Saturday, February 24, 2018

Happy Birthday to Poet and Artist Etel Adnan

Etel Adnan in her studio. Photo by Fabrice Gilbert, courtesy Galerie Lelong

Etel Adnan
was born today, February 24, in 1925 in Beirut, Lebanon. She is a Lebanese-American poet, essayist, and visual artist. In 2003, Adnan was named "arguably the most celebrated and accomplished Arab American author writing today" by the academic journal MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.

Besides her literary output, Adnan continues to produce visual works in a variety of media, such as oil paintings, films and tapestries, which have been exhibited at galleries across the world.

Adnan's mother was a Christian Greek from Smyrna and her father was Muslim Syrian and a petty officer. Though she grew up speaking Greek and Turkish in a primarily Arabic-speaking society, she was educated at French convent schools and French became the language in which her early work was first written. She also studied English in her youth, and most of her later work has been first written in this language.

At 24, Adnan traveled to Paris where she received a degree in philosophy from the Sorbonne. She then traveled to the United States where she continued graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley and at Harvard University. From 1952 to 1978, she taught philosophy of art at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael. She has also lectured at many universities throughout the United States.

Adnan returned from the US to Lebanon and worked as a journalist and cultural editor for Al-Safa, a French-language newspaper in Beirut. In addition, she also helped build the cultural section of the newspaper, occasionally contributing cartoons and illustrations. Her tenure at Al-Safa was most notable for her front-page editorials, commenting on the important political issues of the day.

In her later years, Adnan began to openly identify as lesbian.

Adnan also works as a painter, her earliest abstract works were created using a palette knife to apply oil paint onto the canvas – often directly from the tube – in firm swipes across the picture's surface. The focus of the compositions often being a red square, she remains interested in the "immediate beauty of colour". In 2012, a series of the artist's brightly colored abstract paintings were exhibited as a part of documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany.

Inspired by Japanese leporellos, Adnan also paints landscapes on to foldable screens that can be "extended in space like free-standing drawings".

In 2014, a collection of the artist's paintings and tapestries were exhibited as a part of the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Etel Adnan's retrospective at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, titled "Etel Adnan In All Her Dimensions" and curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, featured 11 dimensions of Adnan's practice. It included her early works, her literature, her carpets, and other. The show was launched in March 2014, accompanied by a 580-page catalog of her work published jointly by Mathaf and Skira. The catalog was designed by artist Ala Younis in Arabic and English, and included text contributions by Simone Fattal, Daniel Birnbaum, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, as well as six interviews with Hans-Ulrich Obrist.

She currently lives in Paris and Sausalito, California.

from “Surge” by Etal Adnan

A long night I spent 
thinking that reality was the story 
of the human species

the vanquished search for the vanquished 

Sounds come by, ruffling my soul 

I sense space’s elasticity, 
go on reading the books she wrote on the 
wars she’s seen 

Why do seasons who regularly follow 
their appointed time, deny their kind of energy
to us? 

why is winter followed by a few
more days of winter?
We came to transmit the shimmering 
from which we came; to name it 

we deal with a permanent voyage, 
the becoming of that which itself had 

Copyright © 2017 by Etel Adnan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

American Neo-Nazi Group Celebrates Murder of Gay Man by One of Their Own

Hornet reports:

In January 2018, 19-year-old openly gay and Jewish University of Pennsylvania sophomore Blaze Bernstein was stabbed 20 times and buried in a park. Afterwards, police arrested a suspect, 20-year-old Samuel Woodward (pictured at left above), Bernstein’s former high school classmate. Woodward was a member a neo-Nazi group called the Atomwaffen Division, and it turns out that members of that group celebrated Bernstein’s death, according to recently discovered group chat logs.

In response to news of Bernstein’s murder, one member wrote, “I love this.” Another called Woodward a “one-man gay Jew wrecking crew.” One member threatened to kill whoever exposed Woodward’s connection to their group to the media, saying, “Rats and traitors get the rope first.”

Another member wrote, “Sam did something stupid. Not that the faggot kike didn’t deserve to die. Just simply not worth a life in prison for.” Kike is an anti-Semitic slur.

Blaze Bernstein

Bernstein was murdered while visiting his parents in California during his university’s winter break. Authorities believe that Bernstein accompanied Woodward in a park on Jan. 2. Police discovered Bernstein in a shallow grave in the park a week later.

See full story here.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Today In 1892: Alice Mitchell Murders Her Lesbian Lover

Alice Mitchell was an American woman who gained notoriety for the murder of her lover Freda Ward. On February 23, 1892, the 19-year-old Mitchell cut the throat of her lover, 17-year-old Freda Ward. Mitchell was subsequently found insane by means of a jury inquisition and placed in a psychiatric hospital until her death in 1898. 

The case, exploited by sensationalist press, and focused attention of the sexual attachments of women and drew out into the public discourse discussions of lesbianism. The case was headlined as "A Very Unnatural Crime" across the country. The case influenced the popular literature of the era which began to depict lesbians as "murderous" and "masculine". One identity that came to be through lesbians was the "mannish lesbian" creating dialogue of gender expression.

The case history produced by Mitchell's defense describes her as "a regular tomboy." In the courtroom Alice Mitchell was presented as "insane" by her attorneys and her trial was not tried in criminal court but for questioning of lunacy.

Alice Mitchell was born in 1872 to George and Isabella Mitchell. Alice was never interested in the toys that young girls were interested in. She was interested in playing on the swing in her yard, and playing both baseball and football. Alice had four siblings: her older brothers Robert and Frank Mitchell, her eldest sister Mattie Mitchell and her older sister Addie Mitchell. She was closest with her brother Frank. Together, they played with marbles and practiced shooting with a rifle. Alice also liked horses and helped take care of her father’s horse. Her mother tried to teach her sewing and needlework, but Alice never enjoyed doing this work nor was ever able to learn how. Alice was not interested in boys as a child as most girls her age were. In fact, as she grew older, she was sometimes rude to young men.

Alice and Freda met at the Higbee School for Young Ladies. They were very open about their relationship: they kissed, hugged, and held hands. This was not considered as homosexual behavior during this period and intimate female friendships were called “chumming” in Memphis. However, their relationship was more serious than "chumming" and Alice especially had an obsession with Freda. Freda's family left Memphis and moved upriver to Golddust, TN. Because Alice and Freda did not live in the same city, they only saw each other occasionally. However, when one of them would make the trip to see the other, they would stay together for weeks at a time. When visiting, the two would share a bed at night. Freda was not as serious about the relationship as Alice was and was interested in two men in addition to Alice. The two dated until Freda’s eldest sister and surrogate mother Ada Volkmar forbade Freda to communicate with Alice.

Alice had devised a scheme that she would begin dressing as a man, marry Freda and both would go to live in St. Louis as husband and wife with Alice (as Alvin J. Ward) finding work to support Freda. Freda accepted this proposal. Ada Volkmar discovered their letters, including the proposal, and sent a letter to Alice and to Alice’s mother Isabella telling Alice to stay away from Freda. Because their relationship was exposed and they were not allowed to see each other, Alice fell into a deep depression. She was rarely with her family, would stay awake at night, and ate very little. Alice would spend her time remembering her relationship with Freda: she would observe her photograph of Freda and reread letters. Alice often signed receipts with the name “Freda Ward” and claimed that she did not realize what she was doing.

Freda Ward was with her older sister Jo Ward and her friend Christina Purnell in Memphis when Alice slashed Freda with George Mitchell’s razor. Alice killed Freda, according to her own testimony, because if they could not get married then there was no reason for either of them to live and no one should marry Freda if she could not. Freda, Jo, and Christina were heading toward the river to board the steamboat Ora Lee to head to Golddust. After following them in a wagon, driven by her friend Lillie Johnson, Alice saw Freda and walked over to her on thawing ice. Alice took her father’s razor from her pocket and slashed Freda across her face. 

Jo tried to protect Freda by attacking Alice with an umbrella, but the attack was not successful. Angered by the umbrella, Alice sliced Jo’s collarbone. Freda, bleeding and disoriented, was finally killed by Alice with a deep slice across her throat. After killing Freda, Alice went back to the wagon and told Lillie Johnson what she had done. Lillie decided to take her home instead of to the police. Later both she and Alice were arrested. Lillie was released on bond but Alice had to remain in jail. Alice was tried that summer and declared "presently insane" meaning that she was insane before the murder. All charges were dropped against Lillie Johnson and Alice was ordered to Western State Hospital for the Insane located at Bolivar, TN. She died there in 1898.

Happy Birthday to Gender Theorist Judith Butler

Judith Butler was born today, February 24, in 1956. She is a philosopher and gender theorist whose work has influenced political philosophy, ethics and the fields of third-wave feminist, queer and literary theory. 

Since 1993, she has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is now Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory. She is also the Hannah Arendt Chair at the European Graduate School.

Butler is best known for her books Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) and Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993), in which she challenges conventional notions of gender and develops her theory of gender performativity. This theory has had a major influence on feminist and queer scholarship. Her works are often implemented in film studies courses emphasizing gender studies and the performativity in discourse.

Butler has actively supported lesbian and gay rights movements and has spoken out on many contemporary political issues. 

Butler lives in Berkeley with her partner Wendy Brown and son, Isaac.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Happy Birthday to Actress, Producer Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore was born today, February 22, in 1975. She is an actress, author, director, model and producer. She is a member of the Barrymore family of American stage and film actors, and the granddaughter of John Barrymore. She made her breakout role as a child actress in Steven Spielberg's film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

Following a highly publicized, turbulent childhood marked by drug and alcohol abuse with two stints in rehab, she released her autobiography, Little Girl Lost (1991). Barrymore appeared in a string of successful films, including Poison Ivy (1992), Scream (1996), and Ever After (1998). She is also known for co-starring with Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer (1998), 50 First Dates (2004) and Blended (2014).

In 1995, she and Nancy Juvonen formed a joint production company, Flower Films, and it went on to produce several films in which Barrymore also starred, such as Never Been Kissed (1999), Charlie's Angels (2000), Donnie Darko (2001) and her directorial debut Whip It! (2009) and Fever Pitch. Barrymore won a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe Award for her performance in Grey Gardens (2009). She currently stars in the Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet (2017).

Barrymore said in an interview with Contact Music in 2003 that she had always considered herself bisexual. She divorced from her husband Will Kopelman in 2016, with whom she married in 2012. They have two daughters.

Happy Birthday to Out Writer Christopher Bram

Christopher Bram was born today, February 22, in 1952. He is a writer of such novels as Father of Frankenstein, which was made into the movie Gods and Monsters.

Bram grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he was a paperboy and an Eagle Scout. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1974 with a B.A. in English. He moved to New York City in 1978.

His nine novels range in subject matter from gay life in the 1970s to the career of a Victorian musical clairvoyant to the frantic world of theater people in contemporary New York. Fellow novelist Philip Gambone wrote of his work, "What is most impressive in Bram's fiction is the psychological and emotional accuracy with which he portrays his characters ... 

His novels are about ordinary gay people trying to be decent and good in a morally compromised world. He focuses on the often conflicting claims of friendship, family, love and desire; the ways good intentions can become confused and thwarted; and the ways we learn to be vulnerable and human." Bram has written numerous articles and essays (a selection is included in Mapping the Territory). He has also written or co-written several screenplays, including feature documentary and short narrative films directed by his partner, Draper Shreeve.

His 1995 novel Father of Frankenstein, about film director James Whale, was made into the 1998 movie Gods and Monsters starring Ian McKellen, Lynn Redgrave, and Brendan Fraser. The film was written and directed by Bill Condon who won an Academy Award for the adapted screenplay.

Bram was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 2001, and is a multiple nominee for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction, winning for Lives of the Circus Animals. In May 2003, he received the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from Publishing Triangle, and in 2013 his book Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America won the organization's Randy Shilts Award. He lives in Greenwich Village and teaches at New York University.