The Amazon Trail

Hero Worship

 

 

We are not separate from our history; our history surrounds us. Even as it trails behind us, we create it and are part of it. As a young dyke I felt separate from just about everyone and everything, yet gay authors formed me and are part of me. At the same time, they prepared me to, in my small way, pass on what they created.

It was a shock when I realized there were less than twenty years between the publication of The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall and my birth. The same for Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, and Richard Meeker’s Better Angel and John Henry Mackay’s The Hustler. When I read the two lesbian books, in 1960, they seemed like ancient history to me. Today, I can see that the lesbian and gay male books of the 1920s were no more than a hop, skip and a jump to James Baldwin, Gore Vidal and Jane Rule’s books, and another short leap to Judy Grahn and Isabel Miller.

I’ve lived a minor gay miracle, having had the honor of bridging gay generations and, sometimes, of hearing or meeting or exchanging a few emails, and sometimes becoming friends with the great writers and publishers of the past 100 years. My gosh, I have walked along Patchin Place, where Djuna Barnes lived in New York City, and left an admiring note in the mailbox she emptied every day with the hands that wrote her strange and quite lesbian books.

Once, I sold books next to the “Sinister Wisdom” table which was staffed by Adrienne Rich and Michelle Cliff. I managed to stutter my way through a brief conversation with Adrienne, whose poetry I’d been reading since high school. In high school, I read Valerie Taylor’s books, marketed as lesbian pulp novels. Much later I not only met this tiny, loving woman, we became fast friends and, as our birthdays fell two days apart, we had a quiet celebration at her home one year. It’s impossible for me to describe the thrill it was to be on the same planet with one of these writers, much less in the same room.

I heard John Rechy speak in San Francisco. His book City of Night wowed this nascent writer. If he could fashion a whole novel out of clandestine gay male encounters, wasn’t I free to write a whole lot more circumspectly about lesbians? He carried the flag of openness and I marched behind him. That he became a respectable university faculty member stunned me. How could there be room in one’s life for both extremes?

James Baldwin and Jane Rule taught me, through their books, that gay fiction could be beautiful and have a moral dimension I admired. I needed the wisdom of their novels. I was privileged to correspond with Jane, and spend time with her and her partner in Seattle one enchanted weekend. What did I do to deserve these beautiful connections?

Lee and Jane Rule

Lee and Jane Rule

Judy Grahn is an old acquaintance whose powerful readings and speeches I’ve heard. Katherine Forrest, Karin Kallmaker and Cate Culpepper came later and became writing pals, as did Terri de la Peña, Sasha Alyson, Terri Jewell, and Joan Nestle. I once met John Preston and I’m Twitter buddies with gay Amish poet James Schwartz. When we moved last year we should have left a plaque: “KG Macgregor slept here”

Renee Bess, Greg Herren, and Ellen Hart are significant figures in contemporary gay writing who I call friends. If this sounds like I’m bragging and name dropping, I am. Having these women and men in my life in person or through their words is beyond anything this kid from Queens dreamed when I started writing. Heck, having a comprehensive literature of our own is my tenth wonder of the world.

This mingling with the greats is not limited to established writers. Every year at The Golden Crown Literary Society <http://goldencrown.org/> conference I meet more authors. And I get to see those who have become old friends. Ann Bannon, who I first read at age 15, and first met in the early 1980s, will be this year’s Special Speaker. Lori Lake, author of over a dozen books and one of our greatest promoters and champions, will give the keynote speech. At Golden Crown, I connect with writers like Jewelle Gomez, Elizabeth Sims, Marianne K. Martin, and Radclyffe.

I also meet the reasons I write: the devoted, enthusiastic readers and the fledgling writers. I watch the millennials, some unaware they are treading in Radclyffe Hall’s footsteps, as they develop. Rachel Spangler, Nell Stark, Dillon Watson, Trinity Tam, Gabrielle Goldsby – the conference is practically a warehouse of  literary lesbians.

Speaking of shock, imagine if Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde could see us now!

 

 

Copyright 2014 by Lee Lynch  

12 Responses to “The Amazon Trail”


  1. 1 Cindy Rizzo June 12, 2014 at 8:34 AM

    Lee, thank you for this sweet and wonderful blog post. I remember the awe I felt meeting Joan Nestle for the first time at the National Lesbian Conference in 1987 and then recently at the Rainbow Book Fair in NYC I met Edmund White and was just overcome by the experience. These are our rock stars!

    Like

  2. 3 Connie June 12, 2014 at 10:00 AM

    Lee, you always say it so well! I remember when we met in 1992 & it is still a wonderful experience each time we get to spend time together. See you soon & thanks for continuing to write. 🙂

    Like

    • 4 Lee Lynch June 12, 2014 at 4:28 PM

      And thanks for coming to that Houston reading in ’92 and keeping in touch and luring me to Bold Strokes Books and in general being such an important support for so many of us.

      Like

  3. 5 Denna Patton June 12, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    This is the way many of us feel about you. I don’t think I could choke out but maybe 3 words when I met you in Ptown a year and half ago.

    Like

  4. 7 cateculpepper June 12, 2014 at 3:31 PM

    “Pleased to meet you, Miz Lynch. No, too formal. SISTAH!! No, too presumptuous.” This was me driving to Portland to meet LEE LYNCH for the first time. I practiced introducing myself for 170 miles. Hero worship? Yeah, I had it then. Where Lee is concerned, I have it now.

    Like

  5. 9 Devlyn June 12, 2014 at 9:27 PM

    Lee, while I doubt that I will ever meet many wonderful Authors in real life I do enjoy interacting on Facebook and yahoo groups. I get such a joy when one of my favourite authors replies to my Facebook posts or answers my questions in the Virtual Living Room. You continue to inspire us all Lee and set the pinnacle of standards to others. Thank you for all you do to promote and progress lesbian and gay fiction.

    Like

  6. 10 S.A. June 13, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    Wonderful article, as usual, Lee! You have an amazing network of LGBT authors that you’ve met, been mentored by (directly or indirectly), and been a mentor to (also directly or indirectly). Gives a perspective on what has been a very dynamic period in LGBT history.🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  7. 11 Widdershins June 13, 2014 at 5:25 PM

    I’m sure they’re both chortling with glee!😀

    Like


  1. 1 Did you catch this? | Women and Words Trackback on June 22, 2014 at 1:31 PM

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