In this post, J discusses the creation of a new series of independently published novels exploring Queerness in south, and the attempt to create the stories people in marginalized groups too often only get to wish we could have read about our own lives.
I have been a devoted reader and fan of Toni Morrison for as long as I can remember. For me, the many ways she has found to capture the raw, passionate realities of the world, the good the bad and everything in between, and the complexities and nuances of racial, gendered, classed, sexual, and regional experiences are beyond comparison. Her work is both an inspiration and a level I cannot even imagine myself or anyone else actually reaching. I almost never write anything without thinking about one or another of her works, and I regularly re-read works of hers between my own fictional and non-fictional writing bursts.
After publishing my first novel about Queer coming of age in the south based on a combination of personal experiences and hundreds of informal and formal interviews with Queer people in the south over the past 20 years, I found myself continually thinking about one of the many brilliant things she has said and written in her life: “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Without thinking about it consciously, I have been following this advice throughout my career. As a researcher and teacher, most of my work to date involves incorporating Queer, Bi+, Trans, Non-binary, Poly, and Agnostic experiences and perspectives into existing scientific theory, research, and education as well as directing students to vibrant LGBTQIAP, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Cisgender Women’s literatures, sciences, histories, and arts. Though I never thought of it in such terms until reading this quote a couple years ago, in all such cases, I have sought to write and teach things missing from my own upbringing and education that, after finding them on my own and with the help of wonderful mentors, I think should be more well known, recognized, and represented in scientific and educational settings and contexts. While I spent much time with these thoughts a couple years ago, they really came back to me in an even more personal way as I began to craft fiction for the first time since failed attempts in my twenties, and only intensified when I published my first novel.
I kept remembering the younger version of me searching for myself and the other Queer people I knew/found in the south in media, in literature, in music, hell anywhere. I (much faster than I would have guessed) received a couple emails from other young people who felt the same way, and appreciated finding my novel. I spoke with other Bi+, Trans, Non-binary, Poly, and otherwise Queer authors about the limited media, literature, and other representative options even now, and with people in these groups who wished for these stories though they themselves were not in the process of writing them as they felt called to other types of work. I spoke with Lesbian, Gay, Black, Hispanic, Jewish, Muslim, and Cisgender Women friends and colleagues who experienced similar feelings growing up, who were seeking to create more representations of their lives in science and art, and who wanted such things whether or not they had any intention of creating them. From the moment I delivered my manuscript to a couple months after its release, I kept having these conversations and thinking about my own feelings back then and now.
And, I kept returning to Morrison’s words: “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
I looked at the novels I had completed, edited, and put together. I kept digging through them as I prepared the novel for release without even thinking about it, and kept doing so after the release wondering what to do (if anything) with them. Some of them were already in various stages of review and consideration at traditional publishing outlets, but others were unconventional in some way – in length, style, or other facets – and I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I remembered the many paperbacks and zines I read when I was younger by Lesbian Women and Black people that self-published their work to get it out to others. I thought about the number of people I’d met of various backgrounds who were self-publishing novels, comics, video series, music, and other things even more easily due to the available platforms today. I collected every bit of information I could on all the platforms and options, and gathered incredibly useful positive, negative, and everywhere in between advice from colleagues and friends. After thinking through every possible positive and negative, I decided to create a series of self-published works alongside my more traditional scholarly and fictional publishing.
This series of events led to the announcement on my social media accounts last week that I will be launching my own self-published series of fictional works entitled the Queering Dixie Series. Each of these novels will explore some aspect of Bi+, Trans, Non-binary, Lesbian, Gay, Intersex, Asexual, Poly, Aromantic, or otherwise Queer experience that I have seen, experienced or learned about from others in the south over the past 20 years. Each work will focus on different characters and stories, but there will often be overlap between the stories as they all take place within the same fictional world that I created based on my experiences growing up, working, and living in the south throughout my life to date. While they will all be entirely fictional stories, each one will offer snapshots of real experiences various types of Queer people have had in the south over time, and issues Queer people in the south faced and / or still face in the process.
Like Cigarettes & Wine, these stories and all my other novels seek to shed light on the diversity and complexity of southern Queer experience by exploring the good, the bad, and everything in between as well as the multiple ways people create and sustain Queer lives in a regional context often at the forefront of opposition to Queer existence, rights, and well-being. In so doing, I hope that I’ll join with so many other artists and scientists to do my small part in increasing the chance that when others go looking for our stories and our lives, they may have a better chance of finding them.