Tea, Michelle 1971(?)
TEA, Michelle 1971(?)
PERSONAL: Born c. 1971, in Chelsea, MA.
ADDRESSES: Home—San Francisco, CA. Offıce—c/o Authors Mail, Seal Press, 300 Queen Anne Avenue N. #375, Seattle, WA 98109.
CAREER: Spoken-word poet and writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Cable Car Award for Best Critic, 1996, for writing in the San Francisco Bay Times; Rona Jaffe Award, 1999; Lambda Award for Best Lesbian Fiction, for Valencia;Top Twenty-five Books of 2000, Village Voice Literary Supplement, for Valencia.
The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America, Semiotexte (New York, NY), 1998.
Valencia, Seal Press (Seattle, WA), 2000.
The Chelsea Whistle: A Memoir, Seal Press (Seattle, WA), 2002.
Contributor to San Francisco Bay Guardian, On Our Backs, and Out Magazine.
SIDELIGHTS: Cofounder of the all-girl spoken word road show known as Sister Spit, Michelle Tea has written novels featuring a lesbian protagonist living outside the mainstream. She is also the author of The Chelsea Whistle: A Memoir, which depicts Tea's life growing up poor on the East Coast. A reviewer writing in the Portland Mercury noted, "Tea . . . is one of the best writers to emerge from a group of young women who use first-person linear narrative and unequivocal language—traditionally thought of as 'male' by feminist theorists—to present the reality of life as a girl."
Tea grew up in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and moved to the San Francisco Mission District in 1993. The following year she founded the all-girl spoken word group Sister Spit with Sini Anderson. The group's performances, both in San Francisco and throughout the United States and Canada, have made Tea a fixture on the literary performance scene.
Tea turned to her life in San Francisco's lesbian subculture for her first book, a stream-of-consciousness novel called The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America. "I had been writing poems, spoken word stuff, and I was having a good time with it and getting great responses from the open mics I hung out at, but at some point I wanted to shine a wider light on my experiences," Tea said in an interview on the Venus or Vixen Web site. Tea added that she was writing short stories and took one of them and "kind of squished it into a novel." Tea's effort to expand on a short story resulted in a novel focusing on the misadventures of Michelle, a heroine who spends her youth in the Gothic punk scene of Boston, becomes a prostitute, and has an abusive girlfriend who she largely supports. Writing in the Nation, Eileen Myles called the book "a gem of endangered narration from a loud and highly marginalized subculture, in particular the third wave of feminism. Tea's work resists categorization, and like all surprising vanguard literature, it's the news—a hunk of lyric information that coolly, then frantically, describes the car wreck of her generation and everything that surrounds it."
In her next novel, Valencia, Tea continues to flesh out the life of the fictional Michelle, who a contributor to the Portland Mercury called, "A wry girl narrator." According to Tea in an article in the San Francisco Bay Chronicle, the novel is based on her first year living in San Francisco. Said Tea, "It's about coming to the city fresh and having nothing to lose, arriving already at some kind of bottom, and how instead of that being depressing, it's really freeing." Using what a Venus or Vixen contributor called a "rapidfire, pull-no-punches style," Tea's alter-ego describes her life in the girlie-punk culture and her search for a loving mate. As described by reviewer Amy Sickels in the Gay and Lesbian Review, Valencia "is a fast-paced journey into the bars, streets, and bedrooms of the San Francisco mission District." Sickels had difficulty with the novels' many characters, noting that "the depiction of these women never quite rises above these descriptive tags, and so they remain character types instead of full personalities." However, Sickels noted, "What pulls the reader into Michelle's world is the vividness of the setting against which this fast-paced story is told." Sickels also commented on the novel's anticlimactic ending but added that "Tea's energetic language often raises this story above its flaws." A reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly noted that "Tea's writing is consistently uncommon and textured" but went on to note that the novel is a "sometimes-superficial, stylized entry." Beth Barnes, writing in the Lambda Book Report, said, "Despite a conventional narrative and properly placed paragraph breaks, the novel unfolds itself like a lyrical poem, a story that evokes a visceral, emotional response." Library Journal contributor Devon C. Thomas equated Tea's style as if she "were in the room offering the reader a late-night confession."
Although Tea's first two novels were autobiographical in nature, the author's next effort was not presented under the guise of fiction. The Chelsea Whistle: A Memoir recounts Tea's real life growing up in a Boston working-class slum, where many of its youth try to escape with drugs and sex, and Tea's determination to leave it all behind. Tea gives honest and frank accounts of life with her scrappy sister, her beleaguered mother, her alcoholic father and voyeuristic stepfather, and her time dealing with nuns in a Catholic school. "It's mainly about growing up a girl in a poor, weird New England town, feeling unsafe at home and on the street, where girls find safety for themselves or trick themselves into believing they're safe," Tea told Martin Wilson for a Lambda Book Report article. In a review in the Advocate, Matthew Link called Tea a "born storyteller." However, a contributor to Publishers Weekly noted that "the writing is well-honed" but also said that the book's "starts and stops, coupled with disappointing ending make her account ultimately unsatisfying." Another reviewer writing a review for Beyondthecloset.com, praised Tea's "trademark loose-tongued, lyrical style" and noted that the book "both celebrates and annihilates one girl's tightrope walk out of a working-class slum and the lessons she carries with her." Richard Labonte in a review for Outlook News said, "Tea writes with unrelenting candor and a lot of wry wit." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews commented, "It's not a pretty picture of youth, but Tea paints with imagination, candor, and a heart as fragile as 'paper lace.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Tea, Michelle, The Chelsea Whistle: A Memoir, Seal Press (Seattle, WA), 2002.
Advocate, November 21, 2000, Matthew Link, review of Valencia, p. 58.
Booklist, September 15, 2002, June Pulliam, review of The Chelsea Whistle: A Memoir, p. 195.
Gay and Lesbian Review, fall, 2000, Amy Sickels, "Sleep-Deprived in Sasn Francisco," review of Valencia, p. 44.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of The Chelsea Whistle: A Memoir, p. 1019.
Lambda Book Report, May, 2000, Beth Barnes, "A Dirt-smeared Poetic Perfection," p. 17; May, 2000, Elizabeth Stark, "Grrl Guide: An Interview with Michelle Tea," p. 18; May, 2001, Martin Wilson, "Very American Obsessions," p. 27.
Library Journal, April 15, 2000, Devon C. Thomas, review of Valencia, p. 125.
Nation, March 15, 1999, Eileen Myles, review of The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, March 20, 2000, review of Valencia, p. 69; July 1, 2002, review of The Chelsea Whistle: A Memoir, p. 66.
Beyondthecloset.com, http://www.beyondthecloset.com/ (October 23, 2002), review of The Chelsea Whistle: A Memoir.
Fabula Magazine,http://www.fabulamag.com/ (October 23, 2002), Jeff Johnson, review of Valencia.
Outlook News,http://www.outlooknews.com/ (October 23, 2002), Richard Labonte, review of The Chelsea Whistle: A Memoir.
Portland Mercury,http://www.portlandmercury.com/ (October 23, 2002), review of Valencia; Ariel Gore, "Nothing but the Truth, A Chat with Valencia Author Michelle Tea."
San Francisco Bay Guardian,http://www.sfbg.com/ (October 23, 2002), review of Valencia.