Author who explores underground queer culture to read at Free State Festival

photo by: Contributed photo

Michelle Tea, author of "Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms" will read a selection from the book during the Free State Festival on Thursday.

Author Michelle Tea has written several accounts of her own life, but recently, she has turned her attention to chronicling the history of the broader community of queer culture.

Tea, the author of several memoirs and novels, will read selections from her newest book, “Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms,” at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St., as part of the Free State Festival. The event is free.

In addition to being a writer, Tea is also the founder of RADAR Productions, a literary and arts performance nonprofit in San Francisco, and Sister Spit Books, a publishing company focused on feminist and queer culture.

Her writing has been featured in many literary magazines and websites. Tea’s novel “Valencia” is also the basis for the film of the same name.

In her most recent book, which was released in May, Tea explores the history of queer identity and culture, as well as exploring her own experience.

“Queer culture has long been in the underground,” she said. “It’s a very vibrant culture that has produced a ton of art and activism … They don’t really get recorded because it’s so underground.”

“Some of the biggest pieces of the book is looking back on those time periods and shining a light on them as a moment of cultural history that kind of got lost,” she added.

Although queer culture has been more accepted in recent years, Tea said much of it is seen from white, middle-class and heteronormative points of view. Tea is associated with the queercore, a punk subculture focused on the LGBT community.

She said many people of the queer community had to fight for a life of their own that did not fit within those boundaries.

“What’s been lost is the culture of resistance when being queer wasn’t accepted, that you were so outside of society that you had to create everything from scratch,” she said. “There is actually a joy and a creativity to that. It was also super oppressive … but it was also the other end to it, which was the community and creating your own life without a road map.”

While there is a mainstream understanding of LGBT culture, Tea said there is a much deeper community that needs to be remembered.

Tea, who is queer and married herself, said she is happy that same-sex marriage is now legal, but there is much more to the queer community.

“It’s not the history of people trying to get married,” she said of the book. “I’m married and I’m glad I was able to marry my wife, but that’s not the world I was a part of.”

Tea, who has never visited Lawrence before, said she is excited to present at the festival.

“I have really long known about it as an oasis of counterculture,” she said of Lawrence. “I’m really excited. I’ve always wanted to visit.”


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