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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Kathie Bergquist gives Chicago queer literature a stage
BOOKS
by Joe Franco
2012-01-18

This article shared 3172 times since Wed Jan 18, 2012
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Chicago may be America's "Second City" but for Kathie Bergquist, editor of Windy City Queer; LGBTQ Dispatches from the Third Coast, the Windy City comes first for LGBTQ literary talent. "I moved here in 1988 and began working at Unabridged Bookstore and Women and Children First. I immediately had access to greater Chicago queer literature from the start," said Bergquist.

Windy City Queer was the culmination of five years of active interest in both the Chicago and national queer literature scenes. "In 2005 Robert McDonald and I came up with A Field Guide to Gay and Lesbian Chicago after that Alyson Press began publishing a series of books like Love, Castro Street, Love, Bourbon Street and Love, West Hollywood all focusing on the queer literature scenes in those cities," said Bergquist. "It was in that milieu that I started putting together the idea for Windy City Queer. I was working on a novel at that time and this was an excellent diversion for me to channel my energy elsewhere for a while."

In 2010, Bergquist submitted a query to Raphael Kadushin, the senior acquisitions editor for the University of Wisconsin Press, proposing the idea for Chicago's own collection of gay and lesbian literature. "I heard back within hours and Kadushin was interested," said Bergquist. She began sending out invitations to submit to known LGBTQ writers, like Edmund White, and also calls for submissions for other established or even new writers to answer in journals such as The Chicago Reader and The Lambda Literary Review.

"The organization of this book has been criticized for not being more thematic, such as fiction or memoir or poetry," she said. "I found that to be pedantic. Organically, the movements began to form. It was kind of like making a mix tape where one piece of music flows nicely into the other. Here each story flows into the next unless I felt like creating an interesting juxtaposition. It's really the only creative outlet for an editor of an anthology of literature. The narrative push is in that flow from one story or one section to the next." She admitted that she agonized over the order of several chapters, most notably "Family Matters" and Hooking Up". Bergquist commented saying, "I didn't want the order to be hook up, marriage then happily ever after. I wanted something different."

Windy City Queer involves stories and reflections from all corners of the city, including the suburbs like Evanston and Oak Park. "Boystown and Andersonville are huge for a gay presence but they are not the only ones. There are lots of other queer experiences happening all over Chicago," said Bergquist.

In the afterword, E. Patrick Johnson speaks about his South Side's blocks of queer culture "hidden in plain sight." It was these hidden experiences that Bergquist brings to the surface. "When people in New York or San Francisco think 'Midwest' they think somehow we are lacking in depth and significance in our queer culture," she said. "When someone from the Midwest does something great, something notable, they are often seen as an exception to the rule. It must have been that person's particular tenacity that brought them out from the Midwest."

For Bergquist, her interest in writing stemmed from a lifetime of being a bookworm: "It began for me with the Betsy Tacy Series by Maud Hart Lovelace. The books follow young Betsy from childhood through her early twenties and from Mankato, Minnesota to Milwaukee. Since I'm from Minnesota, I was drawn to the series." She received her master's in fine arts from Columbia in 2008 and began teaching creative writing at Columbia soon after. "I often advise my students to never put the cart before the horse. Don't go out and look for an agent. Work on your craft," said Bergquist. "I often suggest that one should become familiar with the literary landscape that they are working in. Becoming involved and honoring the wider literary community that is there is very important, as is networking and continuing to write yourself."

This spring, Bergquist will be teaching abroad in Prague. "I also found it a great time to run the Prague Marathon. Yes, I'm aware it's hilly there," she said. Aside from her many, many miles of running before the main event, Bergquist will also be preparing another round of students to write, to read and to learn, hands-on, the appreciation of what a literary community actually means.

In the end, Bergquist said that she was "super proud of the end result." Bergquist found working with the University of Wisconsin Press to be great: "We were in a decline for many years of a queer press. The University of Wisconsin Press keeps that tradition alive." She attributed the success of Windy City Queer not to her own adeptness as an editor but to the talented writers and their stories. "In some small way, I wanted to show others that Chicago is still a place to become a writer and to be an artist," she added.

Windy City Queer: LGBTQ Dispatches from the Third Coast is available from The University of Wisconsin Press, online retailers or neighborhood booksellers.


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