#52essays2017

#1: Transitions

On August 4, 2009, I loaded up my car and with my ex riding shotgun, made the twenty-seven-hour drive from Spokane, Washington to West Lafayette, Indiana to start graduate school. It was a transition of grand proportions, I’d gone from working in corporate America to teaching high school English to working in the multicultural affairs office at a community college. Now, I was finally going “home.” I’d always known that I wanted to be a professor; in Ms. Jackson’s ninth grade English class I’d vowed to be a better teacher to my students than she had been to me. Sorry Ms. Jackson, (and my apologies to OutKast).  More than that, I wanted to write. I had been a shy kid, I wore thick glasses and barely spoke above a whisper to anyone that wasn’t family or friend. Books were my escape, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I liked to write stories too, and the day my 10th grade English teacher Mrs. Wilson read my short story aloud to the class was probably the day that changed my life (I’d been too shy to read it myself). Of course I didn’t know that at the time, but her praise for the story, along with that of my classmates, made me feel like I was special, like my words held some magical power, and I knew that I wanted more of that.

It was nearly thirty years later when I decided to rearrange my life so that I could concentrate on writing (and creating opportunities for other  women to write). I’d soon be graduating with my doctorate, but realized that I didn’t want to give my life over to the tenure track. I still loved teaching, but I wanted to write on my own terms, and academia wasn’t having any of that (at least until you’re tenured, and they way things are going in this country, maybe not even then).  Going back to graduate school at forty gave me a bit of clarity that made it easy to figure out what I wasn’t going to do with the rest of my life. I knew I wasn’t willing to live in flyover country (sorry y’all, too much snow), or pretend that queer theory was the primary lens through which I should write about Black lesbian literature. Still, I had to figure out what I was going to do. I had a pretty steady online teaching gig, so I was ok there, but I wanted more. The one thing that kept haunting me about the dissertation I was near completing was learning about the dissolution of so many feminist presses over the years, particularly those that published Black lesbians. I’d been reading about them and finding inspiration in Barbara and Beverly Smith’s work at Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. I’d also read about Persephone and The Naiad Press. I wondered who’d do the work now.  Oh, I knew that there were plenty of publishing houses that catered to lesbian writers, but they mostly published romance, lesbian mysteries, and white women. But what was there for US?

I had my answer. I thought about it for several months, researched independent presses for several more, and in 2014, the year before I graduated, I started a small press dedicated to publishing literary work by Black and WOC lesbians. I’ve since decided to start an imprint for children’s books as well.  Just last year, I published my first edited collection of short stories. It was a harrowing process, but I loved every minute of it. My co-editor and mentor Lauren helped me through it all, and I can’t be more grateful for her patience and expertise. I also realized that I’d regained my passion for writing short stories. While co-facilitating a writing workshop, I started pushing myself to write more, and realized that I’d written enough stories for a little collection of my own. The thought of sending my stories out into the world terrified me, but I knew that I had to do it. I’m still pretty shy, (although I wear contact lenses now), and books are still my escape. Graduate school didn’t make me a writer, but it did help me find my voice and embolden me to strike out on my own as an indie publisher, (pretty sure it wasn’t designed to do that), and to pursue my dream of writing full-time.  It’s taken nearly three decades for me to actually call myself a writer, but the seed was born that day in Mrs. Wilson’s American literature class.

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