Tag Archives: #readUP

Finalist, National Book Awards! (Philippines)

The National Book Development Council of the Philippines and the Manila Critics Circle have just announced finalists for the National Book Awards of the Philippines.

Among the finalists in the History category is Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850–1945 by Daniel F. Doeppers, emeritus professor of Geography and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Daniel Doeppers

The University of Wisconsin Press published the book in 2016 in the series New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies, which UWP publishes in collaboration with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at UW-Madison. The book focuses on how Manila has historically dealt with the formidable challenge of getting food, water, and services to millions of residents, a problem that is increasingly pressing for policy makers, agencies, and businesses who manage food, water, and services for the world’s megacities.

Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet of the Australian National University has called Doepper’s work “outstanding, wide-ranging scholarship that shines in every chapter. He crafts a thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis of provisioning Manila and comparable cities. This is a sterling example of how to investigate and analyze such questions, not only for other parts of the Philippines but elsewhere in Southeast Asia and beyond.”

UWP licensed a Philippine edition for the book to Ateneo de Manila University Press, which submitted Doepper’s book for the award competition. Winners will be announced in the coming months.

Q&A with a Self-Made Woman

Today, the University of Wisconsin Press publishes SELF-MADE WOMAN, the story of one individual’s intense struggle to accept her true self. In this post, Denise DuBois (who grew up as Dennis Dubis in 1960s Milwaukee) answers some questions about her book and gender today.

1. Was there one defining moment that inspired you to write Self-Made Woman?

It was one defining place that inspired me to write my story. The island of Kauai. I had rented a little private studio on the north shore, just off this epic beach in a place called Haena, which means “wilderness” in Hawaiian. There’s something magical about Kauai. I really suspect that there’s more oxygen in the air out there in the middle of the Pacific, no kidding, and more oxygen for the brain means increased alertness and creativity. I wrote the entire 650- page manuscript, every word, on Kauai from 2010 to 2014. I felt like Mozart composing a symphony at my keyboard, which I likened to a piano. I went into the”zone” every afternoon. That was so wonderful!

2. What was an experience you absolutely knew had to be in this book?

It’s just as hard for me to answer this question as it was for me to write about it in the book. Being honest with myself. Not being afraid to put it all out there on the page for the reader. There were things that happened to me in life that just had to be told, much of it self-inflicted. It was painful for me to recount those experiences and put that into writing. Many times during the writing of my book, I broke down in front of my screen, just devastated to be living this all over again. It was like I was there all over again. Very hard to write, but I always rallied. Kauai had a way of refreshing me.

3. How did you approach writing your memoir? Were there parts that were harder to write than others?

My approach was straightforward. It was all in my head, all 650 pages. Each day I worked off a yellow legal pad that I had next to my desktop. It was full of handwritten notes from the previous day of writing and ideas that popped into my head when I went running and  swimming every morning. I got up at 4:30 am everyday.  I wrote from noon to 6 pm, in bed by 9 pm, without fail. There were excruciatingly painful moments of writing, and other parts that were a refreshing relief to write, but in either case I knew early on in the writing process that I was onto something really good, even with the difficult stories. My story had to be told.

My approach was straight forward. It was all in my head. All 650 pages. Click To Tweet

4. Do you think the struggles you overcame were necessary to make you who you are today?

We all have struggles to overcome in life. Mine were no different than anyone else’s. But, I did come close to death many times and was at the door. Being that close to death does, in my humble opinion, have something to do with who I am today. I am a survivor, and I am thankful that I still have my mind intact and wonderful physical health so that I’ve been able to convey my life story. In that sense, it made me who I am today.

5. What kept you going through it all? Was there a specific dream or thought that you held on to?

In the deepest, darkest moments of my life, most specifically when my crystal meth addictions bubbled up like a witch’s brew from hell, when all seemed lost and hopeless, when my moments of complete and utter loneliness surrounded me, I just always thought,  I can pull out of this somehow and not lose faith in myself. Many times I felt so lost that it seemed I could never survive, but I did. For those who find themselves in that horrible place, just know that you can survive, too.

6. “The American Dream” has undoubtedly changed over the years. Would you say your story is your personal American Dream? Does everyone have a different conception of the American Dream, or is there a common thread that unites us?

“Patience, young grasshopper,” said the Master in Kung Fu. I suspect that has always been my own personal American Dream. If you wait for something long enough it will come to you, if you want it badly enough (and I wanted this book very badly for many years), it will come to you. Humanity is the common theme that unites us all. We don’t need countries for that. 100,000 years ago Humanity walked out of the African Savannah and colonized the world for better or worse. I still have faith in Humanity that it’s for the better. I will never lose that faith.

I still have faith in Humanity that it’s for the better. I will never lose that faith. Click To Tweet

7. How do you feel people today view gender nonconformity? Is it getting easier to re-identify oneself or are there more issues many of us aren’t even aware of?

Gender nonconformity has become very fluid and is changing right before our eyes, nationwide. Oregon is now the first state to allow a third gender option on driver’s licenses. People who identify as gender nonbinary—neither male nor female—can list their sex as “X” instead of “F” or “M.” This is a huge win for the LGBTQ community as some people gravitated towards this option and other states are expected to follow very soon. Many universities across the country already have this in place on their application forms too. Such a change from when I transitioned in 2003!

8. What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with how to identify?

Be true to yourself, accept yourself, learn to love yourself first, so that you can learn to love others! Talk to your friends about this, talk to your family, but only if they are accepting of you. Do not isolate yourself as I did. Do not feel ashamed as I did. Do not do crystal as I did, do not drink as I did, do not take other drugs as I did. Escape from all that and save yourself a boatload of misery. I did drugs and alcohol to numb my true self, to run away from my true self, and to forget about my true self. Just remember, in the end you can never run away from who you truly are, from your true self.

Denise Chanterelle DuBois is an actress, environmentalist, and businesswoman. A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she lives in Portland, Oregon.

Author’s website: https://selfmadewomanbook.com/

Book trailer for Self-Made Woman.

Reading African American Autobiography

Lamore-Reading-African-American-Autobiography-2016-c

Eric Lamore, editor of Reading African American Autobiography: Twenty-First-Century Contexts and Criticism, spoke with us about why it’s necessary to study overlooked texts to gain deep insight into African American life narratives. His book is published today in the Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography series. 

What influence do you think that President Obama has had upon readers and writers of African American autobiography?

In putting together this collection of eleven essays on African American autobiography, I was particularly interested in Robert B. Stepto’s claim that scholars of African American literature need to rethink this canon because the President of the United

1995 edition

1995 edition

States for the last eight years is himself an African American writer. In his book, A Home Elsewhere: Reading African American Classics in the Age of Obama, Stepto compares relevant parts from Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, with foundational literary texts, some of which are autobiographies. I titled my introduction “African American Autobiography in the Age of Obama” to emphasize this connection.

2004 edition

2004 edition

This election season, I went back and reread Obama’s Dreams, and I was struck by the President’s comments on reading. He wrote in the preface to the 2004 edition of his memoir that he wanted to revise parts of his book, because he would have told his life story differently had he written it later in his life. But, he commented that his 1995 memoir would be read differently as republished in a post-911 world, so he was quite aware of the relationship between text, reader, and context. Part of Obama’s contribution to the study of African American life narratives in the twenty-first century is this important point about the need to reread older life narratives, because cultural and political landscapes continue to change in the United States and around the world. One could reread pertinent African American life narratives from the past, for example, in the context of the #blacklivesmatter movement.

I think Obama’s Dreams also laid an important textual foundation for African American life narrators in the twenty-first century. Though Dreams was first published in 1995, Obama’s explorations of the biracial self, and his search for people and places (including outside the United States) that impacted his constructions of self, are found in much of twenty-first-century African American life writing. The last four essays in Reading African American Autobiography explore these themes. There are striking parallels between Obama’s Dreams and twenty-first-century African American life writing that scholars need to explore further.

How might future scholarship build on the essays in this volume?

The contributors and I collectively make the case that reading these life narratives in the twenty-first century requires scholars to consider a wide array of texts and a host of critical approaches. We also directly address ways that innovative critical frameworks, such as ecocriticism or queer theory, allow scholars to reread seminal life stories from our past in new ways.

Some of the contributors reclaim overlooked texts and lives, including a criminal confession camera manpublished on a broadside in the late eighteenth century, an abridged edition of Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography published for children and adolescent readers in nineteenth-century New York, an uplift narrative published after the Civil War that contains important photographs, and autobiographical graphic narratives published in the late twentieth century. The slave narratives published in the antebellum period still remain very important, of course, but my book makes the case that scholars need to spend more time analyzing other overlooked texts and lives. More work needs to be done to recover neglected aspects of African American lives and to dig into texts that have not received adequate critical attention.

FoxyWe also call for studying a wider range of genres. Scholars today can look at the presentation of self in blogs, YouTube posts, graphic narratives, films, and photography, to name just a few genres. The intersection of genealogy and genetics, too, has produced all kinds of new information on African American lives that we need to consider. The printed page is still important, but these other channels make it clear that African American life narrators are telling their stories and exploring the self in ways beyond the writing of a memoir. All these varied explorations have expanded the canon of African American life narrative in dramatic ways. There is no doubt that the field must and will become more interdisciplinary.

In the book, we also look at celebrity life writing in the twenty-first-century. Almost all examples of this in the African American life narrative canon are collaborative projects. It would be fruitful to study that process, especially if there is documentation (transcribed interviews, recordings, and the like) mapping how the celebrity and the collaborating writer worked together.

In the chapter that you contributed to this collection about Olaudah Equiano, you draw on the history of books and publishing to shed light on the complex textual histories of the African American autobiographical tradition. 

Yes, I’ve been influenced by scholarship on early black Atlantic literature and book history. I’veEquiano collage written here about Abigail Mott’s 1829 abridged edition of Equiano’s autobiography. Usually, Equiano is understood as one of the main individuals of African descent involved in the political movement against the slave trade in 1780s Great Britain. The point of my chapter is that there is a whole different story on Equiano if you look closely at the several different editions of his autobiography that were published in the United States, both during his lifetime and following his death. Mott’s 1829 edition, published thirty-two years after Equiano’s death, was aimed at students in the New York African Free School. It is the first edition of Equiano’s autobiography I know of that was edited specifically for young African American readers in the United States.

Mott’s abridged edition is a perfect example of what I referred to earlier as an overlooked text. By looking at more than one edition, we can discover that Equiano’s autobiography was edited and read in the United States differently from editions published in Great Britain. These differences tell us a great deal about how editors and book publishers packaged Equiano’s life in specific ways for their readers. Mott’s edition shows us one of the points where Equiano’s autobiography entered the African American canon (though he clearly viewed himself as an Afro-British subject). Studying abridged, unauthorized, and posthumous editions of early black Atlantic life writing reveals a great deal about the changing histories and contexts of works that shaped the beginnings of the African American life writing tradition.

Lamore-Eric-2016-cEric D. Lamore is an associate professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. He is the editor of Teaching Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative: Pedagogical Strategies and New Perspectives and coeditor of New Essays on Phillis Wheatley.

AIDS Readings

December 1 was World AIDS Day. This year, the world marked the 35th anniversary of the first published reports of what would come to be known as HIV/AIDS. This disease has wrought enormous suffering and caused more than 35 million deaths. The nine books that follow are testimony to that devastation.

David Caron
The deluge of metaphors triggered in 1981 in France by the first public reports of what would turn out to be the AIDS epidemic spread with far greater speed and efficiency than the virus itself.
“Literary and cultural analysis come together here as Caron casts brilliant light on the disastrously inadequate public response to the AIDS pandemic in France. . . . He shows how literature supplied the communitarian voice that would otherwise have been lacking.”—Ross Chambers, author of Facing It: AIDS Diaries and the Death of the Author
David Gere
“Anyone interested in dance or in gay culture or in art and politics should, as I did, find this a fascinating book, impossible to put down.”—Sally Banes, editor of Reinventing Dance in the 1960s
Edited by Edmund White
In Cooperation with the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS
“A poignant reminder of the devastating impact of the AIDS epidemic on the arts.”—Library Journal
“A searing, and often bitingly funny collection of personal essays by almost two dozen writers—John Berendt, Brad Gooch, Allan Gurganus, and Sarah Schulman among them—Loss within Loss remembers over twenty creative artists lost to AIDS.”— The Advocate
Severino J. Albuquerque
Co-winner of the 2004 Roberto Reis BRASA Book Award
 “Albuquerque’s work . . . provides an archaeology of theatrical representations of homosexuality in Brazil, an alternative history of Brazilian theater from the margins, a critical analysis of canonical and non-canonical plays infused with the insights of feminist and queer theory, as well as a history of the representation of AIDS in Brazilian culture.”—Fernando Arenas, University of Minnesota
Michael Schiavi
The biography of gay-rights giant Vito Russo, the man who wrote The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, commonly regarded as the foundational text of gay and lesbian film studies. A founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and cofounder of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), Russo lived at the center of the most important gay cultural turning points in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
 Clifford Chase
An AIDS memoir on the power and limitations of family love.
“As Chase examines his life in language that is simple yet powerful, he is never less than brutally honest—especially with himself.”—Newsweek
Jennifer Anne Moses
Moses left behind a comfortable life in the upper echelons of East Coast Jewish society to move with her husband and children to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Searching for connection to her surroundings, she decided to volunteer at an AIDS hospice. But as she encountered a culture populated by French Catholics and Evangelical Christians, African Americans and Cajuns, altruistic nurses and nuns, ex-cons, street-walkers, impoverished AIDS patients, and healers of all stripes, she found she had embarked on an unexpected journey of profound self-discovery.
G. Thomas Couser    Foreword by Nancy Mairs
A provocative look at writing by and about people with illness or disability—in particular HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, deafness, and paralysis—who challenge the stigmas attached to their conditions by telling their lives in their own ways and on their own terms.
Lesléa Newman
“Although pain plays a part in this volume, many of the tales celebrate with warmth and good humor the courageous maintenance of the Jewish tradition in radical relationships. . . . Contemporary characters confront both timely issues, like AIDS, and eternal ones, such as a lovers’ quarrel or a mother-daughter misunderstanding.”—Publishers Weekly

UNIVERSITY PRESS WEEK 2016! THURSDAY BLOG TOUR: THROWBACK TO THE FUTURE

Throwback to the Future

On Day Four of University Press Week, visit these blog sites that highlight the past and future of university press publishing.

Yale University Press on mass media and the global village

Indiana University Press on Indiana’s Bicentennial Bookshelf

Seminary Co-op Bookstores reproduces their Fall 1983 newsletter

University of Michigan Press  introduce two major projects: a digital archaeology monograph about excavating a Roman city, built on a video game platform;  and a new digital publishing platform for information and data in multiple forms.

IPR License introduces its work as a fully transactional rights and licensing online marketplace

Columbia University Press on the South Asia Across the Disciplines series, a Mellon-funded collaborative project of Columbia University Press, the University of Chicago Press, and the University of California Press

University of Toronto Press Journals looks back and forward at online publishing platforms for journals

Also, plan to watch this event on Friday!

Scholars and Editors on Social Media
YouTube Live   Friday, November 18, 12PM ET
Communities of scholars and editors have always been essential to the work of university presses. Today these communities often form and find each other via social media. An AAUP Art of Acquisitions Hangout brings together editors and scholars to explore this. Watch the livestream >

And view an impressive gallery of university presses collaborating with partners to form communities.

 

Why write a novel instead of a memoir?

Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of A Thin Bright Line, explains why a novel is the best way to honor the true story of her aunt and namesake, providing a glimpse of the woman behind her accomplishments. 

The line between fiction and memoir has been blurred in recent years, putting many memoirists on the defense about the role of imagination in their books. How much of a story should be supported by documentation? How much creativity is fair game in memoir storytelling? Is it okay to shift timeframes or make up dialogue, and still call a book “nonfiction”?

I could have called my new novel, A Thin Bright Line, a memoir. The story, based on ten years in the life of my aunt and namesake, Lucybelle Bledsoe, is steeped in fact and eight years of research.

Almost exactly 50 years ago, on September 29, 1966, Lucybelle Bledsoe, my dad’s sister and my namesake, died in an apartment fire. I was 9 years old.

As I grew up, I could only glean a few intriguing tidbits about my namesake. I knew that, like so many other women of her generation, she used the cover of WWII to shoot off the Arkansas farm and run off to New York. I knew she wanted to go to law school, and when my grandfather forbid it, she studied for and passed the bar exam anyway, without the benefit of law school. My mother told me that she was extremely independent, that even in the 50s and 60s, Lucybelle didn’t allow men to hold doors open for her.

One day, about 8 years ago, a friend suggested I Google my aunt. I didn’t expect to find anything. After all, Lucybelle was just a farm girl who died in 1966.

Lucybelle Bledsoe

Lucybelle Bledsoe

What I discovered astonished me. Lucybelle Bledsoe was a key player in a top secret, though recently declassified, Cold War project involving studying the properties of ice. The fear at the time was that the Russians would attack via the Arctic, and the government wanted to be ready. She became fluent in Russian as part of her work and had top security clearance.

Lucybelle Bledsoe was also a queer woman who carried on, despite the McCarthy Era fears about hiring gay people in highly classified positions. The work she and the Army Corps of Engineer scientists did from 1956 to 1966 included pulling the first ever complete ice cores from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. These cores are still being studied today and are considered the beginning of climate change research.

So why not write this story as a biography? Or a memoir of my time with my aunt?

It’s a very good question. I could have used the biography form to write about the convergence of the Cold War, the history of climate change research, and LGBT history. And certainly my novel embraces all these topics.

But what gripped me most about Lucybelle’s story was her courage, the way she made her way to Greenwich Village at the tender age of 20 in 1944, how she found women lovers, and how she managed a queer life in spite of the times, in spite of McCarthy, and while holding a highly classified government job. I am most interested in her heart, who she loved, how she found her strength and bravery.

14716171_10209163985610764_6157701390193291084_nSo I interviewed everyone who knew her. I found the name of her partner, the woman who mourned her death. I sent for her death certificate and even interviewed some firemen and neighbors who’d been on the scene of the fire that killed her. I interviewed her coworkers and childhood friends. I traveled to Arkansas, Chicago, New York, and New Hampshire and haunted all the places she’d lived.

A Thin Bright Line is based on a wealth of fact. But I imagined how she felt in between the facts. I imagined the words she spoke in her most intimate moments. I do believe that imagination, in concert with research, can reach a deeper truth.  

Bledsoe-Lucy-2016-cLucy Jane Bledsoe is an award-winning science writer and novelist for adults and children. Her many books include The Ice Cave: A Woman’s Adventures from the Mojave to the Antarctic, The Big Bang Symphony: A Novel of Antarctica, This Wild Silence, and Working Parts. A native of Portland, Oregon, she lives in Berkeley, California.

 

BOB SMITH: ON RELIGION, NATURE, LIFE WITH ALS, AND HIS NEW BOOK ‘TREEHAB’

Treehab book coverToday is the publication day of TREEHAB: TALES FROM MY NATURAL WILD LIFE by comedian and writer Bob Smith. Christopher Bram interviewed Bob Smith for the Lambda Literary Review, and we excerpt a portion of that interview here. Go to the Lambda site to read the full interview

BOB SMITH: ON RELIGION, LIFE WITH ALS, HIS LOVE OF NATURE, AND HIS NEW BOOK TREEHAB

by Christopher Bram   September 20, 2016  Lambda Literary Review

In the wider world of pop culture, Bob Smith is known as a stand-up comic. He was the first openly gay stand-up to appear on the Tonight Show. This was followed by many other appearances, including a special on HBO. He toured the country for several years in the groundbreaking comedy trio Funny Gay Males, performing with his buddies Jaffe Cohen and Danny McWilliams. His smart, wry, low-key comedy monologues, which you can see on YouTube, are unique in tone and full of memorable lines. Years before I met him, I often quoted (with attribution) such Smith bits as: “My high school had a Head Start program for homosexuals. It was called Drama Club.”

But in the smaller world of book readers, Smith is known as a writer. And he’s a wonderful writer. This should be no surprise. Good writing is full of the same attention to detail, originality, and surprise that powers the best stand-up comedy.

Smith’s newest book, Treehab: Tales from My Natural Wild Life, is another collection of essays but with a wider, richer range than his first books. It’s a glorious achievement, one that has already earned high praise from Kirkus, Stephen McCauley and Armistead Maupin. This is The Portable Bob Smith. There’s a lot of Smith to carry, but the book carries it with ease. We hear about his love of nature, of rocks and minerals, and Alaska. He tells stories of his career as a stand-up, as well as what it’s like to be the sperm-donor dad of two children. He talks about his dog Bozzie and his four best friends, the men he calls his “Nature Boys,” which includes his life partner Michael Zam. And he discusses his experience with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neuro-degenerative disease that affects the motor neurons. It can work quickly or slowly. Stephen Hawking has lived with it for years. Luckily for Bob its progress has been slow. He was diagnosed with ALS twelve years ago and has been able to keep working. The first thing he lost was his ability to speak. In the early stages he assured his stand-up audiences that his slurred speech didn’t mean he was drunk, only that he had a neurological disorder. When Bob could no longer perform, he concentrated on his writing.

I recently spoke with Bob about his new book. He’s temporarily lost the use of his hands and can no longer type. He now spells out words with his feet, pointing at letters on a Lucite board. But Bob expresses himself better with his feet than most people do with a fully functioning set of fingers. Also present was Bob’s best friend, Eddie Sarfaty, a brilliant stand-up comic and fine writer in his own right, author of Mental: Funny in the Head. Eddie is now working on his own novel.

Eddie knows Bob well enough that he can often finish his answers once Bob begins them, but not always. We sometimes put words into Bob’s mouth in what follows, but he always agreed with what we attributed to him.

Do you have a favorite essay [in the book]?

Bob Smith

Bob Smith

“Nature Boys.”

Eddie: Because boys and nature are his two favorite things.

It’s a wonderful portrait of your best friends, four gay men who are bound together by their love of wildlife and the great outdoors. You are full of love, Bob. You love so many things: birds, books, friends, your partner Michael, your two children, Maddie and Xander, Alaska, of course, and Henry David Thoreau. But you also have the healthy gift of anger. Who are some of the people and things that make you furious?

The Koch Brothers. Donald Trump. Climate change deniers. People who don’t believe in evolution. The Koch Brothers. (Again!) Soy milk. The NRA. Unfunny comedians.

Do you want to name a few unfunny comics?

(He smiles and shakes his head.)

Who are your heroes?

Thoreau. Mary Leakey. Verner Wilson [a Yupik storyteller and environmental activist from Alaska]. Lily Tomlin. W. C. Fields. Maude Lechner [the daughter of friends, who shaved her head to raise money for ALS when she was eleven].

Who are your favorite writers? You’re the man who turned me on to P. G. Wodehouse, for which I am eternally grateful. Who else do you love?

Evelyn Waugh. Dawn Powell. Charles Dickens. Stephen McCauley. Armistead Maupin. Jane Austen. Ronald Firbank. Tolkien.

That’s right. You’ve been a huge fan of Lord of the Rings from an early age.

(Bob nods eagerly.)

You have not been able to talk for five years now, but you can still type. Did this make writing harder for you?

No. Good writing is always difficult.

Did your words become more concentrated when you couldn’t say them aloud but had to save them for the written page?

Yes. I think my writing became better.

I think so too.

Eddie: I agree.

This is a stupid question, but how badly do you miss the laughter of a stand-up comedy audience? Is there an equivalent for a book writer?

(Bob sadly shakes his head.)

Eddie: But you get letters from your readers. Often for books years after you wrote them.

But it’s too bad I can’t do stand-up anymore. Because ALS is hilarious.

******************

Go to the Lambda site to read the full interview.

 

Lithium Jesus: Charles Monroe-Kane’s memoir of mania

Lithium Jesus: A Memoir of Mania is published today. It is perhaps not surprising that Charles Monroe-Kane, who has heard voices in his head since childhood, should find a career as an award-winning public radio producer and host. Here he talks with us about his life. He’s also chosen links to radio pieces that expand on this story.
Why did you write this memoir? I’d struggled all my life with mental illness—extreme mania, hearing voices—and it got misunderstood in many different ways. It got me in a lot of trouble, actually. And surprisingly, about five years ago, in my 40s, it got really bad. The voices were changing, and I was actually scared. I went to a therapist to talk about it and my therapist was like, “I can help you, but you need to slow down! Write this stuff down!” So I did.
And really, on a deeper level, I wrote the book because I was trying to figure out who the hell I am. Why did I take lithium, and why did I quit taking it and then start taking it again? And what were these voices, anyway? Was it mania? Brain chemistry awry? Angels? A gift? Was I just crazy? I never really thought this book could get published. I just wanted to tell the truth to myself so I could figure it all out.
 
Can you tell us about your book title, Lithium Jesus? Well, the lithium part is about the drugs. As for Jesus, I grew up in a rough-and-tumble steel mill town, and I was a very manic kid who was pretty out of control and hearing voices, which, of course, I didn’t tell anyone about. One day at an Evangelical/Pentecostal summer camp, I heard people speaking in tongues for the first time. It sounded, structurally, very similar to the voices in my head. That didn’t scare me; I actually found it comforting. I ended up becoming a born-again evangelical Christian because I felt a kindred spirit with those people. And once I got the guts, I also spoke out loud the voices that I’d been hearing for years. That led some people to think I was anointed by God, and when you’re 14, 15, 16 years old, and grownups see you that way, that’s one hell of an ego boost. It was also a good feeling to think that God was speaking through me. I thought the voices in my head were angels. It was beautiful at the time!
Later you made a huge leap from being a clean-cut Christian to a lifestyle that included lots of mind-bending drugs. Why? I think the reason was twofold. One, when I left the church and God, I was pretty lost. You can imagine, your whole life is wrapped up in Jesus, and when that’s gone but you still have these voices leftover . . . that was very difficult for me.
Second, I wanted to rebel. In high school I didn’t drink, smoke, or have sex. But I wanted to do those things! Of course, my introduction wasn’t beer: it was psychedelics. And that’s not surprising, really. I went from having charismatic experiences in church to taking psychedelics because it was familiar. I liked it. I wasn’t afraid of it. And I did a lot of it. Before it turned into abuse, it was a way for me to be both transcendent and an atheist. I still sincerely believe drugs are a way to do that. I just don’t think you should do lots and lots of them without a guide or some help.
This is your story, but you’re not always a hero in it. I think many people make themselves the goat of their own story because they’re embarrassed about their own past. It’s one or the other, right? We either exaggerate to belittle ourselves or to make ourselves great. If we were all a bit more honest, we’d find out we’re all both sinners and saints.
With this book, I said to myself, “I’m not going to judge the church. I’m not going to judge the people I did drugs with. I’m not going to judge anybody, including myself.” Because who wants to read that? Look, salvation is the journey, not the destination. So let’s quit denying how we got to the place we are at and just chill the fuck out. And keep on down the path, you know?
You’re a public radio producer. Did that influence the way you tell your life story in this book? Yeah, when I was staring at the blank screen, trying to “just write,” I didn’t even know where to start. But I knew I had about seventeen core stories I wanted to tell, stories that I’d told many times before. So I decided to treat the whole thing as a radio producer would.
Here in Madison, I usually go drinking on Thursday nights with my buddies at our local bar. I decided to start bringing my recorder to the bar, and I’d record myself telling these stories. Then I would go home and transcribe and edit them, and I’d put them in chronological order and add some connective tissue to make them work. A few more intimate pieces I recorded alone. So the whole thing’s very oral, because that’s what I know how to do. But I would advise other people to try this. You think you can’t write a book, but I bet you can talk! Then see what you get.
 [Listen to a radio interview with Charles Monroe-Kane about hearing voices, and talking to God, on the To the Best of Our Knowledge radio program.]
 Charles Monroe-Kane has won a Peabody Award for his work as a senior producer and interviewer for the program To the Best of Our Knowledge, broadcast on 220 public radio stations. He has reported for National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

When Kids Don’t Fit in a Pink or Blue Gender Box

My Son Wears Heels: One Mom’s Journey from Clueless to Kickass is published today by the University of Wisconsin Press. We talked with author Julie Tarney about some of her experiences raising a gender diverse child, why she wrote her memoir, and what she hopes other parents can learn from her story.

Tell us a little bit about yourself before we delve into the topics in the book. I’m a mom. I live in Brooklyn, New York. And I think I’m in a unique position. My child Harry is 26 years old now and a part of the LGBTQ community. I started this journey when he was two years old, when he told me, “Inside my head I’m a girl.” I know there are thousands of parents out there who are just beginning this journey now—right now—learning about and struggling with their child’s gender identity. I wrote this book as much to help change that experience for kids and the parents who worry about them, as to tell my own story.

What is the book about? It’s about my journey raising a gender diverse child—or gender-HJ & Me Yellow Chair 1991nonconforming, gender creative, gender expansive, gender fluid, whatever term you want to use—beginning in the early ’90s. And it’s what I learned from him along the way about gender identity, gender expression, and self-acceptance. It’s about how I grew as a parent and a person.

What did you learn from your son? I learned so much from Harry. Most important, that it’s never too late to learn! And it’s never too late to learn as much from your child as much as you learn for your child. I have lived that experience all the way through with Harry, from toddler to adulthood. And the way I learned, in many respects, was to unlearn. It’s never too late to learn or unlearn. As for specifics, I learned that gender identity is something that develops over time. I didn’t really even understand the term gender identity until Harry was in college and I heard him use it. Gender to me used to mean one of two boxes you checked on a driver’s license application. But I know now that I was confusing sex and gender to mean the same thing, which I think a lot of people still do.

How did the book come about? I was talking at dinner one night with a friend who’s a PhD in psychology and working with LGBTQ youth in Chicago. I told him how Harry had shared his gender identity with me at such an early age and some other stories about Harry’s love of Barbie, the color pink, and so-called girl clothes. That friend encouraged me to share my story. He said he thought it could help a lot of people who were experiencing the same thing now, and that I could help kids by helping parents put things in perspective. I hope it reaches a lot of people.

Transgender youth in particular are getting a lot of attention lately. What do you hope the book will do given the elevated conversation about gender identity, transgender children, and youth? I’m hopeful that it’s going to help parents understand that they’re not alone, that other people have experienced the same thing. AHJ & Me -- Tongue Outnd to help them understand what gender identity is, how we all discover ourselves, and that discovering our gender selves is part of that. My journey with Harry began at a time when there were few resources, no Internet, little knowledge, and a lot of misinformation and stereotyping. People were up against a lot then. And today there’s community, support, resources, expertise, research. I want my book to add to the growing expanse of information available today.

What did you discover about yourself, both in raising your child and as you wrote this memoir? I discovered the good and the bad. I discovered that I have a tremendous amount of love for my child. I knew I wanted him to feel that love. I wanted him to feel safe and secure, have confidence, and feel comfortable in the world. I also learned what a big worrier I was. There was so much I didn’t know, and that made me fearful. I found myself facing double standards of boy-girl stereotyping. I considered myself a very liberal, progressive person, but I found myself with the pink problem, something I had to unlearn. And I realized I cared too much during Harry’s early years about what other people thought. In the end I discovered that letting Harry just be Harry —giving him the freedom to be his true self—was what I’d always wanted for myself, too.

HJ & Me NYE Madison 12-31-99Are there any favorite stories in the book that you want to share? I have so many favorite stories. Harry, who today also lives in Brooklyn, is a creative director, photographer and videographer. He also performs as drag artist Amber Alert. So he’s an entertainer, and that began at a very young age. I remember taking him with me to a department store after I’d picked him up from preschool. I needed to buy some black tights to wear to a client presentation the next morning. He wanted to walk around, and I told him to stay close by. He was four. As I flipped through packages, I felt a tap at the back of my waist. When I turned around, there was Harry in a short gray wig. And in his best imitation of an elderly woman, he said, “Grandma wants to go to the park today.” I cracked up, and then he just ran off. I half-expected to be reprimanded by a sales clerk for not keeping my child in check. A few minutes later he came back with another wig and a different voice.

Can you say more about the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation? I didn’t understand the difference until Harry was grown. Gender identity is about you, who you know yourself to be in your own mind. Sexual orientation is what’s in your heart; whom you fall in love with. They run on a parallel, but they are separate paths. Harry identifies as queer. Some people are unfamiliar with that term, or think of it as a term of the past that was used as a slur and had a very derogatory meaning. But for today’s young people, it’s an all-encompassing identifier that really is a way to say, “Don’t try to put me in a box or give me a label to define me in your terms.” It speaks to the idea that I know who I am. I might be genderqueer, I might be gender fluid, I might be agender, but don’t you tell me who I am.

What would you say to a parent whose 3- or 4-year-old child is telling them they’re a girl on the inside or a boy on the inside? Or expressing themselves in ways outside gender expectations? I would tell that parent to love and support their child with all their heart. I would say listen to your child, and keep listening. Your child will tell you who they are. Learn as much as you possibly can. And seek out support. PFLAG is a wonderful nonprofit parenting support organization with hundreds of local chapters across the country.

HJ&Me_BetweenTheShades_Mar2016Your memoir focuses on your experience as a mom, but what are some of the concerns of dads?  When I was worrying and projecting a horrible future for Harry, it was Harry’s dad, Ken, who was calmer and said, “He’s only two. He’s just a kid.” But as Harry grew older, I knew his dad wanted to protect him, too. Ken worried that maybe he wasn’t being a “guy enough” as a dad. He thought that maybe because Harry identified more with toys and activities that were/are considered to be feminine, or stereotyped as feminine, that maybe he was being an inadequate father in some way. But I think, at the end of the day, you look at your kid, and you realize this is a little person. You have to listen to them and understand that they’re not here to live up to your expectations of them. They’re here to be who they are. Ideally as parents you default to unconditional love. You ask yourself, “Do I love this kid enough to let them be who they are?” I hope that the questioning and self-doubts I share in the book will encourage other parents to learn more and seek support.

Julie Tarney is now a board member for the It Gets Better Project, blogs for the Huffington Post’s “Queer Voices” pages, and is a contributing writer for TheParentsProject.com and the True Colors Fund’s Give a Damn Campaign. She volunteers for the PFLAG Safe Schools Program. A longtime resident of Milwaukee, she now lives in New York City. Visit her own blog here.

Early reviews for My Son Wears Heels:

“Tarney does an exceptional job of tracing the zigzagging line of Harry’s self-identity and recalling the inevitable questions asked along the way.”New York Times Book Review

“A memorable account of one young person’s journey toward self-identity and a valuable parenting guide for a new era of gender awareness and acceptance.”Foreword Reviews

“Not only does the book chronicle an especially memorable mother-son relationship, it also suggests that the best parenting is the kind that does not forcibly mold a child into what he/she ‘should’ be but lovingly allows him/her the freedom to follow his/her own special path. A fearlessly open and frank memoir.”Kirkus Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Books For September 2016

We are pleased to announce these three new books arriving in September.

My Son Wears Heels book cover

Publication date: September 6
MY SON WEARS HEELS
One Mom’s Journey from Clueless to Kickass
Julie Tarney

“A memorable account of one young person’s journey toward self-identity and a valuable parenting guide for a new era of gender awareness and acceptance.”Foreword

Julie Tarney

Julie Tarney


“Not only does the book chronicle an especially memorable mother-son relationship, it also suggests that the best parenting is the kind that does not forcibly mold a child into what he/she ‘should’ be but lovingly allows him/her the freedom to follow his/her own special path. A fearlessly open and frank memoir.”Kirkus Reviews

 

Lithium Jesus: A Memoir of Mania book cover

Publication date: September 13
LITHIUM JESUS
A Memoir of Mania

Charles Monroe-Kane

As featured on This American Life

Charles Monroe-Kane

Charles Monroe-Kane

“A young man grapples with bipolar ‘voices’ via religion, hedonism, activism, and Lithium. In his debut, Monroe-Kane, a Peabody Award–winning public radio producer, brings a fresh perspective to familiar memoir territory. . . . [A] compelling account of wrestling with inner turmoil against gritty, dramatic international settings.”Kirkus Reviews

“This humble, funny, raw (yes, sex) book is a pell-mell kaleidoscope of faith, drugs, bawdy behavior, and mental illness that resolves not in soft focus or shattered glass but in the sweet important idea that there are many ways to be born again.”—Michael Perry, author of The Jesus Cow

 

Treehab book coverPublication date: September 27
TREEHAB
Tales from My Natural, Wild Life
Bob Smith

“Smith, a successful comedian and author of both nonfiction and fiction, has lived with Lou Gehrig’s disease [ALS], and even though he now communicates through his iPad, his wit is as sharp as ever. . . . Never moving too far from his comedic nature, Smith delivers one-liners throughout, and nothing is off-limits. A truth-telling tour conducted by an agile guide.”Kirkus Reviews

Bob Smith

Bob Smith

“To say that Bob Smith can make a hilarious one-liner out of everything from imminent ecological catastrophe to his own struggles with ALS is to emphasize only one aspect of the beautiful and devastating Treehab. This is a profound meditation on the fragility of life and the enduring power of tolerance, love, and the many ways of creating families. A smart, funny, inspiring guide.”—Stephen McCauley, author of The Object of My Affection