Thursday, March 28, 2013

"A Simple Revolution," by Judy Grahn

Poet, activist, theorist and educator Judy Grahn’s “A Simple Revolution: The Making of an Activist Poet” (Aunt Lute Books, 2012) is her autobiography, but it is equally a history of the women and events involved in the feminist and lesbian movements in the U.S., especially during the 1960s and 1970s. Because Grahn has spent most of her adult life in the San Francisco Bay Area, and because that area has been one of the original and main centers of lesbian and feminist activism, most of the book is about the politics, demonstrations, art and literature, women’s communities and collectives, and other manifestations of the movement(s) to be found in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. A flood of memories and strong feelings accompanied my reading of this book, with its vivid history of the exciting tumult of the times when women stood up for their independence and their rights. I am a decade younger than Grahn, and straight, but I support the same causes, and have lived in the SF Bay Area most of my adult life, so I have witnessed and cheered on, and participated a little, in that history. Although my own feminism, and my support of lesbian and gay equality, have been important parts of my thinking and life since my college days, I cannot claim in any way to have been in the midst of the women (and some men) who really put their lives on the line, stood up to discrimination at protests, lived under new structures such as community houses, learned trades such as printing so they could publish women’s work, and so much more. I have done my little bit through my early membership in women’s groups, through my teaching and writing, and through some small financial and other support of women’s organizations, but am vastly grateful to the women who did so much more, and risked so much more. Grahn’s writing style in this book is straightforward and somewhat reportorial, but none the less effective for its unadorned quality. She has made a hugely important contribution by preserving this vital piece of history, and her up-close “I was there” writing makes this book a compelling read, whether the reader is of a similar age and remembers the times, or is much younger and wants to learn more about this crucial era and movement. (I thank my friend Sonja for recommending this book.)

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