The LGBTQ Resource Center at the Gulfport Public Library hosted the third annual ReadOut, Friday, January 31 to Sunday, February 2. ReadOut is a three-day celebration of lesbian literature with scheduled talks from authors, panel discussions, workshops and a live stage performance.
According to organizers, last weekend’s program was a huge success, with full-capacity seating during panel discussions and keynote presentations. The writing workshop sold out, Catherine Hickman Theater was packed to gills and several participants and organizers ventured to say, “Next year we may need a bigger venue.”
The event was anchored by Sheree Greer, this year’s keynote speaker. A Milwaukee native, Greer is a writer and educator living in Tampa. She founded The Kitchen Table Literary Arts Center to showcase and support the work of women writers of color and is the author of two novels.
Twenty other lesbian authors were featured throughout the weekend as well. Each woman shared their own powerful and unique tale and answered questions from an audience of hundreds.
The most pressing question was posed by Keynote Speaker Greer: “What was the first book you read of women loving women? What did you feel when you saw your kind of love in a book?”
Greer shared her answer with the audience: “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker.
“It was the first book I read that featured two black women in love,” said Greer. “The movie only hints at this love affair, but the book, the book includes scenes of their lovemaking. And the scenes unfold as a beautiful rendering of a woman touching another woman and showing her what pleasure feels like, what care feels like, what love feels like.”
After Greer posed the question, the library went silent as the audience reflected, then a sigh washed over the crowd as memories rushed forward.
“Patience and Sarah,” by Alma Routsong, “Desert of The Heart,” by Jane Rule, and “Edward the Dyke,” by Judy Grahn were just a few titles shared by the audience in response to Greer’s question.
“When she asked us to think about that book, I thought about the book; and then she asked us to think about the feeling, I could remember that feeling. I could bring it up and viscerally, I could feel it in my body. I could transfer that feeling. The book was ‘Patience and Sarah,’” said attendee and organizer Eadie Daly. “When talked about transferring the kinds of things we always had to translate from heterosexual love into our own situation of lesbian love – the minute that came into my psyche it totally changed how I viewed myself in the world.”
“’Patience and Sarah,’” agreed Sandra Weeks. “That one was totally amazing how stubborn the characters were in being true to themselves.”
“The only thing that came up for me was ‘Desert of the Heart,’” responded Len Leeb. “In fact, I call it the ‘lesbian training book.’ I had feelings of joy when I thought about that book.”
One of the anticipated events of the weekend was a stage performance by storytellers Nia and Ness. The black, lesbian, dancer-poet performance art duo performed their newest work, “Home,” at the Catherine Hickman Theater, Saturday, February 1, at 8 p.m.
“With their artistry, talent, honesty and dedication to feminist values, there’s no way we couldn’t have fallen in love with them,” Daly said during her introduction of the performers. “This is not a sit-back-and-relax kind of story; this is a lean-forward-and-pay-attention kind of story.”
Jackie Mirkin, Daly’s wife, continued the performance’s introduction.
“I’ve often wondered what younger activists are going to do and I’ll tell you, I was worried. How can I trust that if I don’t do it that it’ll get done? But I’m not worried anymore,” Mirkin continued. “These two women have given me a four-letter word that I cherish, which is ‘hope,’ and, they have also given new meaning to the term ‘the personal is the political.’”