March 25, 2004
‘L-Words’ in a J World
The 2000 book "Best Lesbian Erotica" includes Jewish writer Joan Nestle's short story and its provocative, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination title referencing sex with World War II pinup Rita Hayworth.
"Desire and passion are a very big part of my life. I am a Jewish woman and I refuse to give up that part of my territory," said the 63-year-old author of short stories in the anthologies "Queers Jews" "The Oy of Sex" and "Friday the Rabbi Wore Lace."
It is two decades of work from such writers that is being honored Sunday at the USC-affiliated gay and lesbian ONE Institute & Archives. The event celebrates ONE's long-running Lesbian Writers Series and also coincides with the institute's Feb. 29-April 10 photo exhibit, "Image from Sapphic L.A.'s Photography Community."
Nestle is one of many Jewish lesbian writers with work catalogued at ONE, an archive similar to New York's Lesbian Herstory Archive, which Nestle co-founded in 1973.
"I'm a secular Jew, but memory is how I live the history of the Jewish people as I know it," she told The Journal.
Other Jewish writers to be highlighted at Sunday's retrospective include Alice Bloch, Elizabeth Nonas and Robin Podolsky, an aide to state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles).
For writer Sarah Schulman, crafting stories about her sexual identity has isolated her from prominent publishers.
"It's not because I'm Jewish, it's the gay part," Schulman said. "It's very hard to know what I would do if I felt free. I've had so many problems with censorship that I write very defensively at this point."
For a lesbian writer, she said, isolation also can be felt through Judaism's family-centric institutions.
"Women are supposed to reproduce the Jewish culture," Schulman said. "It's one of the few cultures that has no role for single people."
Nestle said Schulman seeks, and deserves, popular acclaim that older Jewish lesbian writers like her are not as drawn to.
"She has a sense of entitlement that is perhaps much more healthy than mine," Nestle said. "I've never been really bothered by competing identities but I don't expect my work to be 'mainstream.'"
"20 Years of L-Words!" will be held Sunday, March 28 , 2 p.m.-4 p.m. ONE Institute & Archives, 909 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 741-0094 or visit www.oneinstitute.org .