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 [Mikel Wadewitz]

Happy Birthday to Us

Musings on the 10th Anniversary of Stonewall Inn Editions

By Mikel Wadewitz

I was fourteen when St. Martin's Press began its Stonewall Inn Editions imprint. At that time, of course, in a working class neighborhood where sexuality was defined only by marriage and giving birth, there was no signal drawing me across town to the only bookstore that stocked gay and lesbian books. I had no idea that these works existed. I wouldn't for four more years.

A secret part of me wants to say that I was one of those rebellious teenagers who defied expectations and came out in a blaze of glory, bravely withstanding the ridicule and derision of my peers, but, the truth is, I silently struggled in the ways I knew how. Gay and lesbian writing was not something I could turn to in order to educate myself and sigh, "everything will be fine."

Like many gay and lesbian teenagers who have felt the real threat posed by the fact that they will never be exactly like those around them, I found, slowly, that I could not expect to be defiant if I was not educated to be so. It was quite by accident, then, that I stumbled upon some very seminal books in my coming out/coming of age. Books by Dennis Cooper, Judy Grahn, and even Andre Gide combined with stashed copies of Outweek and Just Out (the Portland, Oregon gay and lesbian newspaper) in a pile buried in the corner of my room that I was preparing to leave.

It wasn't until the following year that I discovered a book entitled Alienated Affections by Seymour Kleinberg -- the first Stonewall book ever placed in my hands. There was no big whoosh and crash of knowledge and enlightenment, only a secret perverse feeling that there were people out there who were writing books that communicated to me. That was the thrill. Finally, I saw something I recognized being marketed and published -- bought and sold. Gay men and lesbians really did do this. No one was telling them that they were freaks. They were taking the power in their own hands and proclaiming a big "fuck you" to most of the world and writing whatever the hell they wanted.

A simplistic view, yes. But I was only eighteen and just beginning to obsess over whether or not Michelangelo Signorille was good or evil, whether or not Madonna really would sleep with a woman. I was obsessing over whether or not Henry James was a big fag. The knowledge and insight that has evolved over the last seven or eight years with my sexuality is constantly shifting and moving -- being raised high and deflated and dropped low by the newest book or essay, the most mundane article or the worst op ed piece in a local newspaper.

When I came to work for Stonewall Inn in 1995 I thought I was pretty well educated when it came to gay and lesbian literature. I knew the heavy hitters. Even if I hadn't read them, I knew them. Or I thought I did. I vastly underestimated what it meant to publish these books (now over 100 titles strong) and keep them in print. I never guessed that most people would not know how to deal with gay and lesbian books. I never thought I'd discuss how "lesbian" a book was. I never thought that most of these books struggled to remain off of remainder tables.

Having had my balloon popped in many ways was perhaps the best lesson of all. As I have struggled to swim through many of the titles that Michael Denneny and Keith Kahla have helped give to the world, I am struck by the simple fact that this is not a small achievement. In every sense, these books comprise one of the most vital collections of writing every amassed under one aegis.

I am amazed at the road that has led me here, to be publishing books for this imprint, to actually feel like maybe something I help put out there is reaching someone who never knew it existed. The trick is making sure it will always be there. The goal is to establish a sense of history and lasting impact and importance.

Stonewall Inn has only been my first step in the world of gay and lesbian publishing and, at twenty-four, I feel like I have engulfed more knowledge than any history book could ever give me. I can only hope that these books reach the hands of a young audience who will know that what they have in their hands is a world that has been and continues to be locked out of most minds in this country. It is important that we do not forget what it is like to stumble upon gay and lesbian books and see them as something unique and special. When you become too complacent with their existence, that is exactly when they will be ripped from the hands of those who need them.

Mikel Wadewitz is an assistant editor at St. Martin's Press/Stonewall Inn Editions.


Previous "Having Our Say" topics:

Words to Guide a Community
Why Don't Gays and Lesbians Read?
The Case for Gay Books

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