Labor Day in gay Atlanta means huge LGBT and welcoming events. On top of Black Gay Pride and Dragon*Con, count on an inclusive Decatur Book Festival, moreso now that one of our own has his eye out for us.
“LGBT books and issues have always been a part of the AJC Decatur Book Festival of course, but I think when I joined as program manager, we started asking ourselves, ‘Who can we bring to the festival that pulls an LGBT audience?’” Philip Rafshoon, the festival's programming director, tells Project Q.
“Now we have something that speaks to every genre, be it memoir, be it fiction, what have you, something in every genre that specifically speaks to LGBT people.”
He knows of what he speaks. Rafshoon (top photo) came to local renown as the proprietor of gay Atlanta’s loved-and-lost Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse. We cheered when he took the reigns of Decatur Book Festival, and he’s even given us condo envy.
“We also have a special track called the Roxanne Gay Selects track,” he notes. “The popular ‘Bad Feminist’ author curated the whole track, and every one of those sessions there’s an LGBT person.”
One of the LGBT events Rafshoon is most excited about is the Saturday panel discussion for the anthology “Crooked Letter: Coming Out in the South.” The collection of first-person nonfiction narratives about gay, lesbian, and transgendered Southerners include the tales of two Atlanta writers, B. Andrew Plant (second photo) and Suzanne Lea.
“We all come out in our own ways in our own time for our own reasons and to the degree with which we are comfortable,” Plant says. “And coming out is not usually a finite thing. It's not flipping a light switch. It's a process and a very individual one.”
For his part in the anthology, Plant details a struggle toward in his Southern coming out story that’s very much an internal one.
“I struggled how others would react to me if I lived my gay truth and the unknowns were frightening; for instance, a lack of role models for who and what I thought I wanted to be,” he says. “My journey toward more fully coming out hinged on the incredible people I had been lucky enough to love and be loved by. I just couldn't disrespect those relationships or the things I might accomplish if I took a few more big leaps in my coming out journey.”
While he has long since come to embrace his orientation and thrives in his life and career, Plant says the book and its festival debut reinvigorate his view, imbibing his own story with new meaning in context of the book.
“On the face of it, this is and has been my story,” Plant says. “Still, the stories in the book taken together are stronger than any one on its own.
“Mostly, the fact that we are collectively getting recognition at the country's largest independent book festival – and elsewhere – means that it has that much more an opportunity to help folks,” he adds, “whether that means in their own coming out process, committing their story to paper or maybe the help is for someone who wants to understand a co-worker or family member or friend or neighbor who needs to or has come out.”
And the Decatur Book Festival is a perfect venue for the issues the anthology raises. Plant echoes Rafshoon in his praise for its diversity.
“My experience has been that the festival has been inclusive and, in fact, seems to strive for that,” he says. “That means a lot to me personally because our book is a relatively small, fairly academic one, so I'm honored and humbled that it made the cut. LGBTQ books aren't always the biggest sellers or biggest crowd draws in general, so I especially appreciate the businesses, venues and events that are embracing us.”
Keeping it gay
Based on the roster of gay authors and topics, we can only concur that DBF is downright LGBT. Check out the must-see highlights below and the full lineup in the LGBT genre, but try to hit some of the other great festival features too, Rafshoon says.
“Everywhere you turn, you’ll find lots of books, everything is free, and it’s just a great chance to come out, meet people and see great authors,” he says.
- Crooked Letter: Coming Out in the South. Saturday 3 p.m., Decatur City Hall. A collection of first-person nonfiction narratives to reflect the distinct “coming out” experiences of a cross-section of gay, lesbian, and transgendered Southerners now scattered across the U.S. Panel authors including Atlanta's own B. Andrew Plant.
- Jamie Brickhouse – Dangerous When Wet, Saturday 4:15, Old Courthouse. An astonishing memoir—by turns both darkly comic and deeply poignant—about a native Texan's long struggle with alcohol, his complicated relationship with Mama Jean, and his sexuality.
- Cat Cora – Cooking As Fast As I Can , Saturday, 1:45 Food and Cooking Stage – the first female Iron Chef no holds barred memoir.
- Virginia Willis – A New Take on Southern Classics, Saturday, 5:30 Food & Cooking Stage. She may (or may not) discuss cooking lamb balls on national TV.
- Samuel Delany – ABC: Three Short Novels – Sunday, Noon Old Courthouse – pioneering Science Fiction Writer makes his first appearance at the AJC DBF
- Ryan Berg – No House to Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions Saturday, 12:30 Decatur Library- memoir of caring for Homeless LGBTQ Youth in NYC in conversation with Rick Westbrook and Laura Gentile of lost-n-found youth.
- Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli on PG 13 panel – Sunday 1PM, Teen Stage – Four YA phenoms- dish about writing for the YA and not so YA crowd, two of the books are on LGBT issues
- Brad Gooch and Robert Goolrick – Eighties New York – Portraits of an Era -Sunday 1:15PM Decatur Recreation Center Studio – two great writers explore Eighties New York in memoir and fiction.