Blame it on Jewelle Gomez

Earlier this month the Golden Crown Literary Society presented its twelfth annual conference. By now, dear readers, I’m sure you’ve read more than a dozen posts and blogs about the event. Please bear with me as I offer a few thoughts.

Thanks to the past leadership of former director, Patty Schramm, aided by Patty’s successor, Liz Gibson, and abetted by the support of its Board of Directors, each conference has surpassed its previous iteration. This particular conference, the tenth one I’ve attended, was outstanding.

I’ve always arrived at the conference with notebook and pen in hand, eager to learn new information about the art of writing a good book. I’ve anticipated renewing quickly forged friendships with conference attendees and meeting new people. This last activity has always challenged me because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool introvert. I am shy with a capital “S,” and I’m easily struck semi-mute in the presence of literary luminaries whose work stands at attention on my bookcases’ shelves. My lower jaw seems to fuse to my upper one when I try to engage readers in a conversation about books, writers, the weather, or  anything, for that matter.

Imagine how I felt the first time I found myself in the same room (albeit a very large room) with Ann Bannon. Try to experience the paralysis that gripped my entire body the first time I shook Lee Lynch’s hand. Over the years I’ve come to suspect Lee is a sister-shyster and I’ve felt grateful our shared trait never prevented her from offering me friendship.

As thoroughly as I have enjoyed each GCLS conference I’ve attended, I’ve always returned home less than totally sated,  still hungry for a more complete meal. Why? Because in addition to the books written by lesbian majority writers, my bookcases’ shelves are filled with other names as well: Sharon Bridgforth, Fiona Zedde, Nik Nicholson, Becky Birtha, Achy Obejas, Ann Allen Shockley, Cheryl Clarke, Saffire, Nikki Baker, Audre Lorde, Lisa C. Moore, Sheree L. Greer, June Jordan, Dionne Brand, Jacqueline Woodson, Pat Parker, Cheryl Head, Anondra Williams…

Until I attended this last conference, I never heard any of those names mentioned. I would return home, scan the titles I saw on my book shelves, and find some bit of satisfaction knowing  I had the means to nourish myself with the work of those writers whose names seemed to be nonexistent to most of the knowledge-givers at the conferences.

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At some point during my two year tenure as the GCLS’ Director of Education, I suggested that we invite Jewelle Gomez to present the con’s keynote address. It wasn’t until after I ended my service to the Board of Directors that the invitation was offered. As fate would have it, I wasn’t able to attend the conference that year. This year, when the organization decided to present the Trailblazer Award to Ms. Gomez, I was able to be there.

This twelfth conference, my tenth, was so very meaningful. For the first time, there was a writer of note in attendance to whom I could relate on a level deeper than that of simply sharing the same vocation.

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When Jewelle mentioned the names of writers whose work I’d enjoyed almost spiritually, my chest filled with pride. Had I been connected to the leads of an EKG machine, the wires would have popped off my skin. When Jewelle uttered the phrase, “Black Arts Movement,” I nodded in tandem with the breaths she exhaled.

This conference offered me contact with my familiar and I experienced joy. A few of the literary shoulders upon which I’ve stood were mentioned into reality, thus validating our ties to each other.

Liz Gibson and her Board of Directors, including Mary Phillips, the new Director, have begun the effort to make the GCLS a more inclusive organization. They acted with purpose, intention, and consistency to recognize the ongoing efforts of lesbian writers of color and to honor our contributions to our canon of literature.

Now, when I experience a creative spark that compels me to write, I’ll blame the Golden Crown Literary Society. And I’ll blame Jewelle Gomez more than anyone else.

 

Renee Bess is the author of LEAVE OF ABSENCE; BREAKING JAIE; RE:BUILDING SASHA; THE BUTTERFLY MOMENTS; and THE RULES. her website is http://www.reneebess.com

 

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5 thoughts on “Blame it on Jewelle Gomez

    1. Andi, I was proud of all of us who served on that panel. My only regret was not having enough time to respond to all the questions Dillon prepared. You’re right when you say we “started” a conversation. I hope the convo continues during next year’s conference, if not before.

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