Life Stories #76: Kelly Cogswell

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Life Stories: Kelly Cogswell
photo via Kelly Cogswell

In this episode of Life Stories, the podcast where I interview memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, I’m joined by Kelly Cogswell, one of the earliest members of the first chapter of the Lesbian Avengers, founded in New York City in 1992. In Eating Fire, she talks about how this activist group sought not only to instigate improved conditions for lesbian women, but to transform the way they viewed themselves—one of the reasons she decided to become involved, she says, was to bring herself to become more comfortable with identifying as a lesbian:

“It was hard to come out. I didn’t have any trouble really accepting that I liked girls, but understanding what society thinks of you once you kind of accept it yourself, and want to publicly be yourself? That’s a different ball game. It’s hard.”

In our conversation, Cogswell and I discuss the issues and campaigns that brought the Lesbian Avengers together, as well as the internal conflicts that derailed the New York chapter’s momentum even as the organization itself was attracting members around the world—and how what was partially intended as a handbook for organizing direct action campaigns using the Avengers’ work as a historical example took on an increasingly personal component. We also talk about what’s changed for lesbians and the rest of the LGBT community in the two decades since the Avengers assembled, and why things like Russia’s homophobic repressions and Alec Baldwin’s insults matter.

Listen to Life Stories #76: Kelly Cogswell (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)

21 July 2014 | life stories |

Life Stories #75: Rayya Elias

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Life Stories: Rayya Elias

photo: Lisa Ross

In this episode of Life Stories, the podcast where I interview memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, Rayya Elias tells us about Harley Loco and a life of “hard living, hair, and post-punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side.” We start with Elias’s childhood in Syria, then growing up in Detroit in the late 1960s and ’70s when her family came to the United States, and the desires that led her towards New York City. She talked about how she turned to drug use as a way push aside the internal conflicts she was dealing with over her sexuality and her efforts to break away from her past. The drugs, she says, “unlocked me a little bit, helped me move past all of those barriers that I felt contained me. That was my first experience, and it was amazing. Not only was I able to fit in, but I was also able to be comfortable in my own skin, and able to just be freer.” It didn’t stop there:

“When the harder drugs started happening… here in New York, in the art scene, in the music scene, and I was looking up to see who were the people I was mostly attracted to in my life, they were the people that were out there using drugs and still having these lives that were beyond my imagination…They were doing it, and they seemed f’ed up… and [yet] they seemed to be doing a really job at being everything. And I thought, wow, I can do that!”

She couldn’t, though, and she writes about the long downward spiral that followed, and the slow process of turning her life around. We also talk about how she’d originally set out to turn her story into a movie, when the encouragement and generosity of Elizabeth Gilbert steered her towards memoir.

Listen to Life Stories #75: Rayya Elias (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)

6 July 2014 | life stories |

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