Bledsoe, Lucy Jane 1957-
BLEDSOE, Lucy Jane 1957-
PERSONAL: Born February 1, 1957, in Portland, OR; daughter of John P. and Helen (Wieman) Bledsoe; companion of Patricia E. Mullan. Education: Attended Williams College, 1975-77; University of California-Berkeley, B.A., 1979. Hobbies and other interests: Cycling, mountaineering, literacy programs.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Holiday House, 425 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10017-1110.
CAREER: Author. Martin Luther King Junior High, Berkeley, CA, California Poets in the Schools residency, 1990; Tenderloin Women Writers Workshop, San Francisco, CA, facilitator, 1990-92; George Lucas Education Foundation, Skywalker Ranch, Marin County, CA, script and story writer, 1992; Globe Book Company, Paramus, NJ, textbook and story writer, 1992-95. Conducts creative writing workshops for adult literacy programs in Richmond, San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley, CA. Curriculum writer for organizations, including National Geographic and the Seti Institute.
MEMBER: PEN, National Writers Union, Media Alliance.
AWARDS, HONORS: Youth grant, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1982; PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, 1985; semifinalist, San Francisco Foundation's Joseph Henry Jackson Award for Fiction,
1987 and 1988; Poets and Writers Readings/Workshop grant, 1989; creative writing fellowship, Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, 1989; honorable mention, Literary Lights fiction contest, 1990; honorable mention, New Letters Literacy Awards, 1995, for essay "Above Treeline"; Lambda Literary Award finalist, c. 1995, for Sweat: Stories and a Novella; American Library Association Literature Award, 1998, for Working Parts; Individual Fellowship in Literature, California Arts Council, 2002; National Science Foundation Artists and Writers grant, 2003.
Break Away, David S. Lake Publishers (Belmont, CA), 1986.
A Question of Freedom, David S. Lake Publishers (Belmont, CA), 1987.
A Matter of Pride, Fearon Education (Belmont, CA), 1989.
Colony of Fear, Fearon Education (Belmont, CA), 1989.
The Journey Home, Fearon Education (Belmont, CA), 1989.
Two Kinds of Patriots, Fearon Education (Belmont, CA), 1989.
(With others) Combat Zone, Fearon Education (Belmont, CA), 1990.
Fearon's Amazing Adventures, Fearon/Janus/Quercus (Belmont, CA), 1993.
Sweat: Stories and a Novella (adult fiction), Seal Press (Seattle, WA), 1995.
The Big Bike Race (juvenile fiction), illustrated by Sterling Brown, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1995.
(Editor) Heatwave: Women in Love and Lust: Lesbian Short Fiction, Alyson Publications (Los Angeles, CA), 1995.
Working Parts (adult novel), Seal Press (Seattle, WA), 1997.
Tracks in the Snow (middle-grade novel), Holiday House (New York, NY), 1997.
(Editor) Gay Travels: A Literary Companion, Whereabouts Press (San Francisco, CA), 1998.
(Editor) Lesbian Travels: A Literary Companion, Whereabouts Press (San Francisco, CA), 1998.
Cougar Canyon (middle-grade novel), Holiday House (New York, NY), 2001.
Hoop Girlz (middle-grade novel), Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.
This Wild Silence (adult novel), Alyson Books (Los Angeles, CA), 2003.
The Antarctic Scoop (middle-grade novel), Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Lucy Jane Bledsoe's interests in the outdoors, sports, and literacy have often informed her fiction for adults and young readers. She got her start as an author of textbooks, which, as she once explained to CA, was something she did to earn an income: "I write textbooks for a living. About fifty percent of the textbook writing I do is in the sciences. I love reading about physics and earth science, both of which teach me what a blip we are in the history of the universe. We don't have time for anything but the truth. So I try to tell the truth. I do that better with fiction than with nonfiction."
Bledsoe's first work of fiction was the story collection Sweat: Stories and a Novella. The ten works in Sweat focus on lesbian relationships, usually set against a backdrop of sports and/or the outdoors. "State of Grace," for example, relates a tale of first love between two high-school softball teammates; "Sweat" is the story of a physical education instructor who considers a career change in order to maintain her relationship with her lover; and "Solo" revolves around a woman who challenges herself on a trip as homage to her now dead partner. The single novella in Sweat, "The Place before Language," centers on a woman who has been left by her lover of ten years for another. Partially set in the outdoors, the work has been praised by critics for showing the healing powers of the wilderness. A writer for Publishers Weekly called Sweat "an outstanding novella" with "rich and satisfying stories," and described Bledsoe as "a smart and savvy writer." In Library Journal, Lisa Nussbaum lauded Bledsoe's work as "bold" and "exciting."
Sports and other physical activities often intertwine with lesbian themes in Bledsoe's work, which is a reflection of how the two combined in her own early life. She enjoyed sports as a young student, and her admiration for the women who taught her eventually led to her realization about her sexual orientation. As she remembered in a Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide article, "That's just the feeling I had about my coaches and older teammates or camp counselors. My reaction was entirely from the gut. At nine years old, I didn't really think, 'Ah! Finally women who are smashing stereotypes.' I just wanted to be close to them. I guess that's how I knew I was a lesbian!" As she further commented, "A huge part of being a lesbian—for me, anyway—is having the opportunity to redefine how I view, and also how I use, my body. That means being a wild mountain woman if I want. It means playing basketball until I'm sweaty and exhausted. Not having to worry about what men think of our bodies is very much still a huge difference between many (not all) lesbians and straight women."
Bledsoe drew on both her love of the outdoors and her experience as a literacy educator in her first novel for adults, Working Parts. The book features a lesbian protagonist, Lori Taylor, who is very active and whose job is repairing bikes. Lori also happens to be illiterate, but has managed to fake her way through school and most of life's situations. But when her friend Mickey pushes her to become his business partner, Lori is forced to acknowledge her disability. With Mickey's prodding, she enrolls in an adult literacy course, but she does not like her teacher, Deirdre Felix, whom she perceives to be an affluent "do-gooder." The other difference that divides teacher and student is that Deirdre is straight. Furthermore, Lori, who did not attend college and comes from a blue-collar background, confronts other difficulties, too, when she joins a lesbian business organization and runs into elitist attitudes from the college-educated people there; the lack of a college education also disrupts her relationship with her girlfriend.
This class prejudice was one of the themes that Lambda Book Report critic Trisha Collopy admired in the novel, and she also praised Bledsoe's descriptions of what it is like to be illiterate in modern America: "[Bledsoe] clearly knows her subject. Her descriptions of Lori's panic and resentment towards reading provide some of the most vivid passages of the book." Although, according to Collopy, Working Parts lacks the "rawness" of Sweat, she concluded, "Anyone looking for a well-written novel with a mix of fascinating characters, both straight and gay, will enjoy Working Parts." Whitney Scott, writing in Booklist, also praised this debut novel, which he described as "funny and sad, moving and thoughtful, smoothly written and eminently enjoyable." And Library Journal contributor Ina Rimpau asserted that the novel "is important reading for anyone interested in adult literacy."
Bledsoe's second adult novel, This Wild Silence, explores the pain caused by family secrets. The story involves two sisters: Liz, who has had a long marriage to an educational book publisher named Mark, and Christine (Tina), who is a lesbian and cannot seem to maintain a relationship. When Liz and Mark invite Tina to go camping with them in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Tina takes them up on it, thinking this will be a chance to reconnect with her sister. But the presence at the camp of Mark, as well as his foster child and a coworker named Melody, make it hard for Tina to find any private time with Liz. And private time is needed, because a secret that the two sisters have kept for years about the death of their little brother when they were all kids has created a deep rift in their relationship. Library Journal reviewer Lisa Nussbaum found This Wild Silence to be "a thought-provoking examination of the bond between sisters."
The Big Bike Race, a book for young children, is about Ernest and his sister, Melissa, who are being raised by their grandmother in Washington, D.C. Ernest desperately wants a sleek, new, racing bicycle for his tenth birthday, so his grandmother scrapes enough money together to buy him a bike. Although the big, clunky, yellow bike initially embarrasses Ernest, he is touched by his grandmother's generosity and is determined to win the Citywide Cup race with his new bicycle. Critics have praised The Big Bike Race for its depiction of a loving African-American family whose members succeed despite poverty. Lauren Peterson, writing in Booklist, called it "a strong, dignified portrayal." "Bledsoe's likable characters and enjoyable story [are] a good choice," added a critic in Horn Book.
Bledsoe's middle grade novels often concern outdoors life or sports. Tracks in the Snow, her first foray into the genre, pits two young girls against the elements in a tale that might remind some readers of a Gary Paulsen book. Although Susan Dove Lempke, writing in Booklist, felt this tale about two girls who brave the elements to find a missing babysitter was too predictable, the critic admired "Bledsoe's thorough outdoor knowledge" and appreciated that this adventure featured girls instead of boys battling the elements. Cougar Canyon also features a girl protagonist in an adventure story. Izzie Ramirez is an ambitious thirteen year old who has started her own gardening business. One of her clients, the Gray family, has a yard that abuts a park where, it is rumored, there is a cougar. Initially frightened by the idea of working so near a wild predator, Izzie researches cougars and becomes sympathetic to their plight. When a poacher shoots the cougar dead, however, a mystery ensues in which Izzie seeks to find out who killed the animal. Cougar Canyon was called a "thematically rich story" by Janet Gillen in School Library Journal, and the reviewer added that although the characters are a little two dimensional, Bledsoe's "consistently engaging style" makes for "an entertaining adventure story." Denise Wilms further noted in a Booklist review that Cougar Canyon would be "a good choice for junior-high-school students with reading problems," even though the book was written for younger readers.
With Hoop Girlz Bledsoe wrote a traditional kind of sports story that is distinguished by its female characters. Set in Azalea, Oregon, the tale is about a group of sixth-grade girls who form the Hoop Girlz basketball team after they have been rejected by their school's organized team—which was created to select a girl athlete for basketball camp—for not being good enough. While School Library Journal writer Renee Steinberg felt that the story was full of "platitudes about perseverance, dedication, and the need to follow your dreams," Bill Ott asserted in his Booklist review that although Hoop Girlz shares some of the themes of the old "Bad News Bears" stories, "Bledsoe cleverly avoids most of the cliches," and he complimented the author on a unique ending and interesting subplots and supporting characters.
More recently, Bledsoe completed yet another middle-grade novel, The Antarctic Scoop, which combines her interest in science with some of her personal experiences of having traveled to the Antarctic on a National Science Foundation Artists and Writers grant. The story features a twelve-year-old girl who goes to the frozen continent so that she can see through an amazing telescope constructed near the South Pole. In addition to her children's and adult novels, though, Bledsoe has also edited two books of travel essays written by homosexual writers: Gay Travels: A Literary Companion and Lesbian Travels: A Literary Companion.
Bledsoe once told CA: "My primary motivation for writing is to make sense of the world. Creating—stories, paintings, dance, music, art of any kind—is the only way I know how to combat forces of destruction and feelings of alienation. I am also motivated to write as a way to explore topics that intrigue me. For example, most of the stories in my first [fiction] book, Sweat, are about the relationship between the body and language. They are about sport, wilderness, survival, crossing boundaries, and sex, but more importantly, they are about how our deepest understanding of life comes from our bodies, from the centers of our cells. While Sweat is often about the limits of language, my novel Working Parts is a celebration of the vast possibilities of language.
"I read widely and am influenced by everything I read. Each month I have different favorite authors, both contemporary and classic. I teach creative writing classes in literacy—that's literacy, not literary—programs, and I sincerely believe adults who are learning to read and write for the first time are the best writing teachers I have had. They teach me about the bones of language and about the absolute necessity of a story.
"I write fiction every day and all morning. I am not an outline writer, though I usually try to write a string of scenes before beginning a first draft. (These synopses always change drastically in the course of writing a story or book.) Then I write the first draft pretty much all the way through. The real work begins after the first draft is complete. I rewrite a tremendous amount: every story or chapter goes through dozens of drafts. I am also inspired by courageous people and nutty people, and most of all, by people who are both."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 15, 1995; April 1, 1997, Whitney Scott, review of Working Parts, p. 90; August, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Tracks in the Snow, p. 1900; February 1, 2002, Denise Wilms, review of Cougar Canyon, p. 938; September 1, 2002, Bill Ott, review of Hoop Girlz, p. 128; April 15, 2003, Whitney Scott, review of This Wild Silence, p. 1447.
Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, July, 2001, "Sports and Lesbian Culture," p. 9.
Horn Book, January-February, 1996, Margaret A. Bush, review of The Big Bike Race, p. 72.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1995.
Lambda Book Report, October, 1997, Trisha Collopy, review of Working Parts, p. 16; April, 1999, Loralee Macpike, review of Lesbian Travels: A Literary Companion, p. 25.
Library Journal, October 1, 1995; April 1, 1997, Ina Rimpau, review of Working Parts, p. 120; May 15, 2003, Lisa Nussbaum, review of This Wild Silence, p. 122.
Publishers Weekly, August 7, 1995.
School Library Journal, November, 1995, Christina Dorr, review of The Big Bike Race, p. 96; July, 1997, Susan W. Hunter, review of Tracks in the Snow, p. 90; February, 2002, Janet Gillen, review of Cougar Canyon, p. 129; December, 2002, Renee Steinberg, review of Hoop Girlz, p. 132.
Lucy Jane Bledsoe Home Page, http://www.lucyjanebledsoe.com/ (July 16, 2004).