Newman's reading focuses attention on gay men, AIDS

January 30, 2000
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Leslea Newman gave her first public reading from her new collection of short stories, "Girls Will be Girls" (Alyson Books, $12.95), earlier this month at the Women's Resources and Research Center's writers series.

Newman, a spokeswoman for both the Jewish community and the lesbian community, read three versions of the same story "all of which are true and all of which are different."

She read poetry from "Still Life With Buddy"; "Too Far Away to Touch," a story for children, and a short story from her new collection, "Whatever Happened to Baby Fane?" Each of these readings involved a man dying of AIDS.

"I have lost three friends, all male writers, to AIDS," she said.

The question she is most frequently asked about her work is this: Was that story true? On the one hand, to be asked that question is a compliment, she said, because it indicates that the reader was convinced by the material. On the other hand, the question is somewhat insulting because it denies the writer the strength of her craft.

So she falls back on this answer: "From 28 percent to 73 percent is true," she says, laughing.

"I try to capture the emotional truth, to make sense of the world. It's not THE truth, but it's MY truth," she said.

Newman is probably best known for her children's book, "Heather Has Two Mommies," but she doesn't want to be known only for this book, the second most-banned book in the country in 1994.

She was both astonished and frustrated at the amount of controversy caused by the publication of "Heather," the story of a little girl being raised by two lesbians.

"It's been challenged in so many places, I guess I was naive about it," she said.

But this led her to quote another writer who spoke at an earlier WRRC series, Dorothy Allison: "Writing never exceeds the courage of the writer."

"Writing can be painful," she said. "But it's also a way to work things through."

Newman, who lives in Northampton, Mass., has written and edited more than 20 books ranging from poetry to prose, non-fiction to humor.

"I try to write everyday, usually in the morning when I wake up," she said. "I write in a spiral notebook with a Bic pen and then I type in a computer. I wake up with a dream image or a voice. I usually start (a new work) with the voice of a character, usually in first person. I wrote many of the poems in 'Still Life With Buddy' while on a book tour for another book.

"When I sit down to write I don't tell myself that this will be a poem or a children's book because the material dictates the form," she added.

She also had some encouraging words for those would-be writers in the audience at the Varsity Theater.

"You can start writing at any age," she said. "I started writing poetry as a child of 7 or 8 even though none was ever read to me. But I didn't start with fiction until I was 27."

Newman has been writing for 20 years.

"Mostly, I like to read and write," she said. "But I love my Latin dance classes, collages are a new hobby, I'm now active in Big Brother/Big Sisters, I love my two cats, movies and theater, and I talk on the phone."

The next three speakers in the series will be Alma Luz Villanueva on Feb. 16, author of "The Ultraviolet Sky" and "Naked Ladies"; Bharati Mukherjee on March 8, author of "The Holder of the World," "Jasmine" and "The Middleman and Other Stories"; and Pam Houston on April 5, author of "Cowboys Are My Weakness," "Waltzing the Cat," and "A Little More About Me."

Tickets are $10 general, $8 for students. You can order tickets through the UCD campus box office at 752-1915.

Proceeds from the ticket sales for the series will go to Save Ourselves, a breast cancer support and advocacy organization located in Sacramento. Save Ourselves was founded in 1991 and has 600 members. This year, more than 18,000 women in California will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Be sure to pick up more information about this group (fliers will be available in the Varsity Theater lobby) when you come to see Alma Luz Villanueva at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 16.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discounted prices [ Click Here ]

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