description:

“many gendered mothers is a project on literary influence featuring short essays by writers (of any/all genders) on the women, femme, trans, and non-binary writers who have influenced them, as a direct or indirect literary forebear.

This project is directly inspired by the American website Literary Mothers (http://literarymothers-blog.tumblr.com/), created by editor Nadxieli Nieto and managing editor Nina Puro. While we hope that Literary Mothers might eventually return to posting new pieces, this site was created as an extension and furthering of their project (in homage, if you will), and not meant as any kind of replacement.

Basically: which female ,femme, trans or non-binary writer(s) made you feel like there was room in the world for you and your artistic temperament, or opened up your understanding of what was possible, either as a writer or a human or both? Perhaps you were closely mentored by a particular writer or editor, or perhaps their work was highly influential, even if not in the most obvious ways.”

The other editors are: Adèle Barclay, Natalee Caple, Klara du Plessis, Sonnet L’Abbé, rob mclennan, Hazel MillAr, Jacqueline Valencia + Erin Wunker. Please submit your short essays to me, to them, or directly to neitherliterary@gmail.com.

Many Gendered Mothers

National Coming Out Day

JEH nude 2016

painting Jane Eaton Hamilton 2016

It’s National Coming Out day. If you’re feel safe and protected enough in your circumstances to do so, I hope you’ll join us as out and proud people! It can be uplifting, unnerving, relieving, and thrilling to take that step.

Many, many of my short stories are queer, as are many, many of my poems and my novel WEEKEND. Here are some of my short fictions specifically about coming out:

Smiley, by Jane Eaton Hamilton, not yet collected: A young man in Cape Town works up his courage to tell his mother he’s trans.

Hunger, by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A young runaway tries to escape the clutches of her older Vancouver lover.

Territory, by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A woman leaves her husband for another woman.

Kiss Me or Something by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A butch partners tries to get pregnant with her sometimes-straight woman partner.

I hope you’ll help me identify more short stories by other authors which celebrate coming out by responding to this post!

Here are the responses so far:

“Angel” by Elise Levine

“This is What You Get” by Benjamin Alire Saenz

“Ashes” by Nancy Jo Cullen

“From the Gloria Stories” by Rocky Gamez

“No Bikini” by Ivan Coyote

“My Marriage to Vengeance,” by David Leavitt

“Brokeback Mountain,” by Annie Proulx

“Smiley” by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Her Thighs” by Dorothy Allison

“Fisherman” by Nalo Hopkinson

“Am I Blue” by Bruce Coville

“A Dad Called Mom” by Anne Fleming

“Skin” by Racquel Goodison

“Aye and Gomorrah” by Samuel Delaney

 

 

Junot Díaz in conversation

I urge you to read this conversation VOX has with Junot Díaz:

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“We’re in a period of rabid privatization, and a period where it seems that people believe all specific and social functions, and all specific and social spaces and institutes, should be run like corporations, and that there are no such things as common goods; everything is a site of profit extraction. Given that context, for me, that’s where we’ve got to begin these questions: by sketching out the forces — political, economic, and social — which are distorting our ability to have a reasonable conversation.

“In a universe where everything is governed by the logic of market, that’s not a conversation about the importance of the humanities. It’s already so prejudiced that you can’t even have a fair hearing. That’s primarily what’s happening when we attempt to think in a future-looking way about the humanities, is that the idiom of the culture is so prejudiced against life-specific values, like social and common good. And without those, the appeal that we make about the humanities — it’s not that they don’t even land; there’s no space, in a society that’s entirely market-driven, to have a reasonable creative discussion about where the humanities are.”

VOX

Here are a couple more reader reviews of WEEKEND

funny, thought-provoking read

I am finding it difficult to fully express how profoundly I was affected by this novel. A powerful, sexy, haunting, funny, thought-provoking read. Beautifully written. I am unable to get these people, their lives, the lake they spent the weekend at….any of it…out of my mind. A novel that both took me to another place, but also brought new insight to my own life.

By Jane on Aug. 26 2016 on Amazon.ca
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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I feel like I know these people.
I loved the characters in this book. They drew me into the story so thoroughly, and they felt so real. When I was finished with the book, I wanted to go find them and friend them on Facebook so I could keep up with their stories.
July 21 2016
By Janice Erlbaum Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

Do the arts matter?

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In Madeleine L’Engle’s swiftly tilting planet, how could the arts matter? How could putting words into a computer have any impact at all? And do we even write to have impact, or do we write to make the inchoate tangible? Do we write to remember and forget? Do we write to be counted? Do we write to communicate and explicate and read as antidote? Do we read to comprehend? Do we read to learn?

Marsha Lederman reports from the Globe and Mail.

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The WEEKEND Curve

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Julie R Enszer generously reviews WEEKEND for Curve Magazine:

‘Weekend’ By Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Stunningly beautiful.”

“This is a book I have been waiting to read. It is a book I enjoyed every single minute of reading. It is a book I want to share with everyone. I commend Weekend. This is a story of how we live our queer lesbian lives now. Do not miss it.”

Annie Proulx: ‘I’ve had a life. I see how slippery things can be’

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On Annie Proulx by Lucy Rock in the Guardian. Annie Proulx published her first novel in her 50s.

Fair play: can literary festivals pay their way?

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Here’s an issue near and dear to my heart. With nearly everyone around the publishing industry earning at least a piddling wage, from the guy transporting the books to your shop to the guy looking after your plumbing to the editor, guess who still isn’t?

The writer.

Writers toil on a hope that ten percent of the proceeds from sales of their books will pay their mortgage, feed their babies, and keep them in licorice. With books sometimes coming out as infrequently as once a decade, with a best seller in Canada selling only 5000 copies, you can do the math yourself.

It’s appalling that publishing systems are in place to look after everyone all along the chain except for the actual lynchpin of the entire operation.

Now here comes Alex Clark talking about the money for writers at literary festivals. “Pullman’s standpoint was unequivocal: “A festival pays the people who supply the marquees, it pays the printers who print the brochure, it pays the rent for the lecture halls and other places, it pays the people who run the administration and the publicity, it pays for the electricity it uses, it pays for the drinks and dinners it lays on: why is it that the authors, the very people at the centre of the whole thing, the only reason customers come along and buy their tickets in the first place, are the only ones who are expected to work for nothing?”

Fair Play

Pay the Fucking Writer–and not at 30 year old Canada Council rates, either

It bears remembering that you have a duty and an obligation to pay professional rates and expenses for professional appearances.

The “death by exposure” climate has always bothered me. I remember one bookstore which actually demanded, after I read for them, that I return my meagre Canada Council reading fee back to them.

And while we’re on the topic, Canada Council rates are not what you should be paying, folks. Multiply it.

You wouldn’t ask a dentist, a lawyer, an accountant to work for free. If you have paid anyone–and that includes your salary–but you can’t pay us a living wage, then you need to shut your event down.

Think of what goes in to a shared reading. The writing itself may have taken years, or months, or weeks. Certainly it will take anywhere from an hour to several hours to decide what to read, to time it properly, to practice its delivery, to figure out performance clothing etc. With travel, the event itself will take probably five or six hours for the writer; you may think you should only pay for the writer’s twenty minutes on stage, but that writer, courtesy demands, must appear early and stay through the evening through the other readers. Additionally, that writer may also have to pay for a babysitter, gas, parking, and/or a meal.

Harlan Ellison

Writers: Value Yourself and Your Work

Joyland: Would You Like a Little Gramma on Those?

JEHGinko

falling ginkos, Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2015, pastel painting

I am pleased and proud to have this story up on Joyland Vancouver. Thank you, Kathryn Mockler!

Tip: Joyland’s site will put the masthead over the text unless you make your viewing window half-width.

Joyland

 

 

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Weekend is out! A real, physical objet!

JEH Weekend is here!

JEH with the artifact itself… May 2016

launch, Vancouver, June 6 Historic Joy Kogawa House 7 pm

Publication Day!

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Always an exciting day for a writer–publication day when we first see our new book! WEEKEND is out! I’m so happy to be launching at Historic Joy Kogawa House, where I’ll be writer-in-residence, on June 6. My special guest is author Anne Fleming and, yes, their new poetry book POEMW and their banjo, which I hear will be plunking out some campfire songs. Sharpen your marshmallow sticks, kids. Price of admission is a ghost story. Here’s hoping somebody will tell one about the ghosts of frogs we pithed in high school!

Brick Books, the sung heroes of Canpoetics

Celebrating Canadian Poets at the celebrated Brick Books is coming to an end, but I’ll bet if you wrote something about a Canadian poet–a line, a paragraph, a review, an anecdote–Kitty Lewis, the general manager, would still welcome it. You don’t have to be Canadian, but the poet you mention does.

brick.books@sympatico.ca

Brick Books

Right now, Brick Books is celebrating the release of Barry Dempster’s 15th book of poetry called DISTURBING THE BUDDHA. See an interview here.

“My Writing Day: Anne Enright”

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My Writing Day by Anne Enright at the Guardian.

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