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Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

Independent bookstores need LGBT support! They don’t just sell books, but often act as local community centers as well. I had the pleasure of reading at two recently – Malaprop’s in Asheville, NC, and Bluestockings in New York City. Remember, these stores often carry titles by small presses (like LGBT and feminist publishers) that the big box stores don’t stock. You can find an indie near you by checking IndieBound. Even if you aren’t located near an indie store, you can order books through their websites and support their important work. Happy shopping!

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Reading at Bluestockings Bookstore on June 4, 2017

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If you haven’t seen the website for the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, get thee hither! This amazing project documents historic sites related to LGBT people across all eras and all five boroughs.

Plus, its interactive map has a filter option, so you can search for sites by specific topics you’re particularly interested in, like, say, activist sites or theatrical sites. You can also search just for places related to lesbian history or trans history.

The group also sponsors talks about its work in the area of history and historic sites, and highlights other programs related to LGBT history in the city.

Gay “Be-In” at the Sheep Meadow in Central Park at the end of the first NYC Pride March, June 28, 1970. Photo by Diana Davies. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

 

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Twig drove her to The Hornet’s Nest, a bar in the basement of an old hotel in town. It wasn’t a homosexual club so much as a place where gay people gathered while the management turned a blind eye. Both women and men frequented it, and Cam had accompanied Auggie and Twig there many times, against Ada’s advice. The place seemed seedy, dangerous, with an entrance down a dark flight of stairs. “And what if you run into someone from school?” Ada had asked.

“I reckon they’ll be as scared to see me as I am to see them,” Cam replied.

The plot of my new novel, The Ada Decades, covers seventy years in the lives of LGBT people in Charlotte, N.C. In the above scene, which takes place in 1962, Ada goes (reluctantly) with her gay friend Twig to The Hornet’s Nest, one of several bars in Charlotte to “serve as ad hoc gathering spaces for the gay community,” according to Charlotte historian Josh Burford.

Before there were LGBT community centers, conferences, high school and college associations, bookstores, and choruses, bars served an important function in the lives of queer people. Even at the seediest bars, queer folks could meet each other for friendship and love, finding community when they might have feared they were alone.

As Burford notes, bars as community institutions laid “the groundwork for future activism.” For example, at Julius, a gay-favorite bar located on West 10th Street in New York City, gay men staged a “sip in” in 1966 to challenge a state law that prohibited serving alcohol to “disorderly” people—and just being gay was considered “disorderly” conduct. The June 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Sheridan Square, are generally credited as the start of the modern LGBT rights movement.

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The “sip in” at Julius in Greenwich Village in 1966

The downside, of course, is that bars foster drinking, and habitual drinking can lead to alcoholism—a problem that our community has been tackling through LGBT-specific social services for 30+ years.

For more about my characters Ada, Cam, and Twig and their experiences as gay Southerners “back in the day,” pick up a copy of The Ada Decades at your favorite bookstore or online retailer.

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… the Duchess was an “experience”—a poorly lit hole with pounding music and thick clouds of smoke. “Our clothes will reek,” Ada said.

From a rickety table in the corner, they watched women half their age dancing and flirting, dressed in everything from tight T-shirts to oversized flannel that resembled Ada’s daddy’s pajamas. The booming beat of a younger generation turned any conversation into a shouting match. The lyrics—the ones Ada could understand—were baffling. “‘Come on, baby, make it hurt so good’? What kind of song is that?” She still preferred the music of her youth—Johnny Mathis, Patsy Cline. Cam just smiled.

In 1982, as middle-aged women, the main characters in my novel, The Ada Decades, make a once-in-a-lifetime journey to New York City for the Gay Pride March. Ada, the protagonist, has never been more than a three-hour drive from Charlotte, N.C., and the two are not “out” in their hometown. Her partner, Cam, plans the trip because, as she says, “I’m fifty years old, and I have never been to a real-life gay event.” After some sightseeing at Macy’s and the New York Public Library, the women head for Greenwich Village and a big dose of queer culture.

It was great fun for me to write this chapter, which is called “The Language of New York.” I lived in NYC for twenty years, and still have a fondness for it. Many of the queer sites Ada and Cam visit in the chapter—like the sleazy, long-defunct women’s bar, the Duchess (101 Seventh Avenue South)—were places I frequented as a young lesbian. The Duchess was the first lesbian bar I ever went to, and my friends and I would often hang out there after volunteering at the feminist newspaper, WomaNews.

Because Ada and Cam are a librarian and a school teacher, respectively, they also hit the lesbian and gay bookstores.

They made a stop at Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop—“Twig won’t believe this!” Ada said, snapping a picture with her Kodak—then found their way to Djuna Books, a lesbian-owned shop where they spent a good hour perusing books even Ada had never heard of. Cam bought a baseball cap emblazoned with the word DYKE and put it on immediately. “When in Rome,” she said. Ada picked out a button that read: We Are Everywhere, but she was afraid it would leave holes in her blouse, so she attached it to her canvas purse instead.

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Djuna Barnes and her lover, Thelma Wood

Even though I bought many a book there back in the day, I only vaguely remember the interior of Djuna Books, a cozy store close to where the author Djuna Barnes (1892-1982) lived at 5 Patchin Place. Barnes—a journalist, illustrator, and author of the classic Modernist novel Nightwood—did not identify as lesbian even though her primary relationships were all with women. She reportedly called her namesake “a terrible little lesbian bookshop,” even phoning to demand the owners change the name.

To read about Ada and Cam’s Manhattan trip and about their other adventures through life, you can now pick up a copy of The Ada Decades at your favorite bookstore or online retailer.

 

 

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They’d gotten off on the wrong foot, and if Cam found out, there would be hell to pay. Ada needed this young man to know she wasn’t like other whites, the ones who touted their Confederate ancestors or acted like Jim Crow was still in force. She could have used the example of Miss Ruthie to explain away her cautious behavior, but it seemed like too elaborate a story, offered too late. Or she could have told him about the early days of integration at Central, but she had done so little—just interrupted one bullying incident.

So instead, she said, “I . . . I’ve read Mr. Baldwin,” just before he reached the library door. Cam had brought the novel Giovanni’s Room home from her trip to Washington, D.C. for the March. “It’s about two men who have an affair,” Cam had explained excitedly. “One white and one black.” The volume had made the rounds in their gay circle before ending up, tattered and well-read, on a high shelf in the bedroom closet.

“He’s a fine writer,” Ada said.

“One of the best,” Mr. Browne said, with a thin smile that suggested he might not hold a grudge.

In this excerpt from my historical novel, The Ada Decades, Ada Shook, a white school librarian in Charlotte, N.C. in 1970, has a run-in with a new teacher, Robert Browne – one of only two black faculty members in the school – about a book order. She worries that some of his choices, including books by Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. DuBois, and James Baldwin, will play badly with the conservative white parents in the school. Mr. Browne calls her on it, and she retracts her concern – but then wants him to know she’s not like “other whites.” A closeted lesbian, she’s read James Baldwin’s novel about an affair between two men in Paris.

 

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Baldwin on the streets of Harlem/AP photo

The work of James Baldwin (1924-1987) figures prominently in this chapter of my book; it becomes the subject of attempted censorship by parents at Ada’s school. I won’t give away what happens, but things get tense at the fictional Central Charlotte Junior High.

I re-read a lot of Baldwin’s nonfiction work as my novel was unfolding, especially Nobody Knows My Name, and I took one of the epigraphs for the book from him: “Love is a growing up.” I felt that so aptly summarized what I had learned about long-term relationships. There’s the tender romance in the early stages of “girl meets girl,” but a relationship over the long haul is so much more than that. It’s about working through problems and plowing through bad times as well as celebrating the joyous moments. I call The Ada Decades a love story for that reason – it’s about two women enduring together and building a life over time, despite the odds.

And more about Baldwin, whose writing is rightfully enjoying a revival: Efforts are underway to save the house in St.-Paul-de-Vence, France, where he lived for the last seventeen years of his life, and turn it into a retreat for writers and artists. As Shannon Cain wrote with regret in July 2016, “There exists no trace of James Baldwin in the village … His half-demolished house bears no plaque… Here in the place he considered home, it appears that this great American literary and civil rights icon has disappeared from history.”

If you haven’t seen the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, please run out and do so. I’ve seen it twice, and I will undoubtedly watch it again. James Baldwin has been gone for thirty years, but his wisdom speaks directly to this moment in American history.

Today is The Ada Decades’s official pub date, and it’s now available everywhere! Pick up a copy at your favorite bookseller.

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It’s LGBT Pride Month, and you will definitely want to take a look at something very cool. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s website features a first-ever Gay Pride Month slideshow with a sampling of designated LGBT historic sites. My book The Queerest Places (1997) is quoted in the entry about Louis Sullivan.

Which is your favorite site? Vote here! I’ll start it off. My fave has to be the Elsie de Wolfe-Bessie Marbury House on E. 17th Street, very close to where I used to live. They were a lesbian power couple if ever there was one — Elsie an interior designer, Bessie a theatrical producer. They called themselves “The Bachelors” — you can read my post about them here.

Happy Pride!

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Photo by Fred MacDarrah

New York, N.Y.

GAA Firehouse

99 Wooster Street

Gay Manhattan’s first social and community center was the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) Firehouse, which opened in 1970 during the blossoming of gay liberation activity following the Stonewall riots. GAA was one of the leading groups of the early movement, and initiated the infamous “zap,” a short, quick political action, usually the disruption of an event or a confrontation with a gay-unfriendly politician. When it wasn’t engaged in zaps, GAA held meetings and dances at this abandoned firehouse. Vito Russo, who would later author The Celluloid Closet, ran “movie nights,” screening such gay faves as The Wizard of Oz. Arson ended activities at the firehouse in 1974, although GAA continued its work until the early 1980s.

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