Feature image by Kathryn Kendall via the Lesbian Herstory Archives
The Lesbian Herstory Archives will be hosting a marathon reading this Saturday, November 17, from 12pm-12am to celebrate Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich, “whose work and presence as poets, theorists, activists and teachers inspired decades of anti-racist, feminist, and lesbian feminist thought and activism.” Each hour will be facilitated by a different organization, who will read from their poetry and essays, as well as Audre Lorde’s biomythography, Zami, and Adrienne Rich’s autobiographical reflections, Institution of Motherhood. The event organizers also encourage people to share their memories and thoughts, so that in celebrating these two important, remarkable women, we can also celebrate the impact they have had and continue to have on our community.
According to event organizer Shawn Smith, the response so far has been incredible. “People have been extremely excited to convene at the Archives, sit with other lesbians, friends, families, women who were there, women who were affected, and read from the words of Audre and Adrienne,” she said. “We received an email from Adrienne Rich’s son thanking us for doing the event. This is after receiving a phone message and letter from Audre Lorde’s daughter, thanking us for placing her mother’s collection in the care that it deserves, and for the hard work that we do.”
Smith expects a “renewed relevance to arise” through the merging of community voices with the voices of Lorde and Rich. One of the most exciting parts of the event, she said, is that original audio clips from the LHA collection will be played at the beginning of each hour, featuring the writers reading their own work.
Event organizer Alexis Clements adds that she’s hoping the event will give her and everyone who attends the opportunity to gain an intimate, personal understanding of Lorde and Rich through the personal testimonies of people who knew them. “I really crave that deeper sense of people’s humanity these days,” she said. “Not necessarily ‘warts and all,’ more like, don’t forget they laughed and loved and had families and made mistakes while they were fighting.”
Some of those personal testimonies will come from LHA co-founders Joan Nestle and Deb Edel. According to Smith, “Although Joan is in Australia, she wrote a very personalized essay which will be read in the first hour detailing her personal experiences with Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich, and how they were each instrumental to the curation of the Archives in the early days… Joan describes Audre’s donation of boxes that were pulled from under her mattress, while Audre’s at the time, very young son waited quietly by the door, peeking in.”
Other facilitators include SAGE, members of the Archives’ own Lesbian Studies Class, In The Flesh Magazine, Black Women’s Blueprint, Alicia Anabel Santos and New York City Latina Writer’s Group, The Belladonna Series, R. Erica Doyle, brooklyn boihood, Rivers of Honey, Kelli Dunham and Queer Memoir. The full schedule is on the event page, so if you are like me and unlikely to appear anywhere at noon on a Saturday, you can figure out which facilitators you want to arrive in time for.
There were approximately 60 cute, nice Autostraddlers at the meet-up at the LHA last month, most of whom had never been to the Archives. If that many of you showed up to watch me overcome my fear of public speaking to give a tour to more people than I ever have before (ok, maybe you didn’t know that’s what you’d be getting, but it’s what you got, so), think about how great THIS event will be! According to Clements, many of the people associated with the event have never been to the Archives before either, so it’s going to be a great opportunity to build community.
There’s a suggested donation of $5-$10 at the door, but no one will be turned away. The organizers hope to raise three thousand dollars for the Archives, which is an all-volunteer organization that needs funds to preserve and digitize its artifacts. “Both Audre and Adrienne have been advocates of the LHA’s existence, the preservation of lesbian herstory, and the space as a home for us to share our stories,” said Smith, and in that spirit, the Lesbian Herstory Archives is as much a part of the event as the women being honored. Clements added, “Every time I’m there I am reminded of the fact that the simple act of preserving and displaying this herstory is a steadfastly political act, particularly in a society that in so many ways works so hard to diminish the lives and voices of women.”
The Lesbian Herstory Archives is located at 484 14th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215.