Before there were strollers in every gay neighborhood and lamaze classes above your favorite gay bar, there were a few brave souls becoming parents as lesbians or gay men. Heather Has Two Mommies, written by author LeslÃ?Â©a Newman, kicked off a maelstrom in 1990 when it was published – and set the stage for a new generation of gays and lesbians, who can become parents a bit more readily than ten years ago (although the parenting
situation is still far from perfect).
And for those who have been sleeping under the proverbial rock, Newman has been very busy since then, publishing poetry, short stories, novels, and of course, children’s books, all listed on her web site, www.lesleanewman.com. (Her currently published books for children also include Too Far Away To Touch, about a favorite uncle with AIDS; and Saturday is Pattyday, about maintaining a relationship with both lesbian parents after they split up.)
A few years ago, I spoke with the author about the impact of Heather Has Two Mommies, her current work, and what we might expect from her in the future. Here are the highlights of that conversation:
CAC: Has Heather Has Two Mommies changed the way gays and lesbians are viewed as parents?
LN: I have no idea. I don’t think one book can do that. There are so many gay and lesbian parents, raising all kinds of kids. I don’t think I can take credit.
CAC: Is the book better received? Do you experience less hostility?
LN: It really depends. I don’t hear about everything that goes on surrounding the book. Of course, there was the Rainbow Curriculum in New York in the early 90s. And in Wichita Falls, Texas, two years ago, there was a huge division about having it remain in the public library. There was some discussion about having it in an adults-only section. . .
I think what happens is, the wrong person reads the book and decides to make a big stink about it. It’s usually one person with a, uh, certain kind of passion, who walks into the wrong bookstore.
For the tenth anniversary edition, the book underwent a change. The text is a lot shorter, because the famous artificial insemination scene has been removed, so it’s easier to bring the book into a community. The tenth anniversary edition also has a lengthy afterward, where I talk about events that have occurred as a result of the book.
CAC: Will the ‘full-length’ version still be available?
LN: As soon as those supplies are depleted, that will be it. That version won’t be reissued.
CAC: Were there personal consequences for you, as a result of the book’s controversy?
LN: No, not really. I didn’t really get any of that. Most of the hatred stayed in the community where the controversy was taking place. For example, the anger in Wichita Falls, Texas, was directed at the librarian, who stood her ground. In New York, it was directed at the Chancellor of Education.
I go to colleges and speak. Sometimes, someone comes who’s not happy about the book, or what I’m speaking about. I’ve had someone from the Phelps camp in Kansas come. But incidents like that have been wildly overshadowed by support.
CAC: Are you worried that you will only be known as the author of Heather Has Two Mommies?
LN: That has happened, but people seem to get beyond that. Many of them realize that is only one of 35 books I’ve written.
CAC: You’re really prolific!
LN: Yes. There are some others, just coming under contract for publication, and a few others floating around, looking for a publisher.
CAC: Have any of them been made into a play or a movie?
LN: No, none of them have been translated or adapted. Personally, I think Heather Has Two Mommies would make a great Saturday morning cartoon.
CAC: How did you come to write Heather? Do you have children yourself?
LN: No, I do not have kids. I was approached by a lesbian mom who said to me, ‘You know, someone should write a book about a family like ours.’ That is what spurred me to write it. She had a young child at the time. That kid is now 15 years old.
CAC: And speaking of other work – I understand your poetry book, Signs of Love, is up for a Lambda Literary Award this year. Congratulations.
LN: Thanks. It’s the sixth time that I have been a finalist. They call me the Susan Lucci of the Lambda Literary Awards. Maybe this time, I’ll win – she did. Although just being nominated with other poets in the category, like Elena Georgiou – I’m happy to be in such a line-up.
CAC: You have quite bit going on in fiction, too.
LN: Yes. Girls Will Be Girls came out last year. It’s a series of short stories, and a novella, which is the title story. The title story is about a therapist whose girlfriend has an affair with one of her clients, and the story is written from all three points of view. It was really fun to write. Other stories in the book include a woman whose best friend is a gay man with AIDS; a mother-daughter relationship; parenting issues. The stories are about all kinds of things. And a few sexy stories, of course.
CAC: It seems much of your work is a very clear reflection of lesbian life today. It seems like you have an eye to the keyholes of half the lesbian homes in the country.
LN: Now you know my secret! [Laughs.] Seriously, though, I’m in Northampton, MA, so I have a lot going on to draw from, although most of it is drawn from my own imagination.
Maya Angelou once said, “I write out of the black experience about the human experience.” I like to paraphrase that and say, “I write out of the lesbian experience about the human experience.” I’m a lesbian, I’m Jewish, I’m now middle-aged, but I write about the same feelings that any race, any class of society, has. We relate to other people as human beings, and that’s what I try to write about.
CAC: Since Heather was published, and received so much mainstream media attention, do you have more of a mainstream audience? Or is it still primarily gay and lesbian?
LN: That’s hard to say. I’ve been published by a wide variety of publishers, large and small. And, not everyone knows all of my books. Some only know Heather, or A Letter to Harvey Milk. Others only know me from my mainstream children’s books, and don’t know about the other work. It’s really hard to know who knows what. Although my most loyal fans are definitely lesbians.
I know for myself, I am always hungry to read about the lives of other lesbians. I write what I do because it is the kind of work I would like to be reading.
CAC: What do you have coming up – any books to be published in the works?
LN: Well, in March, I have a new kids’ book coming out from Simon & Schuster. It’s called Cats, Cats, Cats! It’s about a woman with 60 cats, and it’s illustrated by Erika Oller. It is the first children’s book I’ve written in rhymed verse. I’m primarily a poet – that’s where most of my training is. And hey, a woman with 60 cats is the ultimate lesbian character! [Laughs.] I also have another children’s book coming out in the Fall of 2002, called Felicia’s Story. It’s about a little Guatemalan girl who is adopted by a lesbian couple.
I also have a book of short stories coming out in Spring, 2002, called Where the Girls Are. It’s a combination of stories. One lesbian discovers a lump in her breast. Another is a butch-on-butch love story. In another story, one woman wants to have a baby, but her partner doesn’t. It doesn’t sound light from the subject matter, but it is, because they are all written with my trademark sense of humor.
CAC: That makes sense. Sort of, if you couldn’t laugh, you’d have to cry.
LN: Yes. Like the title of one of my novels: In every laugh a tear.