Invitation to a Feast: 'A Sturdy Yes of a People: Selected Writing by Joan Nestle'

  • by Yeva Johnson
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022
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Author Joan Nestle's 'A Sturdy Yes of a People'
Author Joan Nestle's 'A Sturdy Yes of a People'

Joan Nestle's writings are wide-ranging with something to challenge, delight, or spark the imagination for a variety of lesbians: well-read lesbians, nonbinary lesbians, academic lesbians, lesbians of color, queer folk, activist lesbians, women-loving lesbians, trans lesbians, Jewish lesbians, feminists, women, womxn, people of all genders or none, and people of all races, religions, ages, classes and political persuasions.

Nestle writes about every-day lesbians and the people who travel with them in all their diversity. Her stories, essays, speeches, and treatises energize the past as a vibrant part of our present political understanding and welcome an ever-more-liberated future where people can glory in their full selves and identities, whichever way they overlap.

[Joan Nestle shows us how lesbians made social change from the second half of the twentieth century to the first quarter of the twenty-first and inspires readers to imagine expanded possibilities for freedom in the new millennium.

As a queer lesbian who came to writing late in life, it is both daunting and exhilarating to invite new and familiar audiences to enjoy Joan Nestle's work. Born in the mid—twentieth century, I came out in the 1980s during a time that was not as open to varied forms of lesbian expression.

In the community where I came out, there was a right way and a wrong way to be a lesbian. Never one to follow someone else's right way, I ended up making my own circuitous queer path in life. Medical training and practice, then raising children meant that for years, I was lucky to be able to read a few short stories or an occasional novel about lesbians, let alone eke out the time to put pen to paper.

Around 2014, I started to write poetry and to read more widely, with a particular emphasis on poetry and literature about people of color, feminists, queer people, and Jewish people. I set out to become a well-read Black Jewish queer lesbian.

Author Yeva Johnson (photo Rachel M. Harper)  

Nestle's writing and thinking vibrate at the center of contentious disagreements in feminist communities and lesbian communities. Throughout the collection, women celebrate their full sexuality without shame. Joan reaches for openness, for acceptance of expansive views of gender, of lesbians, of what it means to be a woman, or a woman and feminist and a lesbian, and how those meanings might vary depending on race, class, religion, and other identities.

As Nestle recounts in "Who Were We to Do Such a Thing?," "These people, these projects, were the golden riches of my time," and her work celebrates "the sheer womanness of it all, the sheer lesbianism of it all, all the variations of woman and lesbian welcomed." Joan embraces the "tensions of lesbian difference" and in- cludes butch women, passing women, fem women, adolescent women, women sex workers, women academics, nonbinary women, working class women, and women of color, rejecting the idea of "lesbian purity" or "role-model lesbian history" so that "lesbian" becomes a "noun that stands for all possibilities of queerness, for all possibilities of deviations."

Joan Nestle's "A Sturdy Yes of a People: Selected Writings" showcases her body of work as a writer, academic, activist, and mentor who has contributed so much to the liberation of lesbians, queer people and their allies, and many other peoples. In this twenty-first century when rights gained can never be taken for granted, Nestle's work is more important than ever. Joan reifies the depth and breadth of queer life with all its ups and downs, freedoms and hindrances, past trials and successes, and never leaves out the class, race, gender, and other lenses that are critical to understanding everyday lesbian lives.

"A Sturdy Yes of a People: Selected Writings" invites readers to explore more of Nestle's legacy, including preserving the history of everyday lesbians and struggles for lesbian liberation. Delve deeply and enjoy the feast!

Yeva Johnson, a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet and musician whose work appears in 'Bellingham Review,' 'Essential Truths: The Bay Area in Color Anthology,' 'Sinister Wisdom,' 'Yemassee' and elsewhere, explores interlocking caste systems and possibilities for human co-existence in our biosphere. Yeva is a past Show Us Your Spines Artist-in-Residence (RADAR Productions/SF Public Library), winner of the 2020 Mostly Water Art & Poetry Splash Contest, and poet in QTPOC4SHO, a San Francisco Bay Area artists' collective. Yeva's first chapbook, 'Analog Poet Blues,' will be published by Nomadic Press in 2023.

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