An Homage to LGBTQ Literature

Sunday Spotlight

I’ve always found a home with books, and it wasn’t until I started reading queer literature that I found a home within myself.

The beginning was with a book called Tibok, a compilation of Filipino-American (even Canadian, I believe) poems, stories, comics and others. I started hunting for gay and lesbian literature then in used bookstore jaunts, because I knew that there were no LGBT lit in the traditional bookstore in my town or even in Manila.

I remember spending hours at book sales while my parents and my sisters shopped for shoes and clothes. Most of the time I wouldn’t find any LGBTQ lit, but I would always walk away with a title that intrigued me.

Two books that brought me significant joy throughout my adolescent years were from used bookstores in Angeles City: The Swashbuckler: A Novel by Lee Lynch and a fiction title about lesbians in rural Montana whose title I’m struggling to remember.

The presence of these books in my life represented a contradiction that many still face today: these books were brought by American soldiers who stayed in the military base nearby. While I was ecstatic with my finds, it also meant that the Philippines was under heavy military subjugation by the United States.

When I moved to the Bay Area in 2004, I found solace in books. I immediately got library cards to the San Mateo County libraries and in San Francisco. I discovered Jeanette Winterson, Rita Mae Brown and other Naiad Press writers. And then I started working at Borders Books & Music, and each day I discovered more and more titles that I wanted to read. The rest is history.

As a queer Filipino immigrant navigating life in the U.S., I’ve been fortunate enough to come across the work of queer writers who’ve saved, taught, inspired and moved me: Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Cherríe Moraga, Nikky Finney and as of late, Juan Miguel Severo, Ocean Luong, r. erica doyle, Saeed Jones and Danez Smith.

This Pride month, I want to honor the work of queer writers who’ve continued to propel me in ways I’ve never imagined. I want to highlight four specific books from queer writers I’ve featured in the blog, and pay homage to their work:

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This Bridge Called my Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. I read this anthology at a very critical time — I was going through a breakup and it helped me move on in a different direction. Instead of mulling over my breakup, I was inspired to create more, to write more, to understand myself more in different ways.

The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities edited by Ching-In Chen, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarinsaha and Jai Dulani. Most of the queer people I know are activists and this book is a meaningful resource on how we love and protect each other amidst difficult and challenging work. I also wrote a review of the book and you can read it here.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. This is one of those books that really make me feel lucky to be alive in this time, because I get to be a witness to the majesty and the importance of his work. I must’ve cried numerous times after reading this, and his pieces will stay etched in my consciousness for life.

As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals & Notebooks 1964-1980 by Susan Sontag. I first heard about Sontag through Brainpickings and then through Teju Cole. Reading her journals have taught me so much about myself; her thoughts on every single thing from politics, to being a mother, an artist, the way she sees herself are all revelatory.

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Do you have any LGBTQ book or literature which have influenced or inspired you? Do share in the comments below!

 

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This week’s biggest story is The Atlantic‘s My Family’s Slave by Alex Tizon, a piece that that told the story of the writer’s helper or “katulong” which went viral. I first noticed it on Twitter, where so many folks were talking about it. On Facebook, it was being shared over a hundred times. I’m still thinking about Eudocia, what the term “Lola” actually means, and of course, feudalism in the Philippines. As soon as I am able to, I’ll be writing about it in here. In the meantime, check out some responses that I’m really thankful for and appreciate: GABRIELA USA, Bayan USA, Anakbayan USA.

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I’m also thankful for this self-care guide compiled by the Sylvia River Law Project called Self-Care on the Inside which has tips on meditation and mindfulness, grounding techniques and for nurturing creativity.

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When I’m lost in the work, I’m curious. I don’t know if curiosity is a balm, because it often gets me in trouble, but it gives me control. It becomes fuel, and it brings me out of myself and into the world, even if I’ve just been sitting at my desk and thinking about spirals, which is what I’ve been thinking about this morning.

— Ocean Vuong (aka a Libromance favorite) on being generous in your work

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Because not everything in this world can be dampened by Trump,
nor by the fuckedup-ness of situations, things and/or people.

I always have hope.

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Tuesday morning’s trip to the Rose Garden

#GetLit: Lola, Kinship, Feudalism

#GetLit

Dear President: Letters from Writers & Poets

Sunday Spotlight

I was on my way to grab a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when a magazine
so16_covercover arrested my attention — Teju Cole, on the Poets & Writers September/October 2016 issue. I walked out of Green Apple Books in San Francisco that evening with both the book and the magazine, tickled by my 1) discovery and 2) the fact that the guy who made me want to read Conrad in the first place was staring back at me from a magazine.

In addition to the wonderful feature on Teju written by Kevin Nance, I was enthralled to find a feature called Dear President: A Message for the Next Commander in Chief From Fifty American Poets and Writers wherein poets and writers offered their perspectives and longings on what the country needs. The prompt:

Imagine you are face-to-face with the next president—whoever that may be—and, in a few sentences, write about what you hope to see addressed in the next four years. It turns out something pretty great happens when you ask writers to convey, without a lot of political grandstanding, what is most important to them.

Here are a few of my favorites:

“There is no present or future without immigrants; white supremacy (and all of its sequelae) is one of the gravest threats to our democracy.”
Junot Díaz

“The occupation of Palestine by Israel—mass incarceration, presumption of guilt, withholding of resources, wanton destruction of human life, all underscored by the creation of physical barriers and the emotional propaganda of persecution, exclusion, mythmaking, and fear—are mirrored, one by one, in the policies of institutionalized racism in the United States. Unless we face this singular fact, and acknowledge our collective culpability as architects and sponsors of state terrorism here in our American cities, and in our foreign policy regarding Palestine (which is the bedrock of all other foreign policy), we will continue to be unable to fulfill the potential of our democracy for our people, and remain excoriated abroad for our impotence and hypocrisy.”
—Ru Freeman

“Your country is complex; it is hard to imagine a foreigner being able to fix it for you. Keep this in mind when you consider invading another nation.”
—Karan Mahajan

“There should be a new cabinet post—Secretary of the Arts. For the inaugural six poets: European, Hispanic, Asian American, African American, Native American, Muslim.”
—Ishmael Reed

“No language is neutral. To speak is to claim a life—and often our own. If more Americans speak to one another, in writing, in media, at the supermarket, we might listen better. It is difficult, I think, to hate one another when we start to understand not only why and how we hurt, but also why and how we love.”
Ocean Vuong

I admit, the presidential election makes me weary, tires me out. It is devoid of the hope and fire that once fueled me back in 2008, as a Green Card-holder who couldn’t even vote. I can’t blame my disinterest on either Trump or Clinton though, because how I view U.S. politics now is drastically different from how I understood things before. It amazes me that Trump has made it far in this election, spewing the kind of rhetoric his campaign of bigotry and hate has been built on. What Hillary stands for and what she’s done in the past makes me uneasy.

Both candidates, while representing extremes of the political spectrum, are still functioning in a system which can never assuage the intersection of my identities: working class, brown woman, immigrant, queer.

But these words, from “some of our most thoughtful and articulate citizens” (as P&W lovingly refers to them) give me hope. I’ve always looked up to writers and poets to create and envision the kind of world we need. As poet Ken Chen writes,

“America has often seen itself as a beacon of democracy, but the American project has always been about a settler project of inclusion and exclusion: democracy for those imagined as real Americans, and inequality for slaves, immigrants, black and brown bodies, and those who live in places the United States has colonized or destabilized, most recently Iraq and Libya. I hope that you can see yourself not just as a standard-bearer for a global economic elite, but as a force for equality and justice for all.”

But shoot, vote for what it’s worth.

The Inevitability of Ocean Vuong’s Poetry

Book Reviews, Poetry

His face between my hands, wet as a cut.
If we make it to shore, he says, I will name our son after this water.
I will learn to love a monster. He smiles.
— “Immigrant Haibun”

51t5rbcccgl-_sx365_bo1204203200_To be named after vast waters is an immense weight, but Ocean Vuong’s poetry in Night Sky with Exit Wounds ripples, sends waves across the body, across time.

Living at a time when queer contemporary poets are publishing their work has been life-giving. Over the past years, the work of Saeed Jones, r. erika doyle and Danez Smith have suffused harsh nights with tenderness, long days with joy.

Ocean’s poetry reminds me of Warsan Shire’s in Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth where the self is in constant rhythm with flight — of leaving and arriving, of reliving and remembering. Both poets grappled the afflictions of war throughout their writing — from Vietnam, Somalia.

In Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean carries the stories of his parents seeking refuge away from Hanoi. His father is a constant subject, navigating political and emotional terrains. I remember reading “Telemachus” with a profound longing to reach through time and understand the visceral loss of a son, entwined with his father.

Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city

beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed

cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to see how far

I might sink. Do you know who I am,
Ba?
But the answer never comes. The answer

is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think

he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear

at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch

his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral

in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine — but one I will wear

to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips

with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.

A few months ago, I read and wrote a book review of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer. What little I knew of the Vietnam War expanded as I dove deep in the sometimes hysterical, sometimes maniacal narrative of Viet’s main character, a half-French half-Vietnamese sleeper spy. While genres, voice and format differ, the Vietnam War left a significant imprint on everyone and everything it touched.

He reveals the semiotics of memory, the traces of war on the body. (To transcribe the poem in the blog would not suffice, here’s “In Newport I Watch My Father Lay His Cheek to a Beached Dolphin’s Wet Back” straight from the book:)

Sunday Spotlight: 5 Queer Poets of Color You Need to Know

Poetry, Sunday Spotlight

There’s nothing like queer poets of color who can speak truth to power, paint the most intimate landscapes, reach the most vulnerable parts of us and simultaneously make us swoon / ache. The recent deaths of 49 queer Latinx and Black familia in Orlando cannot impair resilience — it will continue to light up the deepest tunnels where hatred and violence live, the way poetry illuminates and gives life to things we are often afraid to say.

In the face of racism, homophobia and xenophobia, here are five queer poets of color you need to know:

Denice Frohman is an award-winning poet and educator, whose work explores the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and the “in-betweeness” that exists in us all. She is the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, 2014 CantoMundo Fellow, 2013 Hispanic Choice Award, and 2012 Leeway Transformation Award recipient. Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post and the forthcoming book, Jotas: An Anthology of Queer Latina Voices.

Saeed Jones received his MFA from Rutgers University – Newark and is a 2011 Pushcart Prize nominee. His work has appeared in publications like Hayden’s Ferry Review, StorySouth, Jubilat & The Collagist. He is a regular contributor to Ebony.com & Lambda Literary. His chapbook When the Only Light is Fire is available from Sibling Rivalry Press. He’s received fellowships from Queer / Arts / Mentorship as well as Cave Canem.

Nikky Finney was born by the sea in South Carolina and raised during the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Black Arts Movements. She began reading and writing poetry as a teenager growing up in the spectacle and human theatre of the deep South. At Talladega College she began to autodidactically explore the great intersections between art, history, politics, and culture. These same arenas of exploration are ongoing today in her writing, teaching and spirited belief in one-on-one activism. She is the author of four books of poetry, On Wings Made of Gauze, RICE, The World Is Round, and Head Off & Split, which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2011.

Ocean Vuong is the author of Night Sky With Exit Wounds (2016), winner of the 2016 Whiting Award. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, Ocean has received honors and awards from Poets House, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, the Academy of American Poets, and a Pushcart Prize. His poetry and fiction have been featured in Kenyon Review, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Poetry, and the American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets.

Danez Smith is the recipient of a 2014 Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from Poetry Magazine & The Poetry Foundation. He is also the recipient of fellowships from the McKnight Foundation, Cave Canem, VONA, & elsewhere. Danez is the author of [insert] Boy (YesYes Books, 2014) & the chapbook hands on ya knees (Penmanship books, 2013). Danez is the winner of the 2014 Reading Series Contest sponsored by The Paris-American & was featured in The Academy of American Poets’ Emerging Poets Series by Patricia Smith.

This Pride season — in memory of the 49 queer Latinx and Black lives lost, in memory of the lost lives of Black transwomen, in memory of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson — we vow to fight against cultures of violence and systems of oppression. May their souls keep on dancing, may they rest in power.

Happy Pride!