Gay and Lesbian Studies

In Conversation: Cait McKinney and Courtney Berger

We hope you enjoy the latest video in our In Conversation series, which features Cait McKinney, author of Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies, speaking about the book with Executive Editor Courtney Berger. In the book, McKinney traces how lesbian feminist activists in the United States and Canada between the 1970s and the present developed communication networks, databases, and digital archives to use as a foundation for their feminist, antiracist, and trans-inclusive work.

New Books in May

SPRING50_SaleApril20_Blog_ExtendedMay25

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve extended our Spring Sale through  May 25, which will allow you to pick up some new titles at 50% off this month. Use coupon SPRING50 to save.

In the beautifully illustrated, full-color book  AFRICOBRA, painter, photographer, and cofounder of Chicago arts collective AFRICOBRA Wadsworth A. Jarrell tells the definitive history of the group’s creation, history, and artistic and political principles and the ways it captured the rhythmic dynamism of black culture and social life to create uplifting art for all black people.

Eric Zolov presents a revisionist account of Mexican domestic politics and international relations during the long 1960s in The Last Good Neighbor, tracing how Mexico emerged from the shadow of FDR’s Good Neighbor policy to become a geopolitical player in its own right during the Cold War. Look for a Q&A with Zolov on our blog later this month.

Through innovative readings of gay and lesbian films, Lee Wallace offers a provocative argument in Reattachment Theory that queer experiments in domesticity have profoundly reshaped heterosexual marriage to such an extent that now all marriage is gay marriage.

François Ewald’s The Birth of Solidarity—first published in French in 1986 and appearing here in English for the first time—is one of the most important historical and philosophical studies of the rise of the welfare state. This edition is edited by Melinda Cooper.

Louise Amoore examines how machine learning algorithms are transforming the ethics and politics of contemporary society in Cloud Ethics, proposing what she calls cloud ethics as a way to hold algorithms accountable by engaging with the social and technical conditions under which they emerge and operate.

In Re-enchanting Modernity, Mayfair Yang examines the reemergence of religious life and ritual after decades of enforced secularized life in the coastal city of Wenzhou, showing how local practices of popular religion, Daoism, and Buddhism influence economic development and the structure of civil society.

In Writing Anthropology, fifty-two anthropologists reflect on scholarly writing as both craft and commitment, offering insights into the myriad roles of anthropological writing, the beauty and the function of language, the joys and pains of writing, and encouragement to stay at it. This collection is edited by Carole McGranahan.

In Beijing from Below, Harriet Evans tells the history of the residents in Dashalar—now redeveloped and gentrified but once one of the Beijing’s poorest neighborhoods—to show how their experiences complicate official state narratives of Chinese economic development and progress. 

Alex Blanchette explores how the daily lives of a Midwestern town that is home to a massive pork complex were reorganized around the life and death cycles of pigs while using the factory farm as a way to detail the state of contemporary American industrial capitalism in Porkopolis. As the coronavirus tears through meatpacking plants around the U.S., Blanchette’s analysis is highly relevant. We’ll feature a Q&A with him on our blog later in the month.

Drawing on examples of things that happen to us but are nonetheless excluded from experience, as well as critical phenomenology, genealogy, and feminist theory, Cressida J. Heyes shows how and why experience has edges, and analyzes phenomena that press against them in Anaesthetics of Existence.

In The Government of Beans, Kregg Hetherington uses Paraguay’s turn of the twenty-first century adoption of massive soybean production and the regulatory attempts to mitigate the resulting environmental degradation as a way to show how the tools used to drive economic growth exacerbate the very environmental challenges they were designed to solve.

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Poem of the Week

Welcome back to our weekly poetry feature. For our final April posting, please enjoy the poem “Lost in the Hospital” from What the Body Told  (1996) by physician Rafael Campo. Much of Campo’s early poetry was in response to the AIDS epidemic and readers may find resonance during today’s COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s not that I don’t like the hospital.
Those small bouquets of flowers, pert and brave.
The smell of antiseptic cleaners.
The ill, so wistful in their rooms, so true.
My friend, the one who’s dying, took me out
To where the patients go to smoke, IV’s
And oxygen tanks attached to them–
A tiny patio for skeletons. We shared
A cigarette, which was delicious but
Too brief. I held his hand; it felt
Like someone’s keys. How beautiful it was,
The sunlight pointing down at us, as if
We were important, full of life, unbound.
I wandered for a moment where his ribs
Had made a space for me, and there, beside
The thundering waterfall of his heart,
I rubbed my eyes and thought, “I’m lost.”

Rafael Campo is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of several books, including Comfort Measures Only, Alternative MedicineThe Enemy, and Landscape with Human Figure, all also published by Duke University Press. Campo’s most recent poem, “The Doctor’s Song,” featured in Harvard Magazine, attempts to make sense of the COVID-19 pandemic from the physician’s perspective. His books (and all in-stock titles) are currently available for 50% off with coupon SPRING50 during our sale.

Q&A With Margaret Randall

Margaret Randall is a poet, essayist, oral historian, translator, memoirist, and photographer who has published over 150 books of poetry and prose. In her newest book, I Never Left Home, she details the extraordinary stories from her life, recounting moments ranging from her time living among New York’s abstract expressionists in the mid-1950s as a young woman to working in the Nicaraguan Ministry of Culture to instill revolutionary values in the media during the Sandinista movement.

 

You explain in Chapter 1 that you started this project by writing about your time in New York in the late 1950s and subsequently moved forward and backwards in time throughout your writing process. How was the experience of placing these chapters in chronological order for the book? Did conceiving of your memories in this linear fashion bring you to any new insights about your life?

I guess I should say that I have always believed more in non-linear than in linear time. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t begin this memoir by writing about my earliest years but rather about my years in New York City, an experience I had never written about before. When it came time to organize the book I did go with a chronological timeline, though, maybe because I thought it would allow readers to follow my life and times as they have unfolded. This also seemed like a good choice because earlier experiences inevitably influenced later ones, and I wanted my readers to understand that.

A number of big geographic and cultural moves punctuate your life—first as a child to New Mexico, and later as an adult to Spain, New York, Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua, and then back to New Mexico. Throughout these moves, you navigated many “insider/outsider moments” —moments in which you felt at home, and those in which you grappled with your racial identity, class status, and foreignness. What have you learned about the importance of embracing one’s position as an outsider? What kinds of connections break down this distinction and allow one to feel at home?

Embracing one’s experience as an outsider is necessary. One always wants to belong; it is part of the human condition. But if one chooses to live in places foreign to one’s culture or in ways that are foreign to one’s class, racial or gender identities, one’s “otherness” is right out there for all to see. There is no denying or getting around it. So, I think we learn to make peace with that and live the experience as it is. As a young US American in Latin America, living and working and raising my children in countries frequently attacked or exploited by the United States, it was inevitable that I should carry a sense of guilt. Inevitable but not healthy. I had to learn to struggle with that and not allow it to overpower or destroy me. I believe one can straddle this outsider condition best by living as much as possible as the people where you are living. In Mexico this meant learning about dozens of indigenous cultures, appreciating native art and music, participating in national fiestas. In Cuba it meant refusing the foreigner’s ration book and living as much as possible like a Cuban. In Nicaragua it meant participating in national defense as the Contra war heated up. Despite such efforts, though, if one is from somewhere else one is an outsider. So then it becomes important to figure out how to make one’s condition transparent and use it to benefit others.

You mention that, while living in Seville, you “immediately agreed” to assist smuggling contraceptives from Morocco to Spain, as would be your response to other future invitations to risk. At what other moments in your life do you recall agreeing to risk? How necessary is risk in one’s pursuit of justice? 

I have taken risks as long as I can remember. Smuggling contraceptives into Spain in the 1950s was just one example. In Mexico I assisted revolutionary organizations and took part in the 1968 Mexican Student Movement. In Cuba I insisted on asking difficult questions of a revolution not accustomed to being questioned by outsiders. And when I returned to the United States and was ordered deported because of opinions expressed in some of my books, I didn’t leave but decided to fight for my right to stay. All these moments, and others, involved risk. I can’t really explain why it has been so natural for me to take risks. Perhaps it is written into a person’s DNA. Perhaps I was simply following the example of mentors who were, themselves, notable risk-takers.

While publishing the bilingual journal El Corno with Sergio Mondragón during the 1960s, you recall believing that “poetry could change the world.” How did you conceive of the relationship between artistic expression and revolution then? What connection do you see between them today, both in the US and abroad? 

I have always believed that poetry is a necessary ingredient to living fully. Revolution, or working for justice, is really about living fully. We can only live fully if we struggle for equality and fairness in all areas. Art is the highest manifestation of living to the fullest, engaging all the senses, experiencing the heights and depths of the human experience. When I was younger and claimed that poetry could change the world, I think I meant that more explicitly than when I say the same thing today. Today I understand this more complexly. Poetry—and artistic expression generally—allows us to exercise our imaginations, think outside the box, believe in the “impossible”. It is in this sense that I believe it can change the world.

It was not until your return to the US that you were able to reflect on your sexual identity and come out as a lesbian to yourself and others. What was it about returning “home” that allowed for this personal exploration? 

I think what kept me from understanding my sexual identity while I was living in Latin America, especially when I was in Cuba and Nicaragua, was that I was involved in situations of social change that required full focus on the collective. It would have been healthier if we had found ways to attend to our personal issues as well, but we didn’t know how. That was one of the problems with the movements with which I was involved. We rarely prioritized our own needs. The collective was what was important. So, when I came back to the US, I was immersed in the women’s movement. It was the 1980s, and women were addressing issues of personal identity, domestic violence, recovery, and so forth. Arriving in the midst of this community of women, many of whom were lesbians, somehow allowed me to begin to question my own sexual identity. It was in this context, as well, that I remembered the incest of which I had been a victim as a very young child. I do believe that social change movements must find ways to combine the personal with the public, develop ways to struggle that take into account people’s individual differences and needs.

You describe your witnessing of the Cuban and Sandinista Revolutions as a “privilege,” as you experienced times in which quests for justice, passion, and creativity seemed to be bursting at the seams of daily life. What do you hope younger generations looking for revolutionary change might learn from these memories and experiences?

I do believe that I was privileged to have lived in the places where I lived and at the times when I lived in them. And that sense of privilege, in my mind, implies the willingness to share those experiences. Every generation is faced with new situations that demand new strategies and tactics. But we can learn a lot from our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, their struggles and solutions. Just as I believe that I can learn a lot from those who are coming up now. In terms of my memoir, I guess I just hope that it is a good read, a story or series of stories that express one woman’s journey through the second part of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century.

Watch Margaret discuss her book and read a passage:

You can catch Margaret at a virtual reading sponsored by Collected Works Bookstore on April 30 at 6:00pm MDT. Read the introduction to I Never Left Home free online. Save 50% off all in-stock titles, including Randall’s other books, Che on My Mind, Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary, and Exporting Revolution with coupon SPRING50 until May 1, 2020.

Q&A with Matt Brim

MattBrimDuke2Matt Brim is Associate Professor of Queer Studies in the English Department at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York; author of James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination; and coeditor of Imagining Queer Methods. His newest book, Poor Queer Studies: Confronting Elitism in the University, shifts queer studies away from sites of elite education toward poor and working-class students and locations, showing how the field is driven by those flagship institutions that perpetuate class and race inequity in higher education.

In what ways did your own institutional journey among universities of varying prestige incite your desire to write this book? 

Higher education in the U.S. is incredibly stratified. As a matter of course, colleges are divided into class-based tiers and sorted by wealth-based rankings. Though the top of the academic hierarchy is visible thanks to the power of money and status to shine a spotlight on well-resourced academic people and places, much of the university world exists in a kind of educational shadow. Looking across tiers—and especially looking down tiers—becomes extremely difficult. You have to be a bit lucky to escape the aspirational, upward-looking vision created by the misconception that our models for good academic work come from high-status colleges and well-placed scholars.

Poor Queer StudiesMy own educational trajectory has taken me through tiers, up and down. I want to stress that this movement was fortuitous rather than intentional. I attended Wabash College, a small rich liberal arts college in Indiana, because Wabash paid most of my way. I earned my Ph.D. in English at Indiana University, a flagship state school, because that’s the only graduate program that accepted me. And then I taught freshman academic writing as a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University. I got that job because I’d taught so much composition at I.U. and because I’d been given the freedom by my mentors there to bring Queer Studies into the composition classroom. Duke was another world, even compared to the other relatively well-resourced schools I’d attended. The privilege it draws on and the privileges it affords are just staggering. Duke, not at all coincidentally, is one of the birthplaces of queer theory. After three years at Duke, I applied for a job at the College of Staten Island (CSI), a school I’d never heard of, a school that was largely invisible and unknowable from the outside, from above. Yet this off-the-radar, massively underfunded, open admissions, public school was advertising for an assistant professor of Queer Studies. This was strange to me because I’d only heard of Queer Studies happening at colleges I’d heard of. Yet only because I ended up at CSI, only because I’ve traveled from high to low in the academy, have I been able to conceive of this book. Poor Queer Studies tells the story of my re-education in Queer Studies at a place where the field is not known, not seen, not imagined to be.

You draw out a tension between Queer Studies’ identity as site of radical thinking, anti-normativity, and as a “disruptive cog in the system” of the university and its actual entanglements in a system of higher education that actively reproduces class stratification. Is this tension unique to Queer Studies? Does it play out in Queer Studies in a way distinctive than in other identity studies fields that have similar progressive desires? 

That such a tension exists means there is potential for change, and indeed Queer Studies has changed the academy in meaningful ways that have benefited several generations of students and scholars. At the same time, Queer Studies has been shaped by the two dynamics that have inarguably defined the true mission of the university for the past 30 years: class stratification and race sorting. Complicit in this structure, Queer Studies has found any number of ways to ease rather than confront queer-class tensions. I suspect that Queer Studies’ investment in radicality—which is perhaps our uniquely dominant field impulse—has contributed to such an easing of queer-class tensions. It’s not polite to ask what a radical idea costs to make, and it’s surely impossible to know all the ways some of our most radical queer ideas have been buoyed by institutional prestige, privilege, and material resources. It may also be true that the energy of powerful new ideas can make them seem self-sustaining, and we’d rather let them float free than weigh them down with the receipts from their production.

Nevertheless, powerful and even radical queer ideas get made on the cheap as well, and that fact is my entry point for this book. But because Queer Studies at schools such as CSI and other CUNY colleges endures within a thick web of class-based compromises, our queer radicality operates within palpable contexts of queer-class constraint. Needless to say, compromised queer radicality makes for a weak rallying cry, and so queer radicality tethered to and marked by class constraint makes Poor Queer Studies seem far afield from the visionary field of Queer Studies. If we want to keep the various class incarnations of the field in touch with each other—and that is one of my goals in this book—we might be more candid about the materiality of the production of all of our queer ideas. Put differently, Poor Queer Studies argues that queer scholarship ought be thought of as a workplace report, which is to say a localized record of material resources and queer resourcefulness.

In the book, you mention that you think of “poor” as a dimension of experience that informs your pedagogy at the College of Staten Island. Can you elaborate on what possibilities– linguistic, pedagogical, or theoretical– you find in the language of “poor”? 

I chose to use the word “poor” because it offers both a precision and a capaciousness and because it’s a word that people tend to quickly reject. The precision comes from its direct reference to the economic realities of life at CUNY, for “poor” sets the material baseline for teaching and scholarship at most of our campuses. Many CUNY students and their families live below the poverty line or are low-income or have precarious housing and food insecurity. Many of our campuses are crumbling because the State of New York refuses to fund repairs that it can, in fact, afford. Even with recent raises, our adjuncts are dramatically underpaid when compared to adjuncts at local public and deep-pocketed private universities. Coalescing in the term “poor,” these material conditions are the starting points for our intellectual work at CUNY, including the work of Queer Studies. You can’t go around them or set them aside. They preface and infuse all we do.

Appearing in so many forms, “poor” also becomes a conceptual baseline and a discursive construct, as well as a material reality. One interesting consequence is that in theory many CUNY community members try to reject “poor.” We are incentivized to turn away from “poor” because, on the one hand, it situates students too statically at the wrong end of an educational narrative that pins its hopes on social mobility, while on the other hand it deflates what I call the “aspirational mood” that characterizes the work of administrators and faculty alike at lower tier schools. Rather than reject “poor,” however, I try to integrate it into an analysis that asks about how Queer Studies actually happens at sites where “poor” is perhaps the primary coordinate by which we locate our “queer” work. And because “poor” evokes “rich,” I am also able to pursue a very differently located, comparative class analysis, setting Poor Queer Studies schools in relation to Rich Queer Studies schools—a relation the field very rarely pursues or acknowledges.

At non-elite institutions, faculty are expected to develop curricula that are both intellectually rigorous and train students for the workplace. What is the role of Queer Studies in improving and changing work? What kinds of queer labor can Queer Studies prepare students for?

Unlike most students at elite colleges, most students at non-selective four-year colleges and at community colleges already work for money, many of them full time. Insofar as Queer Studies has longstanding, field-defining associations with the wealthiest and most privileged higher education institutions rather than schools that serve non-traditional and working students, the field has been unprepared to think about the intersection of queer knowledge production and worker/working-class education. We haven’t asked very much about how Queer Studies classes can prepare students for the workforce; indeed, that question seems pretty unqueer given Queer Studies’ frequent critiques of the neoliberal university’s insinuations with capital. Also, the question of how to make better queer workers is not a liberal arts-friendly question, and Queer Studies is a liberal arts field. But it is the question in front of us at CSI, in night school, on weekends, after or before students’ workdays begin, or on their days off.

My students are interested, in other words, in how to use the language, ideas, and politics of Queer Studies on the job—not only their future careers but the jobs they’re headed to after class. We talk about breakrooms and bus rides to work and customer service roles and student-teaching classrooms, and we translate “high queer theory” to those local worksites. We think about how Queer Studies can make work life a bit better. On a personal level, doing this kind of queer-class integration has enabled me to reorient my own work life toward other kinds of labor and to appreciate the impoverishment of Queer Studies classrooms where the only queer career modeled is the Queer Studies professor’s own.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from Poor Queer Studies? What kind of future research do you hope it might inspire? 

I recently organized a panel at MLA on “Queer Studies and Its Class Locations.” The other panelists, Longoria and Eric Solomon, blew me away. Longoria works on queer issues in teacher education with a particular focus on queer immigrant youth and those with UndocuQueer identities, and Eric works at the intersection of poverty, the American South, and higher education. While each generously suggested that a poor queer studies framework had helped them conceptualize their work, they’re actually doing incredibly unique and groundbreaking research that recasts poor queer studies in ways I never would have imagined or predicted. That’s exciting to see. Moving ahead, just how many ways can we answer the question, “What’s poor about Queer Studies now?”

I end Poor Queer Studies by suggesting that we need more “queer ferrying” between non-peer institutions and, especially, between rich and poor colleges. We need more cross-class, cross-institutional sharing of opportunity, resources, and place-based knowledges and pedagogies. We need to train graduate students to do Queer Studies in its many institutional locations, not just in its class-based holding pattern at R1 and top tier schools. For me, working at CUNY, Queer Studies has become inseparable from open access public education. I hope Poor Queer Studies not only gives a name and a framework to a set of ideas that are imminent or nascent but also paves the way for the anti-elitist queer ferrying of those ideas around the many queer places of the academy.

Read the introduction to Poor Queer Studies free online and save 30% on the paperback edition with coupon code E20BRIM.

New Books in February

This month, we’re releasing an array of new reads in all of the subjects you love. Take a look at these new books coming this February!

The concluding volume in a poetic triptych, Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Dub: Finding Ceremony takes inspiration from theorist Sylvia Wynter, dub poetry, and ocean life to offer a catalog of possible methods for remembering, healing, listening, and living otherwise.

In Wild Blue Media, Melody Jue destabilizes terrestrial-based media theory frameworks and reorients the perception of the world by considering the ocean itself as a media environment—a place where the weight and opacity of seawater transforms how information is created, stored, transmitted, and perceived.

In The Ocean in the School, Rick Bonus tells the stories of Pacific Islander students at the University of Washington as they and their allies struggled to transform a university they believed did not value their presence into a space based on meaningfulness, respect, and multiple notions of student success.

In Orozco’s American Epic, Mary K. Coffey examines José Clemente Orozco’s mural cycle Epic of American Civilization, which indicts history as complicit in colonial violence and questions the claims of Manifest Destiny in the United States and the Mexican desire to mend the wounds of conquest in pursuit of a postcolonial national project.

Nandita Sharma traces the development of the categories of migrants and natives from the nineteenth century to the present in Home Rule to theorize how the idea of people’s rights being tied to geographical notions of belonging came to be.

In Unfixed, Jennifer Bajorek traces the relationship between photography and decolonial politics in Francophone west Africa in the years immediately leading up to and following independence from French colonial rule in 1960, showing how photography both reflected and actively contributed to social and political change.

In Are You Entertained?, a collection of essays, interviews, visual art, and artist statements on topics ranging from music and dance to Black Twitter and the NBA’s dress code, the contributors consider what culture and Blackness mean in the twenty-first century’s digital consumer economy. This volume is edited by Simone C. Drake and Dwan K. Henderson.

In Musicophilia in Mumbai, Tejaswini Niranjana traces the place of Hindustani classical music in Mumbai throughout the long twentieth century, showing how the widespread love of music throughout the city created a culture of collective listening and social subjects who embodied new forms of modernity.

Focusing on the work of a Marxist anticolonial literary group active in India between the 1930s and 1950s, Neetu Khanna rethinks the project of decolonization in The Visceral Logics of Decolonization by showing how embodied and affective responses to colonial subjugation provide the catalyst for developing revolutionary consciousness.

Contributors to Queer Korea, edited by Todd A. Henry, offer interdisciplinary analyses of non-normative sexuality and gender nonconformity in Korea, extending individualized notions of queer neoliberalism beyond those set in Western queer theory.

Drawing on Marxist phenomenology, geography, and aesthetics and film from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan made between the 1990s and the present, Erin Y. Huang theorizes the economic, cultural, and political conditions of neoliberal postsocialist China in Urban Horror.

The contributors to Affective Trajectories examine the mutual and highly complex entwinements between religion and affect in urban Africa in the early twenty-first century, tracing the myriad ways religious ideas, practices, and materialities interact with affect to configure life in urban African spaces. This collection is edited by Hansjörg Dilger, Astrid Bochow, Marian Burchardt, and Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon.

In Naked Agency, Naminata Diabate explores how the deployment of defiant nakedness by mature women in Africa challenges longstanding assumptions about women’s political agency.

From The Guiding Light to Passions, Elana Levine traces the history of daytime television soap operas as an innovative and highly gendered mass cultural form in Her Stories.

In Seeing by Electricity, Doron Galili traces television’s early history, from the fantastical devices initially imagined fifty years before the first television prototypes to the emergence of broadcast television in the 1930s, showing how television was always discussed and treated in relation to cinema.

Jeremy Packer and Joshua Reeves provide a critical account of the history and future of automation in warfare in Killer Apps by highlighting the threats posed by the latest advances in media technology and artificial intelligence.

Originally published in German in 1978 and appearing here in English for the first time, the second volume of Peter Weiss’s three-volume novel The Aesthetics of Resistance depicts anti-fascist resistance, radical proletarian political movements, and the relationship between art and resistance from the late 1930s to World War II.

Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop by Sarah Eckhardt accompanies the exhibition of the photography of Virginia artist Louis Draper and other members of the Kamoinge Workshop that opens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in February 2020. We are distributing it for the museum.

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The Most Read Articles of 2019

As 2019 comes to a close, we’re reflecting on the most read articles across all our journals. Check out the top 10 articles that made the list, all freely available until the end of January.

Instafame: Luxury Selfies in the Attention Economy” by Alice E. Marwick
Public Culture volume 27, issue 1 (75)

Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin” by Donna Haraway
Environmental Humanities volume 6, issue 1

Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” by Cathy J. Cohen
GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies volume 3, issue 4

After Trans Studies” by Andrea Long Chu and Emmett Harsin Drager
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly volume 6, issue 1

Necropolitics” by Achille Mbembe
Public Culture volume 15, issue 1

Markup Bodies: Black [Life] Studies and Slavery [Death] Studies at the Digital Crossroads” by Jessica Marie Johnson
Social Text volume 36, issue 4 (137)

Twin-Spirited Woman: Sts’iyóye smestíyexw slhá:li” by Saylesh Wesley
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly volume 1, issue 3

Gender and Nation Building in Qatar: Qatari Women Negotiate Modernity” by Alainna Liloia
Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies volume 15, issue 3

All Power to All People?: Black LGBTTI2QQ Activism, Remembrance, and Archiving in Toronto” by Syrus Marcus Ware
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly volume 4, issue 2

Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species: For Donna Haraway” by Anna Tsing
Environmental Humanities volume 1, issue 1

W. Ian Bourland on the Legacy of Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Ian_BourlandIn this guest post, W. Ian Bourland writes about artist Rotimi Fani-Kayode on the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of his death, December 21, 1989. Bourland is the author of Bloodflowers: Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Photography, and the 1980s, which examines Fani-Kayode’s art as a touchstone for cultural debates surrounding questions of gender and queerness, race and diaspora, aesthetics and politics, and the enduring legacy of slavery and colonialism. Bourland is Assistant Professor of Global Contemporary Art History at Georgetown University.

 

This month, Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s would have been 64 years old. Instead, he died in a hospital for infectious diseases in north London, survived by his partner, the writer Alex Hirst. They had met six years earlier when Fani-Kayode returned to London after seven years in the United States. There, he received formal and informal educations in Washington and New York, at university and in the countercultural spaces of clubland, the black gay poetry, and the rapidly changing eighties art world. In so doing, he broke with his family’s aspirations that he go into a “respectable” field, and consigned himself to permanent exile as an out gay man during a time of widespread homophobia and in the wake of the early days of the AIDS crisis. I explore this art and the context in which it was created in Bloodflowers.

BloodflowersFrom the time that Fani-Kayode knocked on Hirst’s door, he was a fixture in the community spaces around Brixton. Intellectuals like C.L.R. James, luminaries of the Caribbean Arts Movement, experimental theatre producers, and local non-profit gallery owners all converged in this landscape south of the Thames; they were part of a larger movement on the part of the Greater London Council and leftist leaders—from Darcus Howe to Ken Livingstone—to push back against the austerity and xenophobia of the Thatcher years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in this era of conservatism and in advance of the art sector boomtimes of the 1990s, Fani-Kayode’s art existed below the radar for mainstream audiences. He published in the pages of Square Peg, a queer journal that Hirst co-edited; and showed his photographs at a range of smaller spaces throughout the city. Dozens of his black-and-white photographs of men were published by Gay Men’s Press by 1988, and they circulated globally, mostly in specialist book shops. He also co-founded Autograph ABP, which continues to thrive to this day. It is now housed in a David Adjaye-designed building in the Shoreditch neighborhood that it shares with the Stuart Hall library. They recently staged a powerful show of portraits by South African artist and activist Zanele Muholi who, in many ways, is a successor of Fani-Kayode’s.

To some extent, it is remarkable that Fani-Kayode’s art has persisted. He died with few resources, his archive only preserved by the grace of friends like Hirst and Autograph director Mark Sealy. In the closing weeks of 1989, the “globalized” network of the contemporary art world that we now take for granted was in its infancy. The idea of professors and curators and academic journals taking his photographs seriously—taking contemporary African art seriously at all—seemed unlikely. And yet, the work survived: in shows in France, a collection with the publisher Revue Noire, and in 1996 in the landmark In/Sight exhibition of modern and contemporary African photography at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The museum still has some of those magnificent chromogenic prints, initially secured by the late Okwui Enwezor over two decades ago. They were on display this autumn alongside works by Lyle Ashton Harris, Glenn Ligon, Catherine Opie, Robert Mapplethorpe, and others. Smaller solo shows have been held throughout the United States, and even as far away as Cape Town.

I came to know Fani-Kayode’s work through the writing of Enwezor, Kobena Mercer, and Steven Nelson back in 2006. Then, he was widely celebrated as a key figure in the emerging field of contemporary African art history: he had written a powerful artist’s statement declaring himself to be a Yoruban photographer working in Europe, and his virtuosic photographs drew freely on iconographies from the western Africa and its diasporas. These he put in dialogue with Baroque painting, photographic modernism, classical myth and Christian symbolism. In short, his oeuvre is an art historian’s dream, and a source of boundless inspiration to viewers from many walks of life.

But I think Fani-Kayode was so important then, as now, for the visionary quality of his life and practice. This was literally true, in his invocation of a Yoruban “technique of ecstasy,” states of reverie in his method. But it was also socially resonant. He built on histories of gay liberation and black radicalism, but merged them in provocative ways that put pressure on a range of cultural boundaries and stereotypes. His pictures figured subjects that we might now think of in terms of queer or intersectional identities and what Stuart Hall was then theorizing as “New Ethnicities.” Moreover, Fani-Kayode was attuned to European history and contemporary politics—wary of ethno-nationalism and the lures of fascism, he thought of his camera as a weapon in a fight for survival fought every day by people of color, refugees, and exiles all over the world. Certainly these problems are as pressing today as they were in 1989.

I often felt a deep sadness writing Bloodflowers. I wondered what it would have been like for Fani-Kayode to survive long enough to see his work hang in some of the most important museums in the world, to see friends and contemporaries go on to great success, securing blue chip gallery representation, winning the prestigious Turner Prize. If only he had made it a few more years, he might have enjoyed the fruits of a post-Cold War world in which “difference” was suddenly so highly valued. Of course, Mercer and others wrote of the ambivalence with which such victories were won, the narrow path and creative strictures many black artists faced as the price of admission to the gilded circuit of fairs and biennials and wealthy dealers. As a singular voice and a defiantly independent artist, Fani-Kayode would have likely chafed at such expectations, but his perspective would have been a vital one as the decade unfolded.

Fani-Kayode is now widely recognized as one of the most important artists of the 1980s, is part of landmark group shows, and his reputation seems to grow with each passing year. He’s even featured alongside peers like Yinka Shonibare in the textbook I use in many of my courses. Looking back during this season of retrospection, on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the apparent cultural and political sea change that it augured, it is easy to wonder how much progress we have made. Three decades later, it seems that the art world has caught up to Fani-Kayode’s powerful example; in so many other ways, our collective work is only beginning.

You can read the introduction of Bloodflowers free online now, and purchase a paperback copy of for 30% off using the coupon code E19BRLND.

 

LGBTQ History

As we remember the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we’re highlighting some LGBTQ history and memoirs of activists and scholars that we’ve published over the years.

My Butch CareerIn My Butch Career, anthropologist Esther Newton tells the compelling and disarming story of her struggle to write, teach, and find love, all while coming to terms with her lesbian identity during one of the worst periods of homophobic persecution in the twentieth century. Writing in Curve magazine, Victoria A. Brownworth says, “What makes My Butch Career so compelling is that while writing about herself, Newton is also examining her milieu with the eye of the cultural anthropologist she became. The story she tells is as much our story as it is hers.” Newton also wrote an essay collection about her academic life, Margaret Mead Made Me Gay, and a history of Cherry Grove, Fire Island, a gay and lesbian resort community near New York City.

The Rest of ItHistorian Martin Duberman has written several memoirs. The Rest of It: Hustlers, Cocaine, Depression, and Then Some, 1976–1988 tells the previously untold and revealing story of a twelve-year period in his life filled with despair, drug addiction, and debauchery, yet also a particularly productive time in his professional life. In Lambda Literary Review, D. Gilson wrote,We queers are better off, better informed and better empowered, for Duberman’s astute, engaged lifetime of work. We are also better off for reading The Rest of It, for understanding the beautifully written history of one man, yes, but in effect, a part of the history of us all.”

In her memoir My Dangerous Desires, Amber Hollibaugh fiercely and fearlessly analyzes her own political development as a response to her unique personal history. She explores the concept of labeling and the associated issues of categories such as butch or femme, transgender, bisexual, top or bottom, drag queen, b-girl, or drag king and examines the relationship between activism and desire, as well as how sexuality can be intimately tied to one’s class identity.

DepressionIn Depression: A Public Feeling, Ann Cvetkovich combines memoir and critical essay in search of ways of writing about depression as a cultural and political phenomenon that offer alternatives to medical models. “Depression succeeds at opening up a public discussion on certain kinds of depression that are often dismissed as trivial, like the stress of academic labour,” said William Burton in Lambda Literary Review. Cvetkovich’s book has become a must-read for many stressed-out graduate students.

Exile and Pride is Eli Clare’s revelatory writing about his experiences as a white disabled genderqueer activist/writer established him as one of the leading writers on the intersections of queerness and disability and permanently changed the landscape of disability politics and queer liberation. Jewelle Gomez says, “Eli Clare writes with the spirit of a poet and the toughness of a construction worker.”

Exile within ExilesTurning from memoir to biography, check out Exile within Exiles: Herbert Daniel, Gay Brazilian Revolutionary by James N. Green. Herbert Daniel was a significant and complex figure in Brazilian leftist revolutionary politics and social activism from the mid-1960s until his death in 1992. Writing in HIV Plus magazine, Donald Padgett says, “Exile Within Exiles speaks to Daniel’s personal struggle not just against the Brazilian dictatorship but also the left’s construction of revolutionary masculinity — as well as his ultimate losing battle against AIDS.”

Hold On to Your Dreams is Tim Lawrence’s biography of the musician and composer Arthur Russell, one of the most important but least known contributors to New York’s downtown music scene during the 1970s and 1980s. Lawrence traces Russell’s odyssey from his hometown of Oskaloosa, Iowa, to countercultural San Francisco, and eventually to New York, where he lived from 1973 until his death from AIDS-related complications in 1992. In Bookforum, John Rockwell wrote, “Russell has inspired a book that helps us understand a thrilling twenty-five years of American cultural history.”

Be sure to check out all our LGBTQ Studies titles. They include Kristen Hogan’s history of the feminist bookstore movement; Me and My House, in which Magdalena J. Zaborowska explores James Baldwin’s final decade living in exile in France; Arresting Dress, Clare Sears’s book on cross-dressing in nineteenth-century San Francisco; and Safe Space, in which Christina B. Hanhardt examines how LGBTQ citizens’ desire for a “safe space” is tied up with the gentrification of cities.

And check out “Gay Power circa 1970: Visual Strategies for Sexual Revolution,” an article by Richard Meyer in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, which explores the role of visual images in the gay liberation movement, including the Stonewall Riots.

Give the Gift of Books

It’s Black Friday, but instead of heading to the mall, why don’t you simplify your life by giving books to everyone on your shopping list? We suggest a few great gift books below. They’re available for 30% off on our website with coupon code SAVE30, or head to your local independent bookstore tomorrow and #shoplocal on Small Business Saturday instead!

Baldwin_REV_jacket_frontWant to introduce a child in your life to James Baldwin? Pick up a copy of his only children’s book, Little Man, Little Man. Originally published in 1976 and quickly out of print, we have brought the book back in a beautiful new edition. School Library Journal calls it “a new classic.” Publishers Weekly says, “Through luminous prose and fine observation, readers come to care deeply about TJ and his friends, and they’ll wish their story didn’t end so soon.” Adults will also enjoy the story and the lovely illustrations by French watercolorist Yoran Cazac. Baldwin fans may also want to check out Me and My House: James Baldwin’s Last Decade in France by Magdalena J. Zaborowska. This richly illustrated book takes readers into Baldwin’s home and uses the space as a lens through which to expand his biography and explore the politics and poetics of blackness, queerness, and domesticity in his complex and underappreciated later works.

We have a number of suggestions for the poetry lovers in Gunslinger-50your life. Dionne Brand’s The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos will appeal to readers of Derek Walcott and Claudia Rankine. Through these essay poems, Brand explores memory, language, culture, and time while intimately interrogating the act and difficulty of writing, the relationship between the poet and the world, and the link between author and art. We also recommend Comfort Measures Only, a collection of selected poems by physician Rafael Campo. A&U Magazine calls it “a powerful collection of this masterful poet’s work,” and the Bay Area Reporter says, “Fans of Campo’s work will find much to savor in this treasury from a physician with his heart in all the right places.” This year we also released a special Fiftieth Anniversary Edition of Edward Dorn’s classic poem Gunslinger. In a new foreword Marjorie Perloff discusses Gunslinger‘s continued relevance to contemporary politics. This new edition also includes a critical essay by Michael Davidson and Charles Olson’s idiosyncratic “Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn,” which he wrote to provide guidance for Dorn’s study of, and writing about, the American West.

978-1-4780-0129-4If you’re interested in the history of gay and lesbian activism, check out two memoirs and a biography we put out this year. In Exile within Exiles, James N. Green examines the life of Herbert Daniel, a Brazilian activist for gay rights, feminism, and environmentalism, who fought for social justice both in Brazil and from exile in Europe from the mid-1960s until his death in 1992. Historian Martin Duberman was also an activist for LGBT rights, and his memoir The Rest of It chronicles a time in his life when he was both extremely productive in his scholarly and activist work while also suffering from depression, addiction, and other health problems. In My Butch Career, anthropologist Esther Newton tells her life story from childhood to age forty, when a lifetime of struggle against sexism and LBGT discrimination finally brought her professional success.

Got music lovers in your life? Why not give them Is It Still Good to Ya?, a collection of rock critic Robert Christgau’s best writing from his fifty-year career.  Kirkus Reviews writes, “At a moment when music criticism seems less empowered for being more fragmented, Christgau still offers an informed, authoritative perspective, self-aware regarding cultural aging and mortality, not stodgy but wry. A vital chronicler of rock’s story, several decades on.”

Someone to Talk ToTwo recent novels in translation would make great gifts for lovers of literature. Someone to Talk To is by one of China’s most respected novelists, Liu Zhenyun. Library Journal says, “”Dense with dozens of interwoven narratives of living through pre- and post-Mao China, Liu’s scathing and illuminating tome is highly recommended for internationally savvy fans of Mo Yan, Yu Hua, and Yan Lianke.” Or try a historical novel that still resonates today: Published in 1924 and widely acknowledged as a major work of twentieth-century Latin American literature, José Eustasio Rivera’s The Vortex follows the harrowing adventures of the young poet Arturo Cova and his lover Alicia as they flee Bogotá and head into the wild and woolly backcountry of Colombia. “Ironically, the environmentalist concerns he addressed are as timely as ever,” says Ilan Stavans.

We hope some of these great books will make it onto your holiday shopping list. Order by December 1 using coupon code SAVE30 and domestic orders will definitely make it to you before Christmas. Or head to your local bookstore and buy or order these great books from them.