Why We Need Queer Escapist Lit

The Lesbrary

When asking a reader why they spend so much time reading, the most common response seem to be some version of “to escape”: to entertain themselves, to distract themselves, and to immerse themselves in a life that isn’t their own. And although that’s not the primary reason that I would give for reading, it seems to be the most popular one, which got me to thinking… If most people read to escape, why do queer readers so desperately seek queer books?

After all, escapism should just require reading about a life that’s unlike your own, so shouldn’t queer people be able to escape into straight/cis literature? Are these queer readers not reading for escapism? That seems unlikely, given the demand for more queer sci fi and fantasy, the genres most identifies with the “escapist” label.

Or is it that escapism requires a protagonist that is relatable? Do we need to…

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Bad or Boring: Doing Without Ethics in Poetry


Hi guys. I’ve noticed something about the word boring.

I noticed it most recently in discussions about Kenneth Goldsmith’s performance of his version of the St. Louis County autopsy report for Michael Brown. Many people responded with outrage to Goldsmith’s appropriation and objectification of Brown’s body (see the above link to Rin Johnson’s piece and Amy King’s piece asking “Is Colonialist Poetry Easy?”, among others); many of them saw his performance as symptomatic not only of an individual poet’s bad taste or careless sense of entitlement, but of the inherently white supremacist values of avant-garde poetry specifically and the American literary world in general (values that Cathy Park Hong brilliantly exposes in “Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde,” and that the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo continues to critique and rage against and lampoon). Goldsmith’s performance, many of these critiques point out, is a logical extension of a position he outlined in…

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All The Amazing Women We’ve Never Heard Of


File:Else Lasker-Schüler 1875.jpg

(Photo of Elsa Lasker-Schüler)

Mentoring in the English Lit department of a girl’s school this week, I noticed there were a great many pictures of men looking down at me. Shakespeare, Keats, Byron, Tennyson, Eliot, Burns… In a border that surrounded the whole room, there were only three women, Austen, Woolf and Plath, and only one of them was a poet. It’s easy to assume that, although things have now changed, in the past women simply didn’t get the chance to write poetry. That we should just be glad for one or two exceptions. But as I get older I’m constantly surprised by how many female poets from the past I discover who were AMAZING and I just simply haven’t been told about. It’s easy for young feminists to think that the work of rediscovering female writers has already been done by trailblazers like Virago in the 70s, but actually…

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Jon McNaught’s Birchfield Close Is a Tranquil Visual Poem


A few weekends ago, I spent several days primitive camping on a tiny, rocky island off Cape Canaveral. The weather was miserable and the fishing was poor, but the company and bourbon offered cheer. Still, by the time I got home I was terribly sore, thoroughly damp, and inhabited by one of those hangovers that sets up shop inside one’s soul as a kind of second-consciousness, coloring the world a dreadful surreal blue. I wanted to see my family, but they were out playing tennis. There was a small stack of packages waiting for me though—review copies for this blog—with Jon McNaught’s Birchfield Close neatly nestled atop. After showering, I lay on my soft soft bed in the afternoon, read through the brief poem-novel-comic, and drifted into a gentle warm hazy nap. It was the most marvelous medicine. Sublime.

I read Birchfield Close again later that night and then every night for a…

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There’s an Equation to Explain This: An Interview with Sarah Gerard



Not even five years ago, I went through a compulsive addiction to taking up less space. I wanted to inhabit less of the world, to see my bones show through the skin and be pared down to my skeletal size, maybe less. My eating disorder had so much less to do with eating than with a desire to be less. It wasn’t about vanity, even. On some level I knew I looked terrible all angled, washed out, and cold. Anorexia is supposed to be such a common disease, yet, deep in the throes, I never found a book that understood me and my disease, that didn’t paint me as a cheerleader or the desperate Queen Bee of high school. Nobody saw me as more than a cliché.

Enter Sarah Gerard’s parse new novel, Binary Star. The tale of addiction as told through two lovers, an unnamed girl struggling with…

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New Syrian Novel Expresses Distrust of Storytelling

ArabLit & ArabLit Quarterly

Syrian novelist Maha Hassan was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for the second time this year, for her Al-Rawiyat. The book didn’t make the shortlist, but reviewer al-Mustafa Najjar makes a compelling case for why you should read it nonetheless:

By Al-Mustafa Najjar

Female-VoicesIn her most recent novel, Al-Rawiyat (Female Narrators), published last year, Syrian novelist Maha Hassan explores the realms of oral and written storytelling through a set of female characters, who are not necessarily connected, but are all obsessed with the art of narration.

From the book’s dedication to the unpublished “female raconteurs [who] . . . lived and died in darkness” to the last sentence highlighting the “emancipatory” powers of writing, a celebratory, almost naive tone dominates the novel.

The first narrator, Abbadon, says she lives two lives: A superficial, “typical” one concerned with the satisfaction of mundane day-to-day needs, and a “rich and dense” one centering…

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Elinor reviews How to Grow Up by Michelle Tea

The Lesbrary

My wife and I are currently trying to buy a house, which is surreal, and it’s made me wonder about what it means to be–or feel like–an adult. Like magic, I found a copy of Michelle Tea’s latest memoir on that very topic. Since I’m a fan of Tea’s other writing, I picked it up. I figured that Michelle Tea is always fun and this book would likely present an interesting take on being a grown up.
How to Grow Up primarily covers Tea’s late thirties and early forties as she stumbles into adulthood. In her late thirties, Tea is sober after years of addiction, re-entering the dating world after spending 8 years in a dysfunctional relationship, sharing filthy housing with twenty-somethings in San Francisco, and dealing with the psychological, emotional, and spiritual issues. Eventually she moves to her own grown-up apartment, starts trying to get pregnant as a single…

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Gazan Writer Atef Abu Saif Wins London Residency

ArabLit & ArabLit Quarterly

Acclaimed novelist Atef Abu Saif — who is shortlisted for this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction — has been selected as the winner of a new summer residency:

Atef Abu Saif 2The London-based “Arab Writer’s Residency Programme” is sponsored by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) and the Delfina Foundation.

The Peninsula Qatar reported that there were “more than 150 applicants” for the eight-week residency, which is meant to “provide Abu Saif with the opportunity to research, write and engage with cultural practitioners and creative thinkers.”

Further, the newspaper said, “he will develop work, which will be considered for publication by BQFP in Arabic and English.”

Abu Saif is the author of five novels, including A Suspended Lifehis most recent, which was shortlisted for the 2015 IPAF. Unfortunately, Abu Saif was not able to attend the Casablanca Book Fair, where the IPAF shortlist was announced, as Hamas-affiliated security services stopped him from leaving the…

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15. All Our Names, Dinaw Mengestu

An Anthology of Clouds

Dinaw Mengestu All Our Names

My quest to read more literary fiction by writers of color has led me to many African War/ American Immigration books lately, putting me in a decent position to comment on a jacket-quote on All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu, which says that “This is not an immigrant story we already know.”

Eh, yes and no.

It is a version of the same African War/Immigration story we already know, and the title is unfortunately almost exactly the same as another recent book in the genre, NoViolet Bulaweyo’s We Need New Names, but it’s nonetheless a refined and intense book told in alternating perspectives, and I enjoyed reading it.

The chapters labeled “Isaac,” are about a poor young man from an unidentified African countryside who spends time hanging around the university in Kampala, Uganda just before war against Idi Amin breaks out in the 1970s. “Back then, all the…

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Review of Marie NDiaye’s Self-Portrait in Green

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

By Erin Morgan Gilbert

marie_ndiaye-green-largerWhere I grew up, green obscured all evidence of human endeavor, softening corners and blotting out other colors. Moss devoured cars and mattresses abandoned in the woods, blanketed roofs, and carpeted the roads. Bodies of water reflected a profound verdancy in their very names: Lake Wilderness, Cedar River, Green River. Even my mother’s eyes were green. Once, she said her favorite color was green too, and I felt disappointed, as if she had admitted to me a secret fatalism, a willingness to disappear into the background. I thought that by allowing the color surrounding us to colonize her personal preferences she was signaling her acceptance of the strict parameters—the poverty and ignorance—that constrained our lives.

Years later, after she died, I found a tiny emerald ring she used to wear, but the gem had cracked. For me, green became associated with loss, but it wasn’t until…

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