Hyper-Realized: An Interview With Jewelle Gomez


Interview by Cassidy Foust

Recently, at WisCon 40 (a feminist sci-fi and fantasy convention in Madison, Wisconsin), we had the opportunity to sit down with the phenomenal Jewelle Gomez, author of The Gilda Stories, which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year with City Lights Books! Jewelle Gomez talks vampires, community, and radical change in this interview.

CBSD: The Gilda Stories was one of the first stories that was a vampire story that wasn’t just about vampires. Why not just make it realistic fiction?

JG: Well, the first Gilda Story I wrote is really a story about retribution, and about a woman being harrassed on the street, and then she kills the guy.  And then I realized, “well, that was interesting,” but what I really wanted to write about was women feeling powerful. . . I wanted to write more about that character. Then I thought, well, maybe she’s a vampire, because then she can travel through time and she can be part of culture and yet apart from cultures. And I was very interested in an African American character, specifically a woman, being a part of history, and not only a slave (which is what she starts out as) but as a person who is acting on their own terms. Having her be a vampire made it possible for her to see time, see life over time, and to struggle with how to be powerful without being exploitative. Gilda’s growth over time was emblematic of the things that I hope for in any oppressed community—the opportunity to gain power without becoming oppressive yourself.  We’re still trying to get to that.

CBSD: One of my favorite things about The Gilda Stories is the way the long timeline allows for that complexity. It shows how different groups shift in social hierarchies, from their inception (or “discovery,” in the case of the vampires) to their acceptance, to their rejection.

JG: Exactly. That’s one of the things I was hoping to do. We only get a snapshot of the culture if we live to be ninety—such a tiny little snapshot. There’s the one line in the novel, in which the original Gilda says, “The real gift is to see people over time and still want to make a world.” Because people are really disappointing. Ha! And I think that’s what anyone who’s an activist, at their core, has to understand. People are really disappointing, but our role is to keep being activists. You have some gains, and that will be lovely, and some setbacks, and that will be disappointing, but at the heart of it, as activists, our role is to keep doing what we do. It does not stop at, “oh, I got what I want. I got marriage, so now I’m happy.” (I don’t know why you’d be happy with that, but, you know.)  Well, how is that person over there doing? And then knowing you have to protect those people. The rights, when you get them, they don’t stay. You have to protect them. Because you really want a shift in the culture, not just a law here and a law there.

CBSD: How did you first get started working with City Lights, and what has your experience with them as a publisher been?

JG: I knew City Lights already because I knew San Francisco, and of course everybody knows them, and I had a kind of friendly relationship with them already. I think they saw the political perspective that it had, and it really fit in with their kind of progressive, thoughtful publishing history. . . It’s been heaven. Having an independent press is really amagildazing for me. When I was first trying to get Gilda published, all of the commercial presses and the sci-fi presses turned it down. It was too … something. I don’t know. One letter from one of the editors at one of the mainstream presses said, “Gilda is a lesbian, she’s black, and she’s a vampire. That’s too confusing.” And my thought was, well, I’m two of the three… I don’t think confuse people. (I didn’t say which two of the three I was.) Twenty-five years later to have an important press like City Lights to reissue, for me, was such an honor. The team was so great, and they set up readings for me, a tour up the coast, and helped me figure out how to do the Twitter, and I know I’m not their only author! They still gave me everything they could possibly give me. . . How  lucky can a girl get?

CBSD: What has touring been like?

JG: I didn’t go “on the road,” per se [for The Gilda Stories‘ first publication]. With City Lights, this year, I really just had to say, “I think I want to go here,” and then they’d find a bookstore for me. Along the tour, I would ask, “Who here has read Gilda before?” And I got all of these stories—you know, “I was in graduate school,” or “I was giving birth to my first child, and I was trying to distract myself” … and I said, “Gilda’s good, but I don’t know if she can distract you from labor!” But people had all kinds of stories they wanted to tell me about where they were when they first met her, and that was very sweet.

CBSD: What’s next?

JG: Once I’ve gotten this Gilda launched, probably this winter I’ll start again. I have about five chapters… it’s not a prequel—somebody called it an “intra-quel,” because the chapters take place between the chapters of the current novel. I try to track more of Gilda’s emotional growth . . . I love being able to think about Gilda as a human. I mean, she’s not mortal, but she is a human being, hyper-realized, so everything she feels is huge.

CBSD: That sounds fascinating. We can’t wait to see where Gilda goes next!

The Gilda Stories: 25th Anniversary Edition is available now from City Lights Books. Find out where to purchase this and other titles here on the Consortium website.


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Why Not Fantasy?: An Interview With Sofia Samatar

Interview by Cassidy Foust

Recently, at WisCon 40 (a feminist sci-fi and fantasy convention in Madison, Wisconsin), we had the opportunity to sit down with the phenomenal Sofia Samatar. In addition to being a WisCon Guest of Honor, Sofia Samatar is the author of The Winged Histories and the World Fantasy Award-winning A Stranger in Olondria (both from Small Beer Press). Sofia Samatar talks the power of fantasy, rewriting tradition, and putting yourself out there in this interview.

 CBSD: So why sci-fi/fantasy?

SS: I have asked this question a lot. I’ve tried to find various answers to it, and none of them have been satisfactory. In fact, I did a whole dissertation on fantasy in the work of Taib Saleh, who’s a Sudanese novelist, trying to see if I can get closer to that question, “why fantasy?” One way of answering the question might be “why not fantasy?” Fantasy is older than realism, has a much longer history in oral traditions. “Why realism?” might be the actual question we should ask people. But that’s not entirely satisfactory to me. You could also say, well, I’m this person from a mixed background, you know, Somali and Swiss-German Mennonite, that you don’t see a lot of, and that it maybe encourages me to imagine other ways of being. That’s another way of answering, and that also doesn’t satisfy me. So none of the answers are good enough.

CBSD: That’s an answer in and of itself. One goal you’ve talked about, specifically in The Winged Histories is to counteract the conventional war-mongering of fantasy that isn’t really questioned. Do you see sci-fi and fantasy moving in this direction?

SS: I think that there is a strong feminist tradition in fantasy and sci-fi, and there are a lot of women in the genre who have been questioning that war-mongering for a long time. They don’t tend to be as highly popular as the ones that are not trying to think about war in ways that challenge its primacy and challenge  its necessity. The stories that challenge that narrative tend not to get as much attention. They might be there, and I might not know.winged histories

CBSD: How did you start working with Small Beer Press?

SS: When first I decided I wanted to start getting A Stranger in Olondria published, I started looking for an agent.  And I kept trying for five years, and I couldn’t get one. I just wasn’t really that aware of the independent press world. . . [but] I loved the kind of books that Small Beer did, and I knew that our sensibilities were really similar.  And so, at WisCon, I went to the Small Beer table in the dealers room and I spoke to Gavin Grant and I said, “Hey, I wrote this novel!” And he didn’t look thrilled.  I think that’s probably not the only time he’s heard that! But he said, “Send me three chapters,” so I did, and then it went on from there. They were the first publisher that I talked to, because they were at the top of my list, and it worked out, and it has been great. They’re amazing.

CBSD: Can you give us any sneak-peeks into what you’re working on now?

SS: Sure! I’m working on a very different kind of book now. It is a hybrid text combining fiction, history, and memoir, based on a historical event: the migration of Mennonites from southern Russia to what is now Uzbekistan in the 1880s. So, a little different, but still sort-of fantastical. It’s many of the same preoccupations of A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories – about migration and borders and history and memory, but this time looking at them in a more recognizable world.

The Winged Histories is available now from City Lights Books. Find out where to purchase this, A Stranger in Olondria, and other titles here on the Consortium website.

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10 Books to Read for Pride Month

June is Pride Month, a time known for its colorful parades and endless amounts of glitter (which stick around for months after the celebrations are over). Though June was only officially established as Pride Month in 2000, members of the LGBTQ+ community have been celebrating their identities for hundreds of years. As members of the LGBTQ+ community know, pride is not always loud. Pride can be quiet, bittersweet, or even lonely. Pride does not always mean “out.” But pride can also be jubilant, victorious, and cathartic. This round-up is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ+ pride in all of its many stages and forms.

fair playFair Play: How LGBT Athletes are Claiming Their Rightful Place in Sports (Akashic Books) by Cyd Zeigler examines the ways in which sports have been transformed for LGBT athletes. From locker rooms to lawsuits, sports haven’t always been the friendliest places for anyone who doesn’t identify as straight or cis gender. In Fair Play, Zeigler shares the stories of those athletes who are working to bust through the prejudices and stereotypes, including NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox, and NFL hopeful Michael Sam. This book is one part history and one part anthem, and will resonate with anyone who has played on a team but not felt a part of one. Jon Wertheim, the executive editor of Sports Illustrated, called Fair Playthe definitive book on LGBT issues in sports.”

Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers (Alternative Comics) by Hazchainmail bikiniel Newlevant and Sophie Yanow is a collection of comics about the ups, downs, and inside-outs of being a “gamer girl.” While not explicitly an LGBT-anthology, many LGBT authors are featured, and there’s an emphasis on how gaming can build safe and accepting spaces for identity expression and reclamation. This book is the definitive guide to navigating geek culture as an LBT+ femme. As Anna Anthropy, a trans woman, gamer, and artist, shares in Chainmail Bikini, “We don’t have much input in the stories we’re given: they’re written for us, and we aren’t usually consulted. But we learn to tell our own stories. . . The names we pick for ourselves are our true names. The way we see ourselves is the True Sight.”

gildaThe Gilda Stories (City Lights Books) by Jewelle Gomez is the original cult classic lesbian vampire story. If you’re a fan of Buffy, Twilight, or TrueBlood, but have ever found yourself thinking, “hmmm… this seems like the same story over again,” please, pick up The Gilda Stories. This novel follows the journey of Gilda, a young black woman in 1850s Louisiana who learns about freedom while working in a brothel, where she is soon initiated into eternal life (and, you know, falls in love with women and stuff). But don’t stop there: The Gilda Stories isn’t all romance and fluff. It dives unflinchingly into explorations of blackness, radical ecology, re-definitions of family, and the politics of eroticism. 2016 is the 25th anniversary of the original publication of The Gilda Stories, proving that powerful literature is the best brand of immortality.

yoltYou Only Live Twice: Sex, Death, and Transition (Coach House Books) by Mike Hoolboom and Chase Joynt is a genre-transcending book that explores two artists’ lives before and after transitions: from female to male, and from near-dead to alive. It takes an unapologetic look at the struggles and joys of being LGBT+ that are often swept under the rug during mainstream discussions of gay rights. Part memoir, part cultural theory, this book maintains a stubborn optimism, asking intimate questions about what it might mean to find love and hope through conversation across generations. Maggie Nelson, critically acclaimed author of The Argonauts, says that, “Chase Joynt and Mike Hoolboom here give each other the gift so many people only dream of: ample, unhurried space to unspool crucial stories of one’s life, and an attentive, impassioned, invested, intelligent receiver on the other side.”

beijingBeijing Comrades (Feminist Press) by Bei Tong, translated by Scott E. Myers is the first English language translation of the cult novel originally published anonymously on an underground gay website within mainland China. If you’ve ever wished for a healthy dose of socioeconomic critique with your paperback romance, this is the book for you. It’s the story of a tumultuous love affair between Handong, a ruthless and wealthy businessman, and Lan Yu, a naïve, working-class architectural student. Beijing Comrades is unafraid to ask difficult questions about love, power, and what we’re willing to do for both.

The Cosmopolitans (Feminist Press) by Sarah Schulman is a modern retelling of Balzcosmopolitansac’s classic Cousin Bette. It’s a raw and compelling tale of two unlikely friends, cast out of their own families, who search for understanding in 1950s Bohemian New York City. The vivacity of Schulman’s characters, from Earl, a black, gay actor working in a meatpacking plant, to Bette, a white secretary, to the city itself, stay true to the grit and gloss of midcentury Manhattan. The truths The Cosmopolitans draws from the human need for love and recognition will linger with you long after the book is closed.

priestessPriestess of Morphine: The Lost Writings of Marie-Madeleine in the Time of Nazis (Process Books) by Marie Madeleine and Ronald K. Siegel is a collection of writings from the lesbian poet and novelist, born Gertrud Günther. Marie-Madeleine is the definition of a boss. She wrote erotic gay poetry and graphic accounts of drug use in the middle of Nazi Germany, publishing almost 50 works over the course of her lifetime, and never letting fear for her wellbeing or reputation stop her. Her stylings range from the meditative and thoughtful to the raw and sexy. If you think poetry is boring, you haven’t read Marie-Madeleine. This collection is the first time her writing has been translated into English.

Choir Boy (Theatre Communications Group) by Tarell Alvin McCraney is a stirring new drama abochoir boyut navigating life as a black gay youth. The protagonist, Pharus, wants nothing more than to take his perceived rightful place as the leader of the Charles R. Drew Prep School For Boys’ legendary gospel choir, but can he find his way inside the hallowed halls of this institution if he sings in his own key? This play is one of the most crucial pieces of literature, asking what it means to occupy multiple conflicting identities, particularly in a time when the poster boys for LGBT+ rights are typically white gay men. It’s heartwarming, lyrical, and difficult all at once. The Village Voice praised New York Times’ Outstanding Playwright Award Winner McCraney’s writing in Choir Boy as “holding its own, locating poetry even in the casual vernacular and again demonstrating his gift for simile and metaphor.”

The pride continues all year long, starting with these titles, available in July!

perfect pairingPerfect Pairing (Bywater Books) by Rachel Spangler is the ultimate foodie lesbian rom-com. It tells the story of Hal Orion, a free-spirited chef, and Quinn Banning, a driven investment banker, whose paths collide when Quinn makes Hal an offer she can’t refuse: a restaurant under her own name, complete creative control, and secure financial backing. But Hal utters the one word Quinn can’t stand to hear, “No.” Will their physical attraction grow cold as they argue over their ideals, or will they find that the most distinctive ingredients often make for the perfect pairing? Written with equal parts humor and candor (and, of course, grilled cheese!), Perfect Pairing is a heartwarming romance novel for anyone who’s ever wished the Food Network also aired dating shows. This novel will be published on July 12.

Gentlemen Prefer Asians: Tales of Gay Indonesians and Green Card Marriages gentlemen(Stone Bridge Press) by Yuska L. Tuanakotta is a funny, incisive, and touching collection of personal essays. When Tuanakotta and two of his friends immigrate to the United States from Indonesia, they are inundated with shirtless joggers, same-sex displays of affection, and a constant drive to psychoanalyze. Tuanakotta uses humor to look at the nuances and hierarchies in American gay culture that are often taken for granted. Gentlemen Prefer Asians will be published on July 12.

Find out where to purchase Fair PlayChainmail BikiniThe Gilda StoriesYou Only Live Twice, Beijing ComradesThe CosmopolitansPriestess of MorphineChoir BoyPerfect Pairing, and Gentlemen Prefer Asians here on the Consortium website!

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Coming to a Curbside Near You!

Curbside-splendor-Sq_LOGOIf you live in the Chicago area, you’ll soon be able to visit a brand new center of community and independent publishing, in the best form of all: a bookstore! This June, Curbside Splendor — a publisher of literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that has celebrated its Chicago roots since its inception in 2009 — is opening “Curbside Books and Records.”

The store was first announced in a Publishers Weekly article on May 24. While it will carry titles by Curbside Splendor (like Mickey, which HBO-TV/Girls star Lena Dunham recently touted in her online newsletter), it will also feature titles by indie publishers across the nation, as well as regional titles and records produced by independent labels. Curbside Splendor doesn’t produce music, but some of their titles do celebrate the rich entertainment history in Chicago, such as The Empty Bottle Chicago, which chronicles the famous venue’s 20+ year life through stories, photos, and ephemera.

Independent bookstore, independent publishers, independent labels—you may be sensing a theme here. The emphasis on independently-produced goods is entirely intentional. The goal, according to Curbside Splendor publisher Victor David Giron, is to expose people to new and exciting literature and music, to lift up voices and experiences that can get lost in chain bookstores and big business publishers.

The bookstore will be located inside a café in Revival Food Hall, a showcacover-draft-Chelsea9se for local chefs from 15 Chicago restaurants, which features communal seating and a wine bar that opens in the evenings. It’s not your average bookstore locale, and that was also an intentional choice.

“It won’t be a traditional bookstore,” Giron said. “The idea is that it’s going to fit into a larger communal space; it’s going to be part of this community center.”

Revival Food Hall is located near the famous Michigan Avenue, a commercial and cultural hotspot, as well as near several schools, including the School of the Chicago Art Institute, Columbia College, and Roosevelt University. In the future, Giron hopes to tap into the talent in MFA programs there to schedule programming and community events.

Is it July yet? We can’t wait! Congratulations, Curbside Splendor! Chicago is lucky to have you.

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Entertainment Weekly Highlights the Two New Emcees Taking to the Page in 2016

Two weeks ago, Book Expo America took over Chicago for three whole days of galley signing, panels, raffles, and more. When all was said and done, nearly 20,000 people attended. For those of us who missed the fun, Entertainment Weekly provided a handy-dandy recap of the “11 Best Things We Saw at BEA.” Clocking in at #6 were two new dynamite female MCs: one, the fictional Rani Patel of Cinco Puntos Press’s Rani Patel in Full Effect; the other, real-life poet/playwright/role model Chinaka Hodge, author of Dated Emcees from City Lirani patelghts Books.

Lee Byrd, one of the publishers of Cinco Puntos Press, knew from the beginning that Rani Patel in Full Effect was a special book.

“Publishing is like writing, an act of self-discovery,” Byrd said. “Every book we’ve acquired has taken us on a journey, to places we’ve never been before. And oh, the places Rani Patel in Full Effect has taken us, starting with the title — did I even know what ‘in full effect’ meant before I met Rani Patel?”

sonia patelEvery epic female character comes from an equally epic author. Sonia Patel may have a day job as a psychiatrist, but by night, she goes to underground hip-hop clubs, dances, and spits bars with the best of them. Don’t believe it? Check out this clip of her rapping some of Rani’s lines from the book in character, which Patel says helped a lot with her writing process.

Patel isn’t the only impressive author bringing a wide range of skills to the table. Poet, educator, playwright, and screenwriter — Chinaka chinaka hodgeHodge can and does it all. If you think you’ve heard her name before, it may be from the collaborative hip-hop ensemble she helped form, The Getback. Maybe you know her from the experimental play she wrote in 2010, which starred Daveed Diggs, the Tony-nominated actor from Broadway hit Hamilton. Or maybe it’s because she was on not one, but two seasons of HBO’s Def Poetry. Her list of credits and accolades goes on and on, and it’s well-deserved.

Elaine Katzenberger, the publisher at City Lights Books, has been a fan of Hodge’s work since the beginning.

dated emcees“I first became aware of Chinaka Hodge’s talent when she was a teenaged writer in the Youth Speaks program. In a room full of eloquent and charismatic young spoken word poets, she stood out in a way that demanded recognition: here was a voice to reckon with,” said Elaine Katzenberger, the publisher at City Lights Books. “Publishing Chinaka Hodge’s first collection of poems here at City Lights is a hugely exciting moment for all of us, and I personally couldn’t be more proud of this book and this author.”

Mark your calendars – Rani Patel makes her debut on October 11, and Chinaka Hodge’s book is available starting May 24!

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Publishers Weekly Highlights the Limitless Language of NubeOcho

nubeochoWith advances in technology making it easy to communicate with people all around the world, the importance of learning a second language is often stressed young. Books are a crucial component in language learning, but where can you find good non-English-language reads that won’t cost you an arm and a leg to have shipped?

Enter NubeOcho.

On April 29, Publishers Weekly online featured six different international publishers who are bringing Spanish language books to an American market, including NubeOcho.

NubeOcho was founded in 2012 in Madrid, with an international focus from the very beginning. Their mission is to publish picture books that deal with topics relevant to kids all around the world, such as diversity, inclusion, and competitiveness. Through reading, NubeOcho believes, children can learn to navigate their way through new experiences and know that they’re never alone. As editorial director Luis Amavisca told Publishers Weekly, the “books promote respectful attitudes towards all types of diversity. . . [in] a playful medium that makes it easier to engage.”

With such universal themes, it’s only natural for NubeOcho to distribute their books internationally. Most of NubeOcho’s books are published in Spanish, but, to make them more accessible, the publisher decided to use the more common Latin American Spanish instead of Spaniard Spanish. A few of their titles are bilingual (including Princess Li/La Princesa Li), and many of them are translated into English in addition to their Spanish editions.

There’s no fear here of any of the whimsical magic of NubeOcho’s books being lost in translation. Accolades for the vibrant picture books have been rolling in from internagalinostional and U.S. trade publications. One of the most popular titles from 2016 is The Galinos (or, in Spanish, Los Galinos), the story of a group of aliens from the planet Gala who learn the consequences of taking Mother Nature for granted. The May 1 issue of School Library Journal raved that The Galinos was “an environmentally conscious and thought-provoking story.” On April 1, Kirkus Reviews highlighted another of NubeOcho’s spring 2016 titles, Carlota Wouldn’t Say Boo, saying that “the whimsical, tongue-in-cheek narration asks readers questions . . . and adds little asides . . . making readers feel the story is being told just to them.”

Transcending boundaries to reach out to one and all – isn’t that what publishing is all about? Bravo, NubeOcho!

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Thinking Big Thoughts: An Interview With Charlie Quimby

Author Charlie Quimby swung by the Consortium offices today to sign advance copies of his newest novel, Inhabited, a sister novel to his earlier work, Monument Road, both from Torrey House Press. While visiting, we got to sit down with him and talk about writing, roots, and radical change.

charliequimbyWhat inspired you to write this book?

Inhabited came from two sources. Once I finished Monument Road, I discovered I had a lot more to say about that place, its culture, and the sort of colonial relationship it has with the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, I was blogging about some volunteer work I do in a Minnesota family shelter and a Colorado day center for homeless adults. I considered a nonfiction book project about homelessness, but I couldn’t find a satisfactory balance between the factual and emotional dimensions, the big forces driving homelessness and the intimate realities of people’s lives.

So I chose to dramatize the complexity of what I was experiencing and free myself from making a particular case. The values collisions that occur in Inhabited are not just about homelessness. They express a common search for belonging, for feeling secure, for overcoming our bad luck and bad choices—the stuff of novels.

What is it about the West as a setting that draws you?

I grew up there, so it’s in my bones, and fiction writers draw from that bone place.

But I also write about the region because it contains so many contradictions. The West’s beautiful, dramatic places draw people who then find out they can’t eat the scenery. It’s home to this libertarian myth of self-sufficiency, while being dependent on the federal government and outside money—tourists and extraction industries. Class warfare plays out differently there. And that landscape! You can’t spend any time in the West without thinking big thoughts about your place in creation.

How did you come to work with Torrey House?

They’re based in the intermountain region and they have a mission to conserve the earth—especially the imperiled lands of the West. We batted eyes across a crowded literary room and recognized each other as people who shared a set of values. We’d love to move lots of books but we’re even more interested in moving hearts and minds.

Are you currently on tour?inhabited charlie quimby

I’m planning for the October launch of Inhabited, and I’m excited that we’ll be doing a swing west from Minneapolis to Denver and Tacoma for Heartland, Mountains and Plains and the Pacific Northwest book shows. Right now, it looks like there’ll be bookstore stops in Utah and Colorado and the Bay Area, before I return to Minnesota. I’ll have the events schedule up at charliequimby.com as soon as the major dates are finalized.

Any sneak peeks at what you’re working on now?

Let’s just say I’m mining another claim somewhere out west. It may have something to do with how, after your first couple hundred million, you buy a ranch with perfect picture-window views of the mountains so you can pretend you’re a conservationist. I haven’t decided yet if it’s a satire or a tragedy.

That’s some pretty powerful stuff to look forward to. Thank you, Charlie Quimby, for your time and your work!

Inhabited will be published on October 11, 2016. In the mean time, find out where to purchase Monument Road and other titles here on the Consortium website.

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