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The River Diaries

Wednesday, January 10, 2001

This morning Perry let me sleep a little later, curled up against Di who is enduring her first bout of a New York flu. I was curled up, not Perry. Sentences are tricky things. They themselves are like new days, full of risks and rhythms.

When we finally made it down to the park, the snow had turned to ice and so this day we did not even go down one level, but stayed above it all, walking along Riverside Drive. The river was still in my sight, shining in the cold sun. I thought about things. And realized I wanted to mark the date A Restricted Country went out of print — January 1, 2001. For 13 years that book, my first, lived in the world. To all of you who bought it, gave it as gifts, borrowed it from a library or a friend, I give you the deep gratitude a writer feels towards those who listen. I remember the days when there were feminist bookstores which would not sell my book or which kept it under the counter, an obscenity to be hidden away. I also remember the feminist, gay and progressive bookstores that kept this thin Firebrand volume on their shelves. Now I have the copyright in my own hands once again and hopefully, there will be a future edition. Over and over again, I realize how lucky I am to be writer, to have readers. To be held in the hands of so many.

Perry just padded into my bedroom, put his big brown head on my lap, encouraging me to take him for his evening walk — how my life is bordered by his needs. But first I want to tell you of a wonderful afternoon at 13A that happened in December, the 17th to be exact. A few weeks before, a woman I had just met at a reading about the Bronx — which featured my dear friend, the wonderful poet Naomi Replansky — told me she was a playwright and part of a group called Sisters on Stage that existed to mentor and support lesbian playwrights. They had received a small grant for a six-hour workshop which would include performances, but had not found a place in which to hold the event. My ears perked up — a perfect event for 13A. On a terrible day of rain and snow, 20 women showed up, including Janis Astor del Valle, Barbara Kahn, Beverly Thompson, Lynn Hayes, Sonya M. Hemphill, Ira L. Jeffries, Judith Schray and Nancy Dean, a steadfast supporter of lesbian theater and a fine playwright. I spent the morning getting 13A ready for her renewed public life — pushing furniture around, putting out cookies and drinks on the large dining room table, cleaning, glad that Lee had taken Perry for the weekend because large crowds intimidate him. The opening event was a discussion of the virtues and pangs of grassroots theater work. All the usual pushes and pulls — wanting recognition but not wanting to lose one’s ties to the community. WOW was often mentioned as the model — more on this another time. Then the magic happened. In my living room, lesbian theater happened. Using only chairs and a TV table as props, actors brought whole worlds of character and action into the apartment. Ira Jeffries had persuaded Kimberly “Q” Purnell to portray her title character, Martha Redding, a middle-aged African-American woman sitting on a park bench, fighting all the battles of her life. Ms. Purnell dressed in my bedroom and then performed this intense piece in close quarters with her audience. Barbara Kahn did an excerpt from her play Cyma’s Story, about a Jewish woman living in a Colorado frontier town in the 1800s, writing a letter to her girlfriend; Judith Schray and friends performed an excerpt from Lesbian Affairs, the lesbian soap opera that has had a long run on radio; and Janis Astor del Valle shared a scene from her play January, about a Puerto Rican healthcare worker and her difficult older client. I added my two cents’ worth with a short reading from A Fragile Union and my performance of the Jul Bruno piece in A Persistent Desire, in which she talks about the first time she used a dildo. I felt as if the cultural celebrations of the Lesbian Herstory Archives had been resurrected. 13A was a very happy woman.


© 2001 Joan Nestle

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