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Gerber/Hart celebrates Hot Wire: The Journal of Women's Music and Culture
by Melissa Wasserman
2020-06-10

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Gerber/Hart Library and Archives hosted a look back at Hot Wire: The Journal of Women's Music and Culture with a panel, on May 27.

The journal grew out of Not Just a Stage, an organization Toni Armstrong Jr. formed. Armstrong had been publishing an annual directory of women's music resources since 1977. Eventually, with three other partners, Ann Morris, Etas Carria, and Yvonne Zipter, she formed Not Just a Stage, which published Hot Wire.

"The idea of it was to have a magazine that would represent our culture; a separatist magazine that would be by, for and about women, primarily focused on the lesbian culture, but always feminist and always women-identified someway," said Armstrong—Hot Wire's co-founder, managing editor and publisher—during the panel. "So, not always lesbian. All the writers, photographers, we found a woman printing company, women who did everything. Everything was what we did."

During 1984-94, Hot Wire published 30 issues that were for women and by women. The publication covered all aspects of lesbian/feminist women's entertainment, while especially highlighting spaces in Chicago.

"All of us really felt that the time was right, in 1984, to make a bigger leap and bring together the industry," said Armstrong, also the founder of BLAST ( Bi, Lesbian, and Straight Together ) Women of the Palm Beaches and Empty Closet Productions." Up until that point it had been a lot of individual artists, a lot of individual producers, bookstores, radio shows—whatever was happening, but there wasn't anything that could bring everybody together in one place, so that really was our goal."

Gerber/Hart Communications and Programming Coordinator Jen Dentel moderated the virtual panel, held on Zoom, which included Armstrong; Bonnie Morris, Ph.D., a women's history lecturer at UC-Berkeley; and Jorjet Harper, journalist and author as speakers.

The panel's overarching theme was the importance of Hot Wire and the women's music movement. Among the topics covered were festivals; published Hot Wire's creation, distribution, content and assembly; supporting women's music today and festivals to attend; We Want the Land Coalition; memories from working on Hot Wire; Women's Music Plus Directory ( initally known as We Shall Go Forth ); and the women/lesbian community and its spirit.

During the panel, each panelist detailed intricate facts such as the growing masthead throughout the years; the work done by young women who had full-time jobs somewhere else and worked on Hot Wire in their spare time from Armstrong's basement; the tone of the publication; and much more.

"It was nice that the first issue and the last issue were both comedians," Harper said. "I think that shows some of the spirit of what it was like. This magazine was a celebration. This magazine was a celebration of women's culture and initiator of women's culture because as the magazine went on, it created more and more of the women's culture that it celebrated. So, I am very proud to have been a part of all that."

Also mentioned in the panel was that in 2017, Morris got Hot Wire into the Library of Congress. It was an exhibit that was a timeline of women's music exhibit and that lasted for 10 weeks in the Great Hall in the Jefferson building; it went up the week President Trump was inaugurated. According to Morris, the exhibit led visitors from suffrage songs to more contemporary issues.

A Q&A session was held after the panel, so attendees could share their thoughts, experiences, love and ask questions.

"My big advice would be for someone in their 20 to start doing this again because there are definitely lesbian musicians out there and with social media, YouTube, all these different ways of doing … Facebook Live…that we're seeing in the pandemic, all the different ways that performers can get in front of an audience," said Armstrong. "Wow! This whole thing could start up again. We did it from nothing, why shouldn't women in their 20s start it up again for themselves?"

In a breakout session with Windy City Times, while talking about drive, Morris shared the philosophy Armstrong used to describe herself when they were first getting acquainted, reciting "I don't feel like I'm a workaholic, I feel like I'm living up to my potential."

"Particularly in a time when the word 'lesbian' is maligned, disappeared, replaced or just disrespected without people who are criticizing us and our culture knowing anything at all about what we did," said Armstrong about where her drive came from. "Just rejecting us out of hand. I'm still in a good mood about what we did."

"Driven" is a word they use to describe themselves. Morris said when it comes to the work, life speeds up, describing that the team was always juggling projects and did the work that needed to be done.

"Sappho said, 'Someone in some future time will think of us,'" said Harper. "She said that 2,600 years ago … and that's really what's going on here. This is what Gerber/Hart is all about. They're collecting things for someone in some future time. We don't know who that's going to be or where it's going to happen or anything like that, but I think it's a worthy goal, it's a worthy thing to do, to think about passing on these experiences."

For more information about Gerber/Hart, visit GerberHart.org . For more information about Hot Wire, visit HotWireJournal.com/hwmag.html .


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