The Amazon Trail
Carol Seajay, Lesbian Literary Legend
Dear Carol: It’s been so long! Of all my old friends, you are one I think of most.
I am reminded of you: you will appear at the Lesbian Oral Herstory Project symposium this year, Celebrating Our Lesbian Legacies October 10-13, 2013, in Houston Texas (http://www.olohp.org/). I’ll be on the East Coast those days, officiating, to my amazement, at a gay marriage, visiting family openly with my spouse, doing Provincetown Women’s Week book! events, so I can’t be there, but I’d like to be.
A quiet, thoughtful groundbreaker, you were a Pied Piper we hardly realized was leading us beyond what we could imagine achieving. The unbridled excitement of those early years hid the hard, hard work we all did. I feel it now, the vast exhaustion that threatens to silence me. I am slow to think, to move, to write. I remind myself of your cat Chia, who always impressed me with her deliberateness of motion.
I have wondered if the burden of your work in pioneering and sustaining the women’s print community has led you to retreat to the shadows in which we all once lived. Or if you are stirring new concepts in your cauldron of women’s words, concepts that will build upon the structures we old dykes can claim with pride.
Many women have raised their voices, their pens, their placards to contribute to these loud and lasting movements of our making: the women’s movement, gay liberation, lesbian literature. Few have had your impact. You are best known as a founder of Old Wives Tales in San Francisco, one of the first women’s bookstores; of “Feminist Bookstore News” (FBN), the house publication for women’s bookstores around the world; and “Books to Watch Out For” (BTWOF) a later publication that continued to spread the word of books by, for and about women.
What most women are not aware of is how incredibly hard you worked and the way you lived to accomplish your life’s work. I remember when you took a job as a FedEx driver with that fledgling company and stuck with it for years in order to support yourself and FBN. I remember your small apartment in San Francisco which served as both publishing empire and your home for many years; papers and books, computers, periodicals, flyers and a view of a storefront church across the street. Your apartment and neighboring buildings became the setting for my book, Sue Slate, Private Eye, and I have many photographs of your neighborhood that I took in preparation.
I remember how influenced you were by The First Women In Print Conference in 1977. I believe that’s where you met Barbara Grier and so many other women who created our lesbian publishing industry. I knew nothing of all this, voiceless since “The Ladder” folded. Yet there you were, in the midst of our print revolution, organizing so women like me could be published. Thank you for making that long journey to the conference in one of your small used cars – was it the Subaru named Jane?
You had a story published in “Common Lives/Lesbian Lives” some years later, when I also was publishing there. I loved your story and wrote you a fan letter. You answered! Where did we first meet? San Francisco? Provincetown? New Haven? You stayed with my then partner and me at our condo. You and I were both so shy. I think I blushed every time we exchanged words. You were so accomplished and so fervent and knew everyone in the lesbian writing world and you liked my work too. I was so glad and proud to have you as a friend always.
I can’t imagine how you made it financially. You had to buy food and housing and fund the bookstore and your publications. At the height of the popularity of women’s bookstores you were actually able to hire a part-time helper – or was she an unpaid intern? But you were the reporter, researcher, reviewer, distributor and writer for FBN all those years. It’s a wonder you didn’t get sick or burnt out.
But I think you came from hardy Midwest stock, though they no longer wanted you, their lesbian daughter. I remember listening to your story of leaving home on a little motorcycle and setting out for San Francisco. On the way you broke down or had an accident. Ever the exceedingly competent femme, you got yourself to the city of your dreams anyway and helped put on our revolution. Your work was so important. I hope you know that.
You drove all over the country in the early 1980s, women’s bookstore to women’s bookstore, sleeping on couches or in your little car. You amazed me and I want to thank you for inspiring me, gently patting me on the back, housing me, accepting my lovers, introducing me to yours, selling my books, promoting our literature and our culture and just plain being instrumental in the flowering of lesbian literature.
And, Carol, I don’t know if it will reach you, but I am sending this photograph* of us, decades old, because, you know the movie line: We’ll always have Provincetown.