My grandmother was a Hollywood star. At least in my mind. She was as glamorous as Dorothy Dandridge or Lauren Bacall. She’d danced and sang in chorus lines in the 1930s and 40s, the lone Indian among the somewhat lighter-skinned ‘Negro’ chorines. She’d faced down low-level mobsters in Boston’s South End and left an abusive boyfriend. In her 50s when she lived around the corner from me, she still had the vibrant beauty and intelligence of a performer even when she was running the elevator in a downtown Boston department store. She was one of mythical women who lived their history out loud in my life.
I’ve been dreaming of writing about them since I was a child, even before I met Audre Lorde, who coined the term ‘biomythography.’ I knew I needed to say something about how ordinary and extraordinary these women are. The electricity of that combination was the stuff of life as much as the lightening meant to bring the Doctor Frankenstein’s Monster into life.
When Audre wrote ZAMI: A New Spelling of My Name she said the form “has the elements of biography and history of myth. In other words, it’s fiction built from many sources. This is one way of expanding our vision.’’ (Black Women Writers at Work edited by Claudia Tate) And I knew this was what I wanted to write.
I understood that lesbians are at the center of my creative as well as personal life and the term ‘biomythography’ provided my ‘aha’ moment. The women I knew and that I would create on the page—like ‘Gilda’ in my novel—were that spicy blend of mythology and earthiness. They combined the grit of making it as lesbians in a hostile world and still showed up with stars in their eyes.
Without biomythography lesbians remain the confections of others…sweetly affecting sometimes (“The Kids Are Alright” NOT) but we dissolve in the hard rain of real life, invisible when we’re most needed; sheroes without our alternate universe, women deprived of our future. My goal here is to write biomythography and that we all live it.
Jewelle Gomez is the author of 7 books including the lesbian vampire classic novel, The Gilda Stories. Her new play about James Baldwin will be produced in September 2011. Follow her on Twitter: VampyreVamp. Or her website: www.jewellegomez.com