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Archive for the ‘gay and lesbian’ Category

Thanks to Steven Reigns of The Gay Rub, I had enough materials to go out into the field yesterday and do a rubbing of artist Andy Warhol’s tombstone. If you missed my post about Steven’s project, click here. Directly behind me in the photo is the grave of Andy’s parents.

And here’s what the decorations and mementos on Andy’s grave look like right now. In addition to the soup cans and Coke bottles, someone left an envelope of their writing at the side of the stone, and there’s a plastic egg for Easter, too. For more about Andy, see my earlier post.

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Lowell, Mass.

Jack Kerouac Commemorative

Eastern Canal Park

Bridge Street

Following on the heels of my most recent post on City Lights Books… Writer Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) was born in this old mill town to French-Canadian parents, and did not learn to speak English until he went to school. Kerouac left Lowell at 17 for New York City, where he briefly attended Columbia University. In 1944, his girlfriend, Edie Parker (later his first wife), introduced him to Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, and the triumvirate formed the core of the Beat poets.

Kerouac’s most famous novel, On the Road (1957), was written in three weeks on a scroll that he made out of sheets of paper taped together so that he could type without interruption. A tour of the scroll began making its way to universities and museums around the country in 2004.

Kerouac married three times and had one daughter. (Also a writer, Jan Kerouac committed suicide in 1996.) He also had a variety of male lovers, among them his fellow Beats and writer Gore Vidal. An alcoholic, he died young of complications of the disease.

Lowell erected this sculpture to its native son in 1988, after several years of dispute about whether the town should memorialize an alcoholic. Citing his literary contributions, Kerouac supporters won out, and Ginsberg read some of his early poems at the dedication. “Kerouac is the heart and spirit of what has brought us together!” Ginsberg proclaimed. The granite panels, created by artist Ben Woitena, are inscribed with excerpts from Kerouac’s work, including the opening paragraph of On the Road.

There are other tributes to Kerouac in different parts of the country. Most notably, the bungalow in Orlando, Fla., where Kerouac was living when On the Road was published and where he wrote much of The Dharma Burns (1958) now houses the Jack Kerouac Project, a residency program for writers.

For the Kerouac Commemorative I sought images which sculpturally communicate and honor his philosophy of life and the genius of his literary talent. Conceptually, the park is structured in the form of a mandala; that is, a diagram of symbolic geometric arrangements designed to make clear the relationship between the quoted texts and the visual images which inspire them.”

-Ben Woitena

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I just found out about an exciting queer history project initiated by Steven Reigns, an L.A.-based poet and educator. It’s called “The Gay Rub” and it’s devoted to collecting rubbings from LGBT tombstones, markers, signs, plaques, monuments, and so forth. Steven is looking for collaborators from around the country and the world, and has a wish list on the website of rubbings he’d like to collect. But he’s also open to suggestions of sites and markers that people may like to contribute. He will even mail you the materials if you can’t afford to buy them yourself. Check it out… and then start rubbing!

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Baltimore, Md.

Diana Press

12 West 25th Street

First housed in this brick building in Baltimore, Diana Press was one of the earliest lesbian-feminist publishing companies in the country. Established in the mid-1970s, it was committed to publishing openly lesbian material, which was not available from mainstream houses. Before she became a mass-market star with Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown published her collections of lesbian poems, Songs to a Handsome Woman and The Hand That Cradles the Rock, and a volume of essays, Plain Brown Wrapper, with Diana Press. Other titles from Diana included Elsa Gidlow’s Sapphic Songs and Judy Grahn’s True to Life Adventure Stories, as well as early poetry by Pat Parker. In the late ’70s, Diana Press relocated to the San Francisco area. If not for the efforts of this pioneering press, along with Naiad Press, Persephone Press, Daughters Inc., and many others, a lot of openly lesbian writing would have never seen print. As a writer who is also a lesbian, I’m grateful.

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January is National Drag History Month. Catch this slide show of photos from the legendary Jewel Box Revue.

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And while we’re in New York City… I just ran across and thought I would share this wonderful essay by Joan Nestle, co-founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives and dyke extraordinaire, about the Women’s House of Detention that used to stand at the spot where Sixth Avenue and Greenwich Avenue form a triangle, adjacent to the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library. The essay is an evocative mixture of history and personal account. The prison was demolished in 1974, and there’s a community garden on the spot now. I often heard stories about the prison when I lived in New York, but never saw a picture of it until now. Don’t miss Nestle’s memories of it. In her words:

Sites like the Women’s House of D are prisms of shifting queer historical concerns; urbanity, what it will bear and what it will not, race and class divisions and connections–imprisonment both within jails and without.”

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East Glacier Park, Mont.

Running Eagle Falls
Glacier National Park
Two Medicine Entrance

Near this eastern entrance to Glacier National Park (adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation) is the beautiful Running Eagle Falls, formerly known as “Trick Falls” for the way water flows out of different parts of the falls during different seasons. The falls are named for Running Eagle, the only female-born war chief of the Blackfeet.

In 1916, a white man, James Willard Schultz, published an account called Blackfeet Tales of Glacier National Park, concerning his experiences among the Native Americans of northwestern Montana. Schultz’s was the first written account of the story of Running Eagle, a 19th-century war chief who was born female but rejected traditional female activities and dress and was known as “sakwo’mapi akikwan,” or, in English, “boy-girl.”

From an early age, Running Eagle wished to be a boy. “But if I cannot be one,” she said, “I can do a boy’s work.” She joined her father in hunting, and when he was killed by members of the Crow Nation, Running Eagle began dressing in men’s clothes and joined the war party that avenged his death. By age 20, she had achieved the name “Girl Chief.” (Which is why I use the feminine pronoun.)

As an adult, Running Eagle kept her own lodge and took a wife named Suya’ki, a woman “who wanted nothing to do with men.” According to Schultz, their lodge was “a visiting place for many girls, young married women, and not a few old women.” Honored and respected for her achievements, Running Eagle’s exploits were still recalled in oral history accounts 100 years after her death in 1840.

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