When Kathleen Archambeau started planning out the collection of profiles that would become Pride and Joy: LGBTQ Artists, Icons, and Everyday Heroes, she knew what she didn't want to do.
"I really wanted to do something different than what has been done before," said Archambeau, a longtime writer. "There have been many anthologies of black lesbian writers. There have been many anthologies of gay white men. Most of the literature in the mainstream has been written by upper middle-class, educated, white, predominanty gay men. That's what gets published, and I wanted to show a much broader spectrum and a global spectrum. The mission for me was to inspire and embolden the next generation, whether in America or globally, and to make American queer activists aware that there's still a fight out there."
Archambeau began with short profiles of local LGBTQ individuals in the San Francisco Bay Times, but was able to expand her focus for a book. Some of her conversations with luminaries such as Emma Donohue and Tony Kushner, lasted over an hour. The interviews also, understandably, proved hard to get, with it sometimes taking six months or more to secure. Preparation was paramount for her, including reading all the available material on a person or their works.
"When I approached these folks I was able to ask them questions that were not asked before or were asked in a different way, and reflected their body of work," Archambeau said of the interviews she did with authors, "And I think that's why they talked to me for so long."
Tony Kushner is an example. "I was told that Tony would be a very tough interview," Archambeau explained. "And it took me many months to secure time on his calendar because he was in London and in the middle of a play launch, so I just kept after it. I spoke to him in New York when he was on a hiatus, and his executive assistant told me, 'you're going to get a half hour'. I said OK, I dropped everything, and he talked for an hour and a half."
Archambeau certainly succeeded in her quest for diversity. Pride and Joy is remarkable for the scope of individuals it contains. There's a blind opera singer, a trans male choreographer, a Ugandan gay activist, and a New Zealand athelete and parliamentarian. There's also a genderqueer scholar, lesbian tech stars, an immigrant baker, and a gay sports executive. The uniting factor besides their sexuality is that all of these people are successful in their chosen field.
"I think it was Claudia Brind-Woody, the fifth-highest ranking executive in the world at IBM in London, who said, "be really good at something and then nobody will care what you are," said Archambeau.
National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendall, in particular, impressed Archambeau with how far she's come from a law background in Mormon Utah. "In 25 years she's appeared in front of the U.S. Supreme Court three times and won. That's unheard of, " Archambeau said. "Most lawyers never get before the Supreme Court, let alone three timesand win. So you have to be good."
An important focus in all of Archambeu's profiles is family: each person was asked about their family history and current relationships.
"Everybody has a family. How that family embraces or doesn't embrace you has a real impact on your happiness," Archambeau said. "I wanted to show LGBTQ people leading open, fulfilling, successful, happy lives. My wife and I had been together 18 years, and I wanted to show that if a parent or a friend, or a family member found out that one of their kids was gay or trans or queer that it didn't mean that they were going to live abject lonely miserable lives. it's how many of the LGBTQ in literature have been portrayed that way. I didn't want that image to be the image that teachers, parents, allies, queer young people took away for themselves."
Archambeau delighted in getting to meet such a wide range of people and have them be so revealing with her, even if just for a short time. "It was enriching to me," she said. She feels as if the folks she's interviewed, who she continues to do readings with around the world, are a network.
"I don't care if we have Ellen DeGeneres and I don't care if we have gay marriage. ... Regardless of that, we are still outsidersand so the networks that we form are more vital than ever," Archambeau said.
Aside from an upcoming stop in Chicago, she's planning to head to New Zealand in February to do a reading with Maori rugby player and parliamentarian Louisa Wall. When chatting with Wall, what stood out to Archambeau was Wall's belief in community. "She talked about learning about the value of community, because her father was the head of the local marae, a sacred communal gathering place, for 30 years. So I think her whole philosophy was informed by her indigenous experience—she married a woman who was also indigenous—and there's a saying, 'we are never alone but part of the greater whole. We are not of one person but of thousands.' She approaches everything she does in such a different way than the Western European way of doing things."
This hit home for Archambeau. "I couldn't do anything without a feeling of community. It's probably why I can't leave San Francisco," she said with a laugh. And she's honored to have the chance to let others share their stories, since that journey has been so important to her.
"It took me a long time to tell my story, so I'm glad I can tell it now, and I'm going to keep telling it," she said. "There's just such a desperate need for everyone to have a broader view of the queer community."
Kathleen Archambeau will appear to talk about Pride and Joy on Thursday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m. at the Book Market, 2651 Navy Blvd., Glenview. Further material about the book can be found on KathleenArchambeau.com .