Gomez, Jewelle 1948–
Jewelle Gomez 1948–
Through her poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, activist Jewelle Gomez pushes her feminist message. Gomez was noted for her novel The Gilda Stories, in which she wove her message into a compelling tale of an ethical and feminist African-American vampire. Gomez wrote about race, feminism, and lesbianism. She was a founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). The Gilda Stories won two Lambda Book Awards, and Gomez received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry and two California Arts Council residencies, among other awards.
Jewelle Gomez was born September 11, 1948, in Boston, Massachusetts to Dolores Minor LeClaire, a nurse, and John Gomez, a bartender. After her parents separated when she was two, Gomez was raised by her great-grandmother, Gracias Archelina Sportsman Morandus, a woman of African-American and Native American descent who was born on a reservation in Iowa Gomez attended an all-girls school in Boston and won a full scholarship to Boston’s Northeastern University. She earned her bachelor’s degree there in 1971 and attended Columbia University School of Journalism as a Ford Foundation fellow and earned her master’s degree in 1973. Gomez got her start in activism at Northeastern. One of the few black students there, she joined groups that protested campus inequality.
After graduation, Gomez worked as a production assistant at Boston’s WGBH-TV on Say Brother, one of the first black weekly television shows in the United States. She moved to New York City in 1971 and continued to work in television, including for the Children’s Television Workshop’s program pilot for The Electric Company. From television, Gomez jumped to Off-Broadway theater productions, where she worked as a stage manager in the eighties. She was a founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) from 1985 to 1987.
In 1980, Gomez self-published her first book of poetry, The Lipstick Papers, on her own Grace Publications imprint. She self-published another poetry collection, called Flamingoes and Bears, in 1987. Her third collection of poems, Oral Tradition, was published by Firebrand Books in 1995.
Gomez’s first novel, The Gilda Stories, published in 1991, spans 200 years in the life of Gilda, a feminist
At a Glance…
Born on September 11, 1948, in Boston, MA to Dolores Minor LeClaire and John Gomez. Education: B.A., Northeastern University, 1971; M.S., Columbia Univ. School of Journalism, 1973.
Career: Writer. Asst. poetry editor, Essence magazine, 1978-81; instructor, National Arts Consortium, 1980; researcher/interviewer, Before Stonewall, PBS, 1982-83; instr., Feminist Art Institute, 1985-88; instr., Hunter College, 1990-93; asst. director of literature, 1983-89, dir. of literature, 1989-93, NY State Council on the Arts; instr., New College of California, 1994; writer in residence, BRAVA Theater, San Francisco, 1994,1995; playwright, Urban Bush Women Co., 1995-97; exec, dir., The Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State Univ., 1996-99; dir., Cultural Equity Grants Program of the San Francisco Arts Commission, 2001-. Writer: The Lipstick Papers, 1980; Flamingoes and Bears, 1986; The Cilda Stories, 1991; Forty Three Septembers, 1993; Oral Tradition: Selected Poems Old and New, 1995; Don’t Explain: Short Fiction, 1998. Playwright: Bones and Ash: A Gilda Story, 1995-96.
Awards: Beard’s Fund Award for Fiction, 1985; Barbara Deming/Money for Women Fund Award, fiction, 1987; Lambda Literary Awards, Fiction and Science Fiction, 1991; Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1997; individual artist commission, San Francisco Arts Commission, 2000.
Member: Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, founding board member, 1985-87; Belle Lettres, editorial advisory bd., 1990-96; Multi-Cultural Review, editorial adv. board, 1991-95; Cornell Univ. Human Sexuality Archives, adv. bd., 1992-; Open Meadows Foundation, bd. member, 1989-; Coalition Against Censorship, bd. member, 1993-.
Addresses: Business —c/o Michele Karlsberg Management, 47 Dongan Hills Ave., Staten Island, NY 10306. Website —http://www.jewellegomez.com.
African-American vampire. After escaping slavery in Mississippi in 1850, Gilda becomes part of a group of vampires who use their supernatural talents responsibly. Gomez’s vampires are distinguished from others by the fact that, along with the traditional traits, they have a conscience. Gilda makes her way from a farm in Missouri in 1920s, to an alternative theater in New York in the seventies, on to 2020 and 2050. “I decided that people don’t change that much, even when they live a couple hundred years,” Gomez told the Boston Globe. “Of course one of the advantages of being 200 is that petty things—like ethnicity and sexual preference—don’t bother you as much.”
Gomez’s activist and feminist message shape the novel. Because the horror and vampire genre is traditionally “exploitative and patriarchal,” she told Ms. in 1991, “I had to re-create the mythology and strip away all the victimization.” In creating a lesbian character who “didn’t need victims in order to survive,” she continued, she was further pushing her message. Gomez added her main challenge in The Gilda Stories was to make a feminist statement and still tell a compelling story with an adventurous, engaging main character. In a Publishers Weekly review, one critic wrote that Gomez took a different approach to the traditional erotic vampire novel by “introducing issues of race and sexual preference,” but the result was “an ultimately uninteresting romance novel.” For The Gilda Stories, Gomez earned two 1992 Lambda Book Awards for lesbian fiction and lesbian science fiction.
Dozens of Gomez’s essays have appeared in Ms., Sojourner, Village Voice, Essence, Signs, and Advocate, among others. Gomez more directly explores issues of race, art, feminism, and lesbianism in her non-fiction work than in her creative writing. A collection of her essays, called Forty-Three Septembers, was published by Firebrand in 1993. Her essays also have appeared in over a dozen anthologies. Gomez’s article, “Otherwise Engaged,” which appeared in the June/July issue of Ms. magazine explores the place of gays and lesbians in the legal and cultural institution of marriage. Gomez’s book and film reviews have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Advocate, New York Times, and Village Voice.
In 1996, Gomez’s Gilda took to the stage. Bones and Ash: A Gilda Story, was a dance-theater piece staged by choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and her group Urban Bush Women. Zollar contacted Gomez and proposed the idea that she turn her novel into a theater piece. Together, Zollar, Gomez and musical director Toshi Reagan brought Gomez’s lesbian vampires to life, gave them movement, and put them to music. Bones and Ash played in 13 U.S. cities during the 1996 theater season at such theaters as San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, and the Joyce Theatre in New York. In a review, New York Times critic Jennifer Dunning wrote that, though the production faltered badly through the second and final acts, “Bones and Ash is a parable of great beauty and power, expertly staged and rising fully to its grand ambitions.” The paperback edition of the Bones and Ash script was published in 2001.
In her first collection of short stories, Don’t Explain, published in 1998, Gomez explored the future, revisited Gilda, and remembered her great-grandmother. In “Lynx and Strand,” a futuristic society is run by a corporation. Gilda makes a return in “Houston,” where she finds a devastated environment in which few people reach old age. Gomez’s tribute to her great-grandmother, “Grace A.,” tells of a stern, very old woman who is reluctant to care for her young great-granddaughter, but who does so dutifully. In “Water With the Wine,” a 50-year-old African-American professor confesses her affair with her young, white student. Gomez’s female characters, wrote Library Journal critic Ina Rimpau, “are savvy and bold, with a sense of ancestry and history, and they forge deep connections to other women.” A Publishers Weekly critic wrote that, “fluidly written and briskly paced… these stories demonstrate an impressive, wide-ranging imagination.” Gomez’s short stories can also be found in several anthologies, including New Bones, Dark Matter, and Children of the Night. She also has co-edited two fiction anthologies: Swords of the Rainbow, a collection of fantasy fiction stories and Best Lesbian Erotica of 1997.
After 22 years in New York, Gomez moved to San Francisco with Diane Sabin in 1993. She was a visiting writer at Menlo College, an instructor at New College of California, and a writer in residence at BRAVA Theater in San Francisco in 1994. She was executive director of The Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University from 1996 to 1999 and, in 2001, became director of Cultural Equity Grants Program of the San Francisco Arts Commission. Her poem, “Chakabuku Mama,” was included in the Best American Poetry of 2001 anthology.
The Lipstick Papers (poetry), Grace Publications, 1980.
Flamingoes and Bears (poetry), Grace Publications, 1987.
The Gilda Stories (novel), Firebrand Books, 1991.
Forty-Three Septembers (essays), Firebrand Books, 1993.
Oral Tradition (poetry), Firebrand Books, 1995.
Swords of the Rainbow (co-editor), Alyson Publications, 1996.
Best Lesbian Erotica (co-editor), Cleis Books, 1997.
Don’t Explain (fiction), Firebrand Books, 1998.
Bones and Ash: A Gilda Story (fiction), Quality Paperback Books, 2001.
Henderson, Ashyia, ed., Who’s Who Among African Americans, 13th Edition, The Gale Group, 2000.
Boston Globe, November 28, 1995.
Library Journal, June 15, 1998, p. 109;
Ms., July/August 1991, p. 87; June/July 2000, p. 66.
New York Times, November 16, 1996.
Publishers Weekly, May 10, 1991, p. 277; June 15, 1998, p. 44.
Contemporary Authors Online, The Gale Group, 2000.
Firebrand Books Online, http://www.firebrandbooks.com (June 7, 2001).
Jewelle Gomez Homepage, http://www.jewellegomez.com (June 7, 2001).
Additional material was provided by Jewelle Gomez, 2001.
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