Those who are unfamiliar with the writer Ariel Gore might think it defies all logic that she launched a stellar career from a self-published zine.
Those same people might also be skeptical that someone who initially started writing about motherhood, while herself a young mother studying at Mills College, could become an internationally known queer icon, and the author of multiple award-winning books, including The Hip Mama Survival Guide, Atlas of the Human Heart and How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead. She is also the editor of anthologies such as Breeder: Real Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers and Portland Queer: Tales of the Rose City.
If you do dare to doubt, you'd soon be schooled by a wide-ranging, world-spanning, ardent legion of loyal fans, many of who have been following Gore's career since that first issue of Hip Mama so many years ago. Fans, in fact, like me. For to call Hip Mama merely a "parenting magazine" is akin to calling Snoopy just a "cartoon dog." Factually accurate, but not in any sense the whole truth. Written by and for a lively, if marginalized, sisterhood, Hip Mama basically revolutionized the literature of parenting, and changed the landscape of how motherhood is portrayed in print.
Hip Mama gave single and teen mothers an "alternative" voice in an often judgmental, even hostile, cultural climate. Its issues were packed with first person accounts from the laundry-strewn trenches, heartily disavowing the myth of the perfect mother. A world away from the glossy, ad-packed standard bearers which focus on recipes and ways to keep a clean house, Hip Mama was the first parenting publication to tell the truth about the underbelly of maternal love. These include an often debilitating loss of self, sleepless nights, teething trouble, financial struggles, "unschooling" options, and the very real fear many young mothers have about becoming system involved, due mainly to poverty and prejudice.
After the success of the zine, book publishers came calling. And now, for more than twenty years, Ariel Gore has quietly produced a body of work rivaling the output and quality of just about any other LGBT writer alive today. And at only 47 years young, and now parenting her second child, Gore shows no signs of slowing down her creative output. In the last few years, besides hosting numerous writing workshops, she has written several genre-bending memoirs, including the cathartic and emotionally charged The End of Eve, chronicling the death of Gore's own mother, and We Were Witchesa new work of biographical "fiction" infused with not only a funky magic realism, but real magical spells.
The complexity of Gore's work lies in her seamless ability to bend form, creating work which is self-effacing, yet also lyrical, performative, and proud. She also regularly pays homage to other writers and mothers throughout her work. In We Were Witches, this includes providing a "reading list" which includes feminist classics like Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider.
Nina Packebush is the author of the recently published novel Girls Like Me, and a self-described "grown up queer teen mama." She credits Gore's magazine and its online message boards with teaching her "the things I was told I should be ashamed of were actually the source of my power." Packebush states "Ariel showed me my story mattered. She's the reason my book now exists in the world."
Gore herself describes We Were Witches as "a magic spell against shamea magic spell for freedom and empowermentcleverly disguised as a novel/memoir about a queer teen mom learning to dig under obstacles and get muddy." This is one of the most openly gay of any of Gore's works, and a far cry from her early publishing, when she needed to downplay this part of her identity due to her involvement in family court at that time. Writing "We Were Witches," she said, "felt extra queer," and even "fun, because it seems like being a lesbian is so old-school and kind of dorky now!"
Gore describes the raw material for her writing, which comes from her own life history, as "a basic clay," which she can continually rework into different shapes and forms. Gore states that, as a writer, "It's ok to keep coming back to the same trauma and trying something new artistically to transmute it into power." At this point in her life, Gore feels that she has dealt with the shame she experienced as a young mother. "I consciously transmuted that shame into power and stability through writing, and to a lesser extent through drawing. It was a psychological, trauma-healing experiment just as much as it was a writing experiment, and it worked. Finally, it worked."
Never one to rest on her laurels, Gore is already at work on her next writing project. "It deals with a part of my life I have written very little about, so that's exciting, " she said. This current project, she said, has inspired her to ask herself how she can "time-travel and re-tell and re-create and re-imagine" so that she doesn't produce "just a documentary-style truth, but something closer to the full experience for me, which includes premonition, magical thinking, conjuring, and dream."
Gore states she stays inspired by exploring new artistic forms. Currently, she said, "I have been drawing comics, making coloring books, and working an oracle deck. Art for me is always the richest when I'm kind of bad at it and feeling nervous and untrained and like a little kid." This, she said, keeps her artistically motivated, and helps her make sense of the times we live in.
Although Gore acknowledged that the "current political era is sometimes overwhelming, of courseexhausting," she said she finds inspiration in the next generation of writers coming along behind her. She said, "I am just so proud of and inspired by the bad-ass millennials who are bravely and intelligently and creatively taking on the status quo."
There is healing, she said, in having our voices of opposition heard, and in being empowered "to control our own narrative." Gore encourages all writers "to playfully and seriously explore how we're going to keep living and finding beauty in our lives," even, she said, in an era when many feel broken.
Despite the struggles of our time, hope can always be found in the art and literature of creative change. Having started a parenting movement with the initial publication of Hip Mama, Ariel Gore continues to inspire others through her blog, books, and workshops to reject shame, overcome abuse, truth-tell, and most especially, live as authentically as possible.
Rachel Pepper is a writer and licensed therapist living in Oakland, CA. She can be contacted through Rachel-Pepper.com . Her favorite Ariel Gore books are The End of Eve, and Breeder: Real-Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers. Rachel is extra proud to say she held the official launch party for Ariel's very first book, The Hip Mama Survival Guide, at her one-time bookstore in San Francisco, way back in the day.