Bushell, Agnes (Barr) 1949-

views updated

BUSHELL, Agnes (Barr) 1949-

PERSONAL: Born March 25, 1949, in Queens, NY; daughter of James Edward (a bank clerk) and Marie (a homemaker; maiden name, Merkling) Barr; married James Bushell (a lawyer), January 20, 1968; children: Jessie, Nicolas. Education: Attended University of Chicago, 1966-68; University of Maine—Orono, B.A., 1977. Politics: "Democratic socialist with anarchist tendencies." Religion: "Pagan (ex-Catholic)."

ADDRESSES: Home—18 Exeter St., Portland, ME 04102. Agent—Edite Kroll, 12 Grayhurst Park, Portland, ME 04102.

CAREER: Portland School of Art, Portland, ME, instructor in liberal arts, 1983-92; San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA, instructor in liberal arts, 1993; Maine College of Art, assistant professor, beginning 1996. Cofounder, Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, 1975, and Children's Co-op (child care center). Member, Portland Public Schools Alternative Education Task Force, Portlanders against U.S. Intervention in Central America, Maine Peace Shippers, and Pledge of Resistance.

MEMBER: National Writers Union.



Shadowdance, Crossing Press (Trumansburg, NY), 1989.

Local Deities, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1990.

Death by Crystal: A Johannah Wilder Mystery, Astarte Shell Press (Portland, ME), 1993.

Days of the Dead, John Brown Books (Salem, OR), 1995.

The Enumerator, Serpent's Tail (New York, NY), 1997.


(Editor) Balancing Act, Littoral Books, 1975.

Contributor of articles, reviews, and short stories to magazines and newspapers, including Maine Progressive, Maine in Print, and Underground Forest.

SIDELIGHTS: Agnes Bushell once told CA: "In 1990, during the flap regarding National Endowment funding for the Robert Mapplethorpe show, which featured photographs considered pornographic by some reviewers, some artists and writers wore buttons that read 'Fear No Art.' I found this disingenuousness (or plain self-deprecation) hard to take. I work on the principle that art is dangerous; it should be feared, especially by certain powerful individuals and institutions with a stake in controlling what other people think and feel. Art and literature, images and words, can and do change the world.

"I have been making up stories since I could talk (though in my good Catholic family they were called lies) and writing them down since I could hold a pencil. Throughout the seventies I wrote for a variety of generally short-lived underground papers and was part of a collective of women who began a small press, Littoral Books, which published, among other things, the first, and to this date the only, anthology of Maine women's poetry. I was also one of the founders of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, which is still a strong and flourishing statewide writers' organization.

"I studied philosophy as an undergraduate, but the longer I studied the clearer it became that the reason I considered myself a Platonist was not because of Plato's theories of ideas, but because, when the argument got tough, he would fall back on making up myths and stories. It was the stories, not the arguments, that I believed. I abandoned the academic life soon after obtaining my degree and began to write fiction.

"Local Deities is a novel about the hard choices faced by politically active people in the sixties and seventies and the consequences of those choices. It is based on the lives of people who were very close to me, some who chose to join the armed struggle in this country and go underground (or become terrorists, depending on one's viewpoint) and others who remained committed intellectually and morally, but who opted to 'work within the system' (or sell out, again depending on one's viewpoint). Much of the action of this novel is based on my experiences and those of my friends. I believed when I wrote it, and I believe now, that the real history of my generation has been perverted or obliterated and needs to be recorded faithfully by those of us who were witnesses to it. Local Deities has been called a political thriller, but I prefer what some other reviewers said about it, that it is a woman's view of the sixties that grapples with moral ambiguity and contradiction.

"I have completed work on another political thriller, this one set in Central America in 1989. The novel's protagonists are two gay men, one a North American guerrilla fighting with the Maya in Guatemala, the other a member of the Nicaraguan (at the time, Sandinista) government.

"My own life has revolved around political and social issues for so long that I find it almost impossible to create fictional characters who don't have at least some of these concerns. Politics of one stripe or another even invades the mysteries I write. Shadowdance, written in 1980, published in 1989, is about feminists and Russian exiles and has as its protagonists two lesbian detectives, Wilson and Wilder, working out of the relatively boring city of Portland, Maine. (I know how boring, because I live there.)

"I also wrote a novel about women and friendship, marriage, and other long-term relationships. The theme of the strength (or weakness) of women's friendships has always played a part in my work, but has usually been buried in a subtext, overwhelmed by plot. By concentrating on the emotions inside a friendship, I hope to explore questions of bisexuality and the difficulty of combining in a friendship the seemingly contradictory elements of passionate attachment and platonic love."



Bookwatch, January, 1998, review of Death by Crystal: A Johannah Wilder Mystery, p. 5.

San Francisco Chronicle, June 27, 1997, Patricia Holt, review of The Enumerator, p. C12.

Small Press, winter, 1994, review of Death by Crystal, p. 51.


Crime Time On-Line, http://www.crimetime.co.uk/ (March 4, 2003), Crow Dillon-Parkin, review of The Enumerator.*