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Gomez, Jewelle (b. 1948)  

In her poetry, fiction, and essays, Jewelle Gomez seeks to merge her black, feminist, and lesbian identities into an indivisible whole.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1948 and raised in a South End tenement, in her 1993 book of essays, Forty-Three Septembers, Jewelle Gomez describes a childhood of knowing strong, black mothers and grandmothers; taking subway rides to Revere Beach; jazz music; Catholic catechism classes; and a firm grounding in the ways that black lives differed from whites' and women's from men's.

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As a young adult in the late 1960s, Gomez gravitated naturally toward the civil rights movement, involving herself with struggles against racism, sexism, apartheid, and the Vietnam War, among others. She moved to Greenwich Village, New York, in the early 1970s and by the end of the decade was exploring the full implications of not only a lesbian identity, but also a black, feminist identity as well.

Forty-Three Septembers records much of this process, including Gomez's reassessment of her family's legacy as she entered middle age. Gomez speaks of her efforts to integrate the apparent "demands" of her ethnic and racial identities with those of her sexual orientation, and she pays homage to grandmothers, writers, and women social and political pioneers whom she acknowledges as her literal and spiritual forebears.

Among the latter, the influence of the late poet and "biomythographer," health and political activist Audre Lorde on Gomez's work and artistic career can hardly be overstated. Gomez consciously adopted Lorde's rejection of attempts to partition her diverse selves and multiple commitments.

In a 1993 memorial to Lorde for Essence magazine, "Passing of a Sister Warrior," Gomez wrote, "There was an undeniable link between all parts of her self--feminist, Black woman, lesbian, activist, artist, friend, teacher and mother. Her insistence on being seen for her whole self and refusal to let one aspect . . . dominate or obscure the others made Audre Lorde's work and life an invaluable gift and a persistent necessity."

Restating that theme for herself in her essay "Transubstantiation," Gomez writes of the "elements that make me individual: African-American, Ioway, Wampanoag, Bostonian, lesbian, welfare-raised, artist, activist. . . . I must insist that the combination of factors that make me who I am are as natural as the two Hs and the O constituting water."

Gomez's first publications were books of poems, The Lipstick Papers (1980) and Flamingoes and Bears (1986). The latter includes love poems of great warmth and humor, such as "My Chakabuku Mama," in which Gomez writes of the "cosmically correct" lover who could "Squeeze the names of three / Egyptian goddesses / Into any general conversation."

Flamingoes and Bears also includes poems of rage and political conviction, such as "For Tanya Rienzi 1939-1976," whose title character "Died in [a] skinny / Back Bay apartment / Screaming no at her irate lover man / Who wouldn't believe / She could live without him."

Moreover, her poetry offers clear hints that Gomez occasionally chafed under the strictures of "proper" feminist rhetoric. In "Our Feminist Who Art in Heaven," she confesses, among other things, to "politically incorrect sex" and hopes for a penance she might perform "In the privacy / Of my own home." Indeed, in 1997 Gomez was picketed during an appearance at Kalamazoo College in Michigan by feminist activists who claimed she had written poems celebrating sadomasochism.

Gomez's best-known work is probably The Gilda Stories (1991), ostensibly a vampire novel--and, thus, sometimes dismissed as "genre fiction"--but more accurately a reimagining of black lesbians as witnesses to (and creators of) the history of America over the past 150 years and far into the future.

The Gilda Stories begins with a nod to traditional slave narratives: The unnamed Girl escapes her owners in 1850 Louisiana and must kill a man who intends to rape her and return her to slavery. Gilda takes her in and the Girl eventually inherits both Gilda's name and her powers, becoming the central figure in a 200-year historical pilgrimage.

Unlike most authors of vampire tales, Gomez imagines blood taking as an equal exchange in which no one need die--a prescriptive metaphor, perhaps, for a vision of erotic and interpersonal interaction among women. Even more importantly, The Gilda Stories, which won two Lambda Literary Awards, illuminates African-American women as heroes, people whose power both salvages and protects.

Gomez's recent work includes a book of short stories, Don't Explain (1998), and a collection of poetry, Oral Tradition: Selected Poems Old and New (1995).

On November 1, 2008, Gomez married Dr. Dianne Abbe Sabin, the executive director of the Lesbian Health and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco. The couple, who participated in the legal challenge that resulted in the historic ruling of the California State Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage, exchanged vows at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

Wendell Ricketts

     

 
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    Bibliography
   

Garber, Eric, and Jewelle Gomez, eds. Swords of the Rainbow: Gay and Lesbian Fantasy Adventures. Los Angeles: Alyson Publications, 1996.

Gomez, Jewelle. "Dreams Deferred: On Being Black, Lesbian, and Feminist." Village Voice (February 13, 1996): 38-39.

_____. "Passing of a Sister Warrior." Essence (May 1993): 89-92.

_____ and Tristan Taormino, eds. Best Lesbian Erotica 1997. Pittsburgh: Cleis Press, 1997.

Johnson, Judith E. "Women and Vampires: Nightmare or Utopia?" The Kenyon Review 15:1 (1993): 72-80.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Ricketts, Wendell  
    Entry Title: Gomez, Jewelle  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 2, 2008  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/gomez_j.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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