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Writing to inspire
Amy gave me the confidence to believe that my writing could inspire courage in others.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I attended social work graduate school at Boston University. While there, I did not publicize my “lifestyle” (the safe phrase we had for being a lesbian or gay then)—at work or at school. When I wasn’t working or at school, however, I marched for gay and lesbian rights, participated in protests, frequented lesbian bars, and consumed gay and lesbian publications, especially Gay Community News (GCN), a local Boston publication with a national focus.
As staff member and regular contributor to GCN, Amy regularly inspired me with her stalwart commitment to securing gay and lesbian rights. I admired her for her courage to be so public in a time when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the ill-conceived and misguided military policy of the 1990s and early 2000s, might have seemed like a step forward. When I returned to Boston in 2012, to attend a second graduate program, this time an MFA in Creative Writing, I was overjoyed to learn that Amy served on the faculty.
When I imagined Amy through her writing in the 70s and 80s, I had pictured an imposing figure with a commanding voice and a don’t-mess-with-me attitude. What I discovered upon meeting her challenged that assumption. Amy’s diminutive stature and soprano voice caused me to question the impact her writing had on me—how could this be the same woman? Until that is, I got to know her. Amy’s outward presentation conceals a fierce, powerful woman with an unflinching commitment to equity and a deep caring for her students.
And Amy took my writing seriously, even when I questioned my own aptitude.
“Have you thought about querying Skinner House (the Unitarian Universalist Association’s publishing house) about your manuscript?” she asked one day after a workshop session during my second residency in the program.
What? Querying a publisher? All my doubts about my ability to write came rushing forward. Was I ready for that? I had written about my experience being arrested for civil disobedience in Phoenix in 2010 as part of an organized protest against SB-1070, an Arizona law that required everyone to show their papers, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. when asked by a police officer to do so. My arrest, along with 100 others, put me in direct opposition to the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The pieces I’d written attempted to answer the question of why, after years of being involved in various protests, I chose this time to engage in civil disobedience. I knew it was an important story, but was it any good?
Amy’s quiet but confident manner allowed me to muster up my courage to ask, “Do you think it’s good enough?”
“I do, and I think it’s a story they might want.” Amy had extensive publishing and editing experience, including a stint as editor of the Unitarian Universalist Association magazine, UU World. I felt confident she knew what she was talking about.
Bolstered by her encouragement, I followed Amy suggestion, queried the publisher, and was thrilled when they accepted it. A few months later, Skinner House published Resistance: A Memoir of Civil Disobedience in Maricopa County. I had my first book without the word Microsoft in the title.
I’ve learned a lot from Amy over the forty years I’ve known her or of her. In all that time, the overwhelming lesson I have taken from her is to have courage. I’ll never forgot Amy’s forthright and unapologetic demands for full equality for LGBTQ people in a time so dangerous that an arsonist, threatened by GCN’s very existence, burned their offices to the ground. Then, she gave me courage to live into who I was.
At Solstice, Amy taught me to trust in my writing, to believe that it could inspire people as hers had done for me so many years before. Although my confidence wavers at times, Amy inspires me to keep going, to stick with it, and to write with courage, with the hope that someday my writing can inspire someone else to be courageous too.
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