Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Michelle Tea
Michelle Tea, author of the newly minted Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms (Feminist Press, 2018), excels in bringing together her transgressive worldview with the kind of wit and humor that help readers inconspicuously tackle tough subjects like financial struggle, self care, and what it means to truly be an adult—and you’d be surprised what that includes, because adulthood isn’t always about living in a nice clean home and having your entire life in order; sometimes it’s being 40 and living with a bunch of 20-year-olds with a penchant for partying. Michelle got her start like many of us: writing and hoping for the best, even when sometimes the “best” takes us down a path we didn’t prepare for. Tea doesn’t hold back in her work as she navigates what being a person trying to stay true to themselves means.
In the 90’s, Michelle found herself overwhelmingly surrounded by the testosterone and misogyny found in the literary community. Instead of retreating, she decided to take the initiative, grab the literary community by the balls, and create her own open mic with friend Sini Anderson. This new program, called Sister Spit, strove to create a place for the queer literary community to gather and share their spoken word. Tea’s inspiration to start the group started with questioning:
“Where are all the other queer female writers?…They’re not coming cause they don’t feel welcome and it makes sense that they don’t feel welcome. You had to really fight for a space there” (Michelle Tea, Electric Literature).
Although Sister Spit was originally geared towards cis women in the queer community, the fluidity of gender and the social acceptance emerging in the past years have pushed Sister Spit to widen their audience and participant demographics to engage people from all walks of life, so long as they vibe with their original message of “feminism, queerness, humor and provocation.”
In 2003, Michelle created Radar Productions to give the queer community of San Francisco access to free and affordable literary arts programs that they weren’t finding in the male-saturated literary community. This nonprofit organization still hosts a traveling Sister Spit tour every year, featuring authors like MariNaomi, Wo Chan, Jay Dodd, and Virgie Tovar. In addition to her work with Radar Productions and Sister Spit, Michelle Tea is the curator for Amethyst Editions, a Feminist Press Imprint, and continues to strive to unapologetically share her art and create an inclusive environment for the queer literary community.
Michelle Tea’s new, razor-sharp essay collection, Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms, reflects on the cultural artifacts that have challenged and calibrated her against the world. She writes on “Art and Music,” “Love and Queerness,” and her usual spectrum, “Writing and Life.” In her writing, Michelle is someone we all can easily relate to. From pondering her personal struggles, to demonstrating what life means to her, Tea’s life stories allow us to truly understand how our own unique situations are what define us. Her fearless reflection on times of previous struggle has allowed her to see her growth and acceptance, which is something we all can take from. Tea has a knack for slaying her inner demons and conveying her stories to the audience in the most comical way possible. Her overall style makes people think that we can still find light even in the darkest of situations.
Against Memoir rebels against the traditional autobiographical text we have seen in Tea’s previous works. In this essay collection, she interweaves her thoughts and experiences with film, books, and important figures to move past a singular narrative into a collective one about our time. Some of the pieces within the collection have been published from previous speeches, readings, and talks, including one from 2016 at Butte College. Within her work, she keeps her readers entranced with her powerful yet quirky assertions all while offering herself as a model for activism. In her essay, “The City to a Young Girl,” she says, “I guess that’s my issue with writing as activism: how hard it is for it to change the actual systems that oppress and limit and kill.” Through her writing we see a queer woman who fights for the freedom of those who are chained by the stigma of social and political views.
Other works by Michelle Tea include Valencia—which has received the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction, and was adapted into a movie in 2013—and the young adult fantasy trilogy Mermaid In Chelsea Creek, among many others.
Please join us for an exciting evening with Michelle Tea this Monday, October 8th at 7:30 in PAC 134 for a reading from Against Memoir, a Q&A, and book signing. Thanks to contributions made by the Department of English and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Writer’s Voice readings are free and open to the public.
Written by Emily Ribeiro and Jazmin Gomez