Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
Cristina Peri Rossi.
Before I knew that any of these writers identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, I knew their work– their words. Each one exerted his or her own influence over my own development as a writer, helping, above all, to show me what words could do if you knew how to use them.
I learned about these writers in South Carolina and Georgia classrooms.
Earlier this week, I was invited to join the group “Writers Speaking Out Loud,” which was organized to advocate academic freedom and to denounce the efforts of South Carolina politicians to strip funding from schools where texts by LGBT authors are taught. It’s embarrassing and distressing to me that the need for this group even exists, that politicians find the work of LGBT writers to be inherently threatening.
What’s both outrageous and disappointing about their punitive approach is that they’re attempting to silence some of the voices we need to hear the most. Each of the writers I named above wrote about something universal: the struggle to be recognized and accepted, not only by society– and certainly not only (or even primarily) about being LGBT– but by one’s own self. And given the bullying epidemic and self-esteem crises that seem to plague schools and our very culture, these messages–these testimonies of power and self-possession, are more important now than ever.
When Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison reflected on the death of writer James Baldwin, she said:
“You knew, didn’t you, how I needed your language and the mind that formed it? How I relied on your fierce courage to tame wildernesses for me? How strengthened I was by the certainty that came from knowing you would never hurt me? You knew, didn’t you, how I loved your love? You knew. This then [his death] is no calamity. No. This is jubilee. Our crown, you said, has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do, you said, is wear it.'”
To honor the writers who have shown fierce courage and tamed wildernesses, let’s wear those crowns.