Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The End of the Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly

A week or so ago, the most recent issue of the Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly arrived and in the Editor’s Introduction, Judith P. Stelboum writes,

I am sorry to inform all our wonderful artists, readers, and writers that this will be teh next to last issue of HLLQ. The publisher, Haworth Press, has determined that it is no longer economically feasible to continue with its gay and lesbian fiction quarterlies. This will come as a disappointment to many of you who, since the inception of the journal almost ten years ago, have been so enthusiastic and supportive as contributors and readers.

I had heard rumor that this was coming, but still it was sad to read it and absorb the finality of it. HLLQ has been an important resource for lesbian writing in the past decade.

Stelboum continues,

The incredible energy of the 1970s and ’80s that gave impetus to the lesbian feminist movement, with its amazing output of lesbian-based philosophy, theory, poetry and fiction, no longer exists. That creative time exists as an exciting memory for many women of my generation who read every book, went to every reading and literary and social event we could at the sever women’s bookstores. When I speak with younger lesbians, many know nothing of these important writers whose work inspired and influenced so many of us. Twenty-five years ago, a small bookstore like Judith’s Room in lower NYC could not accommodate all of the women who had come to hear Joan Nestle read essays from one of her recent books. Just being in a room with so many lesbians was exhilarating. We cling, now, to a few entities, where we can get news about lesbian writing.

Today, a literary journal devoted solely to writing from lesbian perspectives cannot survive simply through individual subscription. Defining “lesbian” may be ambiguous and sometimes contradictory, but lesbian writing is singular because it relates experiences and visions shared by a group of women who respond to the world in very different ways from men or from women who are not lesbian.

I’m fascinated by these paragraphs and Stelboum’s description of the 70s and 80s in regard to lesbian writing. I think that there were a variety of conditions that lead to such a blossoming and I feel worried and sad that it be forgotten as she suggests. I think that is one area where we must be vigilant in writing about and preserving our lesbian culture. That’s my soapbox, however, and I’ve written about it before.

I do have a caveat in the first sentence of the second paragraph above. In most narrative that I have read about lesbian magazines and journals from a variety of time periods, there are always challenges surviving from a financial perspective. Stelboum seems to indicate that it is a unique situation today, but in fact it was true for the Ladder, the publication of the Daughters of Bilitis and for numerous magazines during the heyday about which Stelboum writes.

In the conclusion of the introduction, Stelboum writes about marriage.

We are, as Jill Johnston described us, the “lesbian nation”: multiple, varied, composed of diverse entities, with particular customs and manners, but with our own distinct culture, history, and literature.

At the same time, we are influenced by those forces of our national culture that are ranged against us; those who cannot accept our differences try to transform us into pop icons of lesbian chic, urge our assimilation, or call for our annihilation. We have been sexually neutered by queer theorists, and baby-boomed into a classification of same-sex “couples” by sociologists. We emulate heterosexual marriages with commitment ceremonies and we join the patriarchal army.

At this moment in our history a great struggle is taking place to allow lesbians to marry which will lead to further assimilation into the heterosexual world. The backlash from this effort has been costly, as cities and states reject domestic partnership agreements and job and housing discrimination laws that we have worked so hard to establish. Our immediate situation looks bleak, as the forces of bigotry and prejudice seem to have gained strong backing, and support from outspoken reactionaries of the population. However, the war is not over yet, and eventually, as with most issues of civil rights, we will prevail.

While granting lesbian couples the same legal and civil rights as heterosexual couples will be economically beneficial, there is a price for that financial security and social acceptance. Lesbians are in danger of vanishing by being subsumed into the larger heterosexual culture if we do not consciously create our own worlds. Though some of us are still individually invisible, we must never be culturally invisible.

I find the connections that Stelboum makes between marriage and culture fascinating and important. By and large, I agree with her in her assessment of the situation and the moment. Where I struggle, and she may as well, is how to respond. How do I respond as a writer and as a lesbian? What can be done to preserve our culture and to propagate it? I think these are always important questions worth grappling with. This introduction by Judith is a brave piece to write at this time and I hope that it enters the dialogue in a meaningful way. I hope others will read it and write in response to it.

Meanwhile, please join me in raising a glass to Judith Stelboum! She has done great work as the editor of HLLQ and I for one heartily appreciate it. She accepted and published my first poems to ever appear in print. For that I am personally grateful, but moreso, I am grateful to her for the work she has done over the years with the journal.

As I have been studying lesbian writers and writings about lesbian writers and poets, one thing that strikes me is the profound influence that writers have when they work as editors. Joan Larkin, Terry Wolverton, Adrienne Rich, and now Judith Stelboum and Eloise Klein Healy with her new book series, Arktoi Books. While most may just want to spend their creative time writing, some make the commitment to editing and all of the aesthetic, administrative, sublime and mundane questions and responsibilities that come with it. Editing work has a profound impact on our culture and is, in general, profoundly unappreciated. So with that acknowledgement and the gratitude that comes with it, Here’s to Judith Stelboum! (clink, clink)


KATE EVANS said...

This is sad, the end of HLLQ. Judith published one of my stories a number of years ago...I'm grateful. So I toast to her along with you.

As far as the assimilation/ separation issue, I have mixed feelings. My partner and I married at SF City Hall when Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to break the law a few years back, and it sure as hell felt like social protest being there amidst all the queers proclaiming their love publicly. I know we don't need marriage to do that, but I also don't think queer marriage is assimilation, exactly. It's a kind of subversion. I also don't think lesbians have to "copy" straight people to do their own marriage thing.

That said, I do get frustrated seeing marriage posited as the one right way to have a relationship, lesbian or straight. I don't like our government giving special rights to any two people just because they decided to get a piece of paper saying they're hitched up.

Julie R. Enszer said...

Hi, Kate,

Yes, I, too, have mixed feelings. I feel both passionate and ambivalent - a funny combination.

I'm reading Nancy Polikoff's new book Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage right now. It's quite good and interesting on the topic and adding even more passion and ambivalence.

My partner has always said we'll marry when it's legal in our home state. Fortunately, it's not right now so I can sit on the fence amid many feelings and not have to make any decisions.

All best,