There are very few things that excite me at the end of the semester. Often, I am burned out on all of the excuses and last minute dodges of intersectional analysis that typify my days locked in the ivory tower. This year’s “stop teaching homosexuality” note shoved under my door was a especially off-putting. And yet, like most academics, all I really need is the promise of a brilliant new book (and a few other things) and I am good to go. Long time readers know how giddy I am at the site of the big brown boxes full of desk copies that fill my office this time of year. Some how I think the gods of all things literary know that shiny new books + end of the semester = major dramas avoided. So imagine how much happier this little blogging feminist was when a flyer arrived in her mailbox announcing an unsolicited free copy of Stacyann Chin’s Memoir was set to arrive this month, just for her . . . !!!!! . . . I love it when publishers get used to what you teach and thus send you copies of things they think “you might like”; usually, everybody wins! I get great books. The publisher and author sell them b/c I order them for class! And the students get to read amazing material! Win! Win! Win!
Chin’s Memoir, The Other Side of Paradise, blends poetry, lyrical prose, astute intersectional critique, with humorous introspection. Her short essays and poems promise to enlighten and enthrall any number of reading audiences.
Never one to shy away from controversy, Chin has included her critique of homophobia in Jamaica, and the freedom she finds on the streets of NYC, on the website for the book. The anti-racist in me, worries about the reception such a story will get amongst people, gay and straight, so willing to call up the spectre of Jamaica while forgetting Teish Cannon (NYC), Venice Brown, Terrain Dandridge, Patreese Johnson, Renata Hill (NYC), Satender Singh (Sacramento), the 28 year old gang rape survivor (San Fran), Gwen Araujo (CA), Micah Painter (Seattle), Teisha Cannon (DC), Norma Espinoza (Utah), and the unnamed woman walking home in a suburb of Portland Or, in urban queer meccas and the famous cases like Matthew Shepard (Wyoming), Teena Brandon (Nebraska), and to a lesser extent Angie Zapata (Co), in rural or conservative places. While the realist in me, praises Chin’s willingness to speak her truth in a world she understands all too well will read it through a racist and regionalist lens. (This is what I mean in the previous post about how rural-urban, liberal-conservative, and other similar binaries not only depend on larger than life totalizing but also real lived-experience to exist. It isn’t that people can’t or don’t find freedom in urban centers but rather how that freedom is translated by hegemonic forces into the myth of total freedom, total acceptance, total equality, etc. in order to exempt acts of exclusion or bigotry – intentional or otherwise – on the left and subsequently to maintain oppression.)
Not only do I love the way Chin never allows her voice to be compromised by reception but also love how that particular piece expertly addresses class issues in both places with such subtlety. Thus she references how class can mediate desire in Jamaica and how class can exclude people with similar desires in the U.S. without a long exegesis on classism. And, of course, I am enthralled by the nostalgia for home that dots this and other prose and poetry she writes.
When you are young and burning with the urgency of sexual freedom and the flesh, things like culture and grandmothers and accents that mimic your own mean less than they do at 30. – Chin
I am already imagining how her poem about freedom through the deconstruction of Snow White and other Fairy Tales will resonate with my students and work brilliantly with a Fairy Tale assignment we do in one my media classes.
So now, I am sitting in my office, on a Saturday, salivating at the thought of this book arriving, instead of agonizing over what to do about a thesis that must pass but is yet to be turned in. I have already feverishly begun the syllabus for the “Alternative Documents” class proposed for 2010 in which we look at “secondary sources” for the lives that primary sources “forgot” or ignored. It begins with a quote:
No going back now the small vortex
I am becoming something new
without the old habits
my back is learning to crank
upright, now, upright the girl whispers
I don’t know, I think that makes a pretty good intro quote for any WS classes. Don’t you?