Changing the Landscape of What It Means to Be a Lesbian: Talking with Sinister Wisdom intern and Associate Editor of Sinister Wisdom 105

Sinister Wisdom 105: Passion Fruit and Wet Flowers is the summer issue of Sinister Wisdom’s forty-first year of publishing. What a journey it has been and what a future Sinister Wisdom has! Long-time readers know that the first issue of Sinister Wisdom published on July 4, 1976, the bicentennial anniversary of the United States. Forty-one years later, Sinister Wisdom publishes its 105th issue, continuing to celebrate revolutionary lesbian-feminist consciousness.

Sinister Wisdom 105: Passion Fruit and Wet Flowers includes the best creative writing by lesbians accepted during the past two years through our open submission process. Sinister Wisdom is always open to receive work and always reading work submitted by writers around the globe.

In this interview, I talk with Sinister Wisdom intern and associate editor of Sinister Wisdom 105: Passion Fruit and Wet Flowers about her experiences working with Sinister Wisdom.

Julie R. Enszer (JRE): Sara, it’s been such a pleasure to work with you this term on your internship with Sinister Wisdom! Tell me a bit first about how you learned about Sinister Wisdom and what you have done in your internship.

Sara Gregory (SG): I learned about Sinister Wisdom through my interest in creative writing. I was working on a piece while living abroad in Spain, essentially trying to reconcile my own experiences of my sexuality and body with a new language and a new culture. I found the Sinister Wisdom website and call for submissions, eventually learning that you would be coming to New College of Florida to teach—I was so excited! When I got back to the United States I sent you an email to inquire about an internship and then we met up for a coffee. I knew Sinister Wisdom was something I wanted to be a part of. Even with the Internet and social media, it can be hard to find lesbian art spaces, and being relatively isolated abroad really connected me with my desire to be a part of a community of lesbian writers and artists.

For my internship, I worked as an associate editor for Sinister Wisdom 105: Passion Fruit and Wet Flowers, which features a variety of poetry, short story, prose, and even parts of a thesis, submitted to Sinister Wisdom over the past two years. Additionally, I’ve been able to explore the works of tatiana de la tierra, a writer, poet, and activist who was based out of Miami. Through researching her life and works for Sinister Wisdom, I’ve developed my thesis project around her two publications esto no tiene nombre and Conmoción which sought to connect Latina lesbians through creative writing and expression.

Sara Gregory, Sinister Wisdom intern
Sara Gregory, Sinister Wisdom intern

JRE: Let’s talk about the work that you did on this current issue. Can you describe what work you did and what you learned from it?

SG: Basically, I was able to work on the issue in every step of the publication process—from the cover design, title creation, copy editing, coordinating with authors, formatting and everything else in between. Aside from all the logistical and technical skills I picked up along the way, I was given the opportunity to really learn about and experience how a collection of writing becomes one, collective issue. Although each piece can stand alone, has its own truth, inside the issue they enter into a conversation with one another and create a distinct reading experience. That to me was most exciting.

Additionally, I was given the opportunity to contribute to the issue by writing a book review on Bonnie J. Morris’ The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture. With this, I learned to absorb another person’s historical and personal work, represent and understand it accurately, all while still maintaining my own opinions and impressions of the work. I think with the book review, not only did I learn about the history of lesbian music festivals, collectives, and literary circles in the United States, but I also learned to trust in my own opinions.

JRE: Can you discuss one of the challenges you encountered working on the issue? What was the challenge? How did or did you not resolve it?

SG: This issue was a challenge in reflexivity for me. I don’t usually have the opportunity to access such a concentrated amount of stories, voices, and experiences from lesbians older than myself, or even aside from myself. While working on the issue I had to be very critical of my own positionality in relation to a wide variety of other lesbians, especially those from different generations, classes, and races--how could I begin understand a struggle that is different than mine but so related? Our struggles, joys, and experiences were continuations and beginnings of one another’s and to orient myself in all that interplay was a challenge. To then critique and build off of that same interplay is even more difficult, especially given that our same, unifying identity can be experienced so differently. Reconciling and engaging with these distinctive embodiments of lesbianism is something I continue to work on.

JRE: What are you most proud of in this issue?

SG: As weird as it is to say, I love how each author’s work is ordered in the issue. Sinister Wisdom 105 contains a variety of writing, from experimental prose, complex short stories, to short, intense poetry. When reading the collection, we were both struck by the frequent mention of flowers, of bright fruits, and the different ways these images were given meaning and value. This motif created a very unique reading experience, one I think we played up and guided in the placement of each piece, as well as the issue’s title, Passion Fruit and Wet Flowers. I’m proud of how we honored each author’s intention and voice, while still producing that sense of cohesion. Our placement wove a subtle, but essential, thematic thread throughout the issue.

JRE: Tell me about your relationship to feminism and lesbian-feminism.

SG: Feminism has always been the thing to hold me—to challenge me, to support me, to move me forward. I don’t remember a time when I haven’t strongly identified as feminist, or been drawn to feminist spaces. I think feminism was what delivered me to lesbianism, honestly. The gender studies courses I’d been taking in college, in which we unpacked feminism and gender, looked at patriarchal and racist structures, drew from the intersections of identity—all gave me the confidence to “come out” and be really loud about who I am. It was a radicalizing experience for me. It shifted a lot of my values and (re)oriented my entire life towards lesbian-feminism, queerness, and writing.

As a young queer living in an often-frightening Trump-era world, my relationship towards both feminism and lesbian-feminism necessitate not only a critical examination of my own privileges and my own gender, but also of the beliefs and assumptions I hold. It’s an ongoing process, but one that continues to educate me, change me, and save me.

Sinister Wisdom 105: Passion Fruit and Wet Flowers
Sinister Wisdom 105: Passion Fruit and Wet Flowers

JRE: What does Sinister Wisdom mean to you? How do you think it speaks to young lesbians? How does it not speak to young lesbians?

SG: I see Sinister Wisdom as a space of self-expression that goes beyond meeting the needs of just surviving. Sinister Wisdom is transformative in that it takes the basic human need of expression, of truth telling, and extends that to a celebration and to a thriving.

I believe Sinister Wisdom was founded because there was a need for lesbians to express themselves on their own terms—their joys and sorrows, confusion and celebration, their everythings—in a society that denied and feared their existence. Sinister Wisdom has lasted 41 years because that space is still needed. I was drawn to Sinister Wisdom because it connected me to a wealth of knowledge, to generations of experiences, and to beautiful, complex stories and poems that extended way past essentializing or “coming out” narratives of lesbian lives. Though things are changing, it’s still hard for me to see my concerns, interests, or even sense of self, reflected in wider society. And as someone who sometimes struggles and sometimes rejoices in their sexuality, Sinister Wisdom provides me and other young lesbians with just that--the distinctive, vital, and defiant wisdom of living in a world that would rather us be left unseen.

That being said, I think queerness, in the academic, personal, and political sense, is changing the landscape of what it means to be a lesbian. I think younger people are critical, open to the reinterpretation and reconfiguration of lesbianism and lesbian identity, and I really embrace that. Younger lesbians work to be more inclusive of trans women and genderqueer/non binary people. We tend to embrace a wider variety of people who self identify as lesbian and we crave that representation in journals like Sinister Wisdom. I think there is a presumed incompatibility between older and younger lesbians, when really there needs to be intergenerational education and mutual dialogue. Sinister Wisdom and other journals like it have the potential to reconcile this disconnect and really speak to younger lesbians, if it could more faithfully represent the voices of trans, queer, and gender non-conforming women.

JRE: What advice would you give to future Sinister Wisdom interns?

SG: Probably the best advice I can give would be to stay open. I never would have imagined that my academic path would be so spring boarded by research I was asked to do for my internship. By staying open and curious, I’m now about to start working on a thesis I am so incredibly excited about--a thesis I believe will be an important contribution in not only preserving the history of lesbian poetry and publication, but encouraging new artists and writers to build off of all that tatiana de la tierra has done. In this way, working with Sinister Wisdom not only provides practical learning experience, but also allows for the development of interns’ personal interests and areas of curiosity. I’d advise any future interns to be honest about what you’re interested in and committed to what excites you.

Another thing I would say is to check your email frequently. Things can happen fast and it’s important to stay available!

Interested in Sinister Wisdom 105: Passion Fruit and Wet Flowers? Order your copy here.

Sara Gregory is a writer and student. She is pursuing her Bachelor's degree in Spanish Literature and Gender Studies at New College of Florida. She is the current associate editor/intern with Sinister Wisdom and has been published in Scythe Magazine, as well as the international queer literary journal Impossible Archetype. Recently, Sara attended the Soapbox Feminist Camp conference in New York City, focusing on feminist media and publishing. She is currently focused on her thesis project which explores the Miami-based bilingual lesbian activist publication, Conmoción.

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