Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence (Paperback)
It wasn't your fault; it was never your fault. You did nothing wrong. Hold this tight to your heart: it wasn't your fault.
At night when you lay there and your mind fills with images and you wonder if only, if you had . . . if you hadn't . . . . Remember: it wasn't your fault.
In Oakland, California on March 24, 2015 a fire destroyed the AK Press warehouse along with several other businesses. Please consider visiting the AK Press website to learn more about the fundraiser to help them and their neighbors.
Dear Sister shares the lessons, memories, and vision of over fifty artists, activists, mothers, writers, and students who share their stories of survival or what it means to be an advocate and ally to survivors. Written in an epistolary format, this multi-generational, multi-ethnic collection of letters and essays is a moving journey into the hearts and minds of the survivors of rape, incest, and other forms of sexual violence, written directly to and for other survivors.
Dear Sister goes far beyond traditional books about healing, which often use "experts" to explain the experience of survivors for the rest of the world. Where other books about rape weave the voices of feminists and activists together and imagine what a world without violence might look like, Dear Sister describes the reality of what the world looks like through the eyes of a survivor. From a professor in the Midwest to a poet in Belgium, an escapee from a child prostitution ring, a survivor advocate in the Congo, and a sex worker in San Francisco, Dear Sister touches on issues of feminism, love, disability, gender, justice, identity, and spirituality.Praise for Dear Sister: "This chilling, heartbreaking, and necessary collection consists of letters from 40 artists, activists, writers, and students, who are survivors of sexual assault and here offer counsel to 'sister' survivors. Every story is shadowed by the teller's sense of shame, brokenness, depression, and pain, but at the same time, in anticipation of the addressees' experience of sexual assault, the letters also offer comfort, solidarity, reassurance, the possibility of healing, and testimony of survival."--Publishers Weekly "There is nothing on earth more changeful than telling our stories honestly, and listening to the stories of others with an open heart. That's especially true for survivors of sexualized violence who've been silenced by shame. These 50 brave Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence will open floodgates of memory, expose body-invasion as the most traumatic of crimes, and show victimizers the roots and damage of their acts. I'm very grateful to Lisa Factora-Borchers for editing this book, to Aishah Shahida Simmons whose foreword sets a high bar of honesty, and to all the voices in it. I think you will be, too."--Gloria Steinem
Lisa Factora-Borchers is a Filipina writer and editor whose work has been published in make/shift, Bitch, Left Turn, and Critical Moment.
Contributors: Aaminah Shakur, Adrienne Maree Brown, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Allison McCarthy, Amita Y. Swadhin, Amy Ernst, Ana Heaton, Andrea Harris, Angel Propps, anna Saini, Anne Averyt, annu Saini, Ashley Burczak, brownfemipower, Brooke Benoit, Denise Santomauro, Desire Vincent, Dorla Harris, "Harriet J.", Indira Allegra, Isabella Gitana-Woolf, Joan Chen, Judith Stevenson, Juliet November, Kathleen Ahern, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Marianne Kirby, Maroula Blades, Mary Zelinka, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Melissa Dey Hasbrook, Melissa G., Mia Mingus, Michelle Ovalle, Premala Matthen, Rebecca Echeverria, Renee Martin, River Willow Fagan, Sara Durnan, Sarah M. Cash, Shala Bennett, Shanna Katz, Sofia Rose Smith, Sumayyah Talibah, Sydette Harry, Birdy, Viannah E. Duncan, and Z e Flowers.
List of Contributors and Bios
Aaminah Shakur is an Indigenous/Muslim/queer/disabled poet & artist. Her art and writing combine words, images, paint, fiber arts and beadwork to explore love, womanhood, motherhood, spirituality, sexuality, history, borders, privilege and oppression, abuse, freedom and revolution - and how all of these are interconnected. She currently is focusing on zine-making as a form of independent media creation for marginalized peoples. Goals include networking with both local and worldwide poets and artists, and the creation of a local collective for women of color and queer writers and artists.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs co-founder of UBUNTU a women of color survivor-led coalition to end gendered violence. Instigator of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind multimedia community school. Alexis has a PhD in English, Africana Studies and Women's Studies from Duke University and is proud to have been named one of the 50 people transforming the world by UTNE reader in 2009, a Reproductive Health Reality Check Shero and a nominee for a Black Women Rising Award in 2010 and the recipient of a Too Sexy for 501c3 Trophy in 2011.
Allison McCarthy is a freelance writer. Her work has been featured in print and online publications such as Ms., Bitch, Girlistic, Global Comment, The Feminist Wire, ColorsNW, The Baltimore Review, Hoax, The Write Side-Up, Scribble, JMWW and Dark Sky, as well as in the anthology Robot Hearts: Twisted and True Tales of Seeking Love in the Digital Age (Pinchback Press, 2010). She is currently a graduate student in the Master of Professional Writing program at Chatham University and resides in the greater Washington, DC area.
Amita Swadhin is a bicoastal educator, activist and storyteller whose experiences as a queer woman of color, daughter of immigrants, and survivor of child abuse directly inform her work. As a media activist, she is the People of Color Media Fellow at GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and co-host of the weekly radio show "Flip the Script" on KPFK-LA. As a storyteller, she is the Coordinator and a cast member of Secret Survivors, a theater project she created with the award-winning Ping Chong & Co. featuring survivors of child sexual abuse telling their stories. With support from the Asian Women Giving Circle, she created the short film "Violent Adult-ISM," and is developing "Sathya Stories: Truth Over Taboo," a multimedia exhibit highlighting more survivors' narratives. Amita is also Co-Producer and performer of The Sugaran Tour, a caravan of stories by South Asian American female artists. She holds a Bachelor's from Georgetown and an MPA from NYU, where she was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship.
Amy Ernst grew up outside of Washington, D.C. and became interested in ending sexual violence at the age of eleven. After graduating from Colorado College with a degree in Psychology she moved to Chicago, IL and then to North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. She has spent the last year working with survivors of sexual violence in Congo and working to understand the mechanisms behind perpetration by working with rebel soldiers and local populations with a high incidence of sexual violence.
Ana Heaton is a visual artist and writer living and working in the midwest. Also, a disabled US Naval veteran, Ana is a full time student and single mother of two amazing girls.
Andrea Harris teaches Women's Studies and English and was chosen as the "Instructor of the Year" at her university in 2011. She regularly teaches literature and media courses focusing on violence against women. She also co-founded a campus network of women who have survived violence. In appreciation for her service, Andrea received the 2010 Heart of Gold Award from the Lambda Chapter of the Eta Phi Beta Sorority. Andrea's published works include memoir pieces on her experiences as a survivor of rape and the joyful challenges of being a single mother and the parent of a child with autism.
Angel Propps is a femme lesbian who has written for many horror anthologies including Pysche Corrupted, Soup Of Souls, Sinisterotica, House Of Horror and others. Her work can be found in literary journals like quiet and on line at Southern Grit. She has written many articles on sexuality and feminism and her lesbian romance can be found in Truth Or Dare (Slash Books) and in the upcoming Read These Lips Volume 5 anthology.
Anna Saini has lived many lives as a political scientist, radical activist and multi-media artist. She completed a B.A. and M.A. in Political Science from the University of Toronto and McMaster University respectively. She works as a community organizer on issues of equality in higher education, drug policy reform, prison abolition, women's abuse issues, police brutality, labor rights and youth activism. Her online resume resides at www.annasaini.com.
Anne Averyt is a survivor who has new life and meaning through writing and personal relationships. She is a poet, essayist and commentator for Vermont Public Radio. Her poetry has appeared in 580 Split, Counterpoint, The Aurorean and Mountain Troubadour. She is 2nd Place recipient of the Louise Wiehl Prize in poetry. She is currently experimenting with right brain art and working with charcoal drawing.
Annu Saini is a writer, poet and survivor. She has performed at Mayworks! Festival for Working People and the Arts, Toronto Pride and Toronto's Nuite Blanche. She resides in Brampton Ontario.
Ashley Burczak is the founder of Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER), a national organization that helps college students build grassroots movements to improve their campus sexual assault prevention and response policies. She is currently working as a hospital chaplain.
brownfemipower is best described as a malinchista--a traitor to men, borders and nation. She is a cook and a teacher and loves the smell of burning wood. She is a citizen of The Rust Belt.
Denise served for five years as Coordinator and Facilitator of Imagination Theater's sexual abuse prevention program entitled No Secrets. In 2011, the program received the Al Ward Spirit of Giving Award from Communities in Schools of Chicago and the Visionary Award from Rape Victim Advocates for working with outside agencies to incorporate theater with counseling and education services focused on sexual violence prevention. Through this work, Denise has worked with hundreds of child survivors in over 50 Chicago Public Schools. As a writer, Denise is currently completing edits on a young adult novel based in Chicago.
Dorla, born of Jamaican decent, grew up in Southern Ontario, adopted into to a white family at the age 8 months. Six years ago, through the diligence of her husband, she met her biological mother, and five half siblings. Her life has been enriched tremendously meeting the woman who has inspired this piece. Dorla lives with her husband and two children in Vancouver BC. She works in the non-profit sector and continues to work towards a freelance writing career.
"Harriet J." is a mid-twenties white girl living in the Midwest. She works mostly as a paper-pusher in the government, but is occasionally exposed to spicier things.
Indira Allegra is a writer and interdisciplinary artist. Her experimental video poem, Blue Covers, has screened nationally and internationally. She is a former member of the Artistic Core of Sins Invalid and will share artistic directorship for Artists Against Rape in 2012. Indira is a co-editor for the blog Bodyimagenation and has contributed writing to From the Flint Hills of Oklahoma: An Anthology, Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature, Chicken Skin and Impossible Trees, Rivets Literary Magazine, Wordgathering Journal of Disability Poetry, Make/Shift Magazine and the 2008 Artists Against Rape Chapbook. Indira is a 2007 Voices of Our Nation's Arts alum and 2011 writer for Intersection of the Arts' Interdisciplinary Writer's Lab.
Isabella Gitana-Woolf is a fierce Chicana Italian goddess married to a geek and raising a teenage goddess-in-training. She is shamanic practitioner and writers her personal
journey as poetry.
Joan is just beginning, over and over and over again. This is the first time Joan's art has been published widely. Previously, it has humbly appeared in a literary arts magazine and a consent, sex and violence zine as well as random flyers in the Bay area.
Judith Stevenson is an incest survivor. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Human Development and Director of the Peace and Social Justice Program at California State University, Long Beach. Her research interests include grassroots political activism, human rights, feminist theory, globalization, and critical pedagogy in South Africa. Currently, she is conducting research in a rural community, exploring how communities protest human rights violations by the mining industry. In addition, she heads an international educational project called GlobaLinks2Peace, which partners schools in southern California with schools in South Africa via the internet.
Juliet November is a white working class femmetastic ladypants with a soft spot for prison/policing abolition, transformative justice, relationship building and sex work organizing. Her work has been published in The Revolution Starts At Home, The Walrus Magazine and she blogs at bornwhore.wordpress.com. She currently lives on the occupied lands known as Toronto, Canada.
Kathleen Ahern is an educator and an activist in the queer and disability communities.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a queer disabled Sri Lankan writer, teacher and cultural worker. The author of Consensual Genocide and Love Cake and co-editor of The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities (South End, 2011), her work has appeared in the anthologies Persistence: Still Butch and Femme, Yes Means Yes, Visible: A Femmethology, Homelands, Colonize This, We Don't Need Another Wave, Bitchfest, Without a Net, Dangerous Families, Brazen Femme, Femme and A Girl's Guide to Taking Over The World.
Maroula Blades is an Afro-British poet/writer in Berlin. Verbrecher Verlag, TAZ and Cornelsen Verlag have published her stories in Germany. She has received awards for poetry. Poems have been published in Germany and abroad.
Mary Zelinka has worked for over twenty years at the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence in Corvallis, Oregon. Her writing has appeared in CALYX, The Sun, and The Journey of Healing: Wisdom From Survivors of Sexual Abuse.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore the author of two novels, most recently of So Many Ways to Sleep Badly (City Lights 2008), and the editor of five nonfiction anthologies, including Why Are Faggots so Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform (AK Press 2012), Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity (Seal 2007), and Dangerous Families: Queer Writing on Surviving (Haworth 2004).
Melissa Dey Hasbrook is a writer and community organizer based in Lansing, Michigan, and speaks publicly as a survivor of sexual, domestic, and intimate-partner violence. Her poetry collection "Circle. . .Home" (2011) is the debut publication of her new small press femestiza (femestiza.com). Melissa has performed spoken-word in mid-Michigan and during travels to Austin, Oklahoma City, Seattle, and the UK. Her literary programs, like The HerStories Project (est. 2010), facilitate the exchange of life-stories and frequently serve as awareness-raising events.
Melissa G. is a poet and teacher living and working in southern Connecticut. She is currently working on her first chapbook of poetry and is an editor for rising young poets. Her poems have been featured in The Furnace Review and the Great Kills Review.
Mia Mingus is a queer physically disabled woman of color, korean transracial and transnational adoptee writer, organizer and community builder. Mia is currently working at generationFIVE, an organization working to end child sexual abuse within five generations. She was a co-founder and Co-Director of SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, in Atlanta, GA for 6 years. Mia was a 2005 New Voices Fellow, was named one of the Advocate's 40 Under 40 in 2010, one of the 30 Most Influential Asian Americans Under 30 in 2009 by Angry Asian Man, and one of Campus Pride's Top 25 LGBT Favorite Speakers for their 2009 and 2010 HOT LIST.
Michelle Ovalle is a New Jersey poet with a pension for mosh pits and red dresses. Her work has been published in the Edison Literary Review. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Drew University. When she's not writing poetry, Michelle enjoys photography and blogging. Publications: "Plucking Grays" - Edison Literary Review
Premala Matthen is a queer feminist woman of colour. She is a student, a writer, a musician, and an activist, devoting most of her energy to the fight against sexual violence. She is pursuing a career in professional counseling.
Rebecca Eaton Wyllie y Echeverria is a welfare rights organizer based in Seattle, Washington. Rebecca crafts stories that explore peoples' behavior and link them to the larger system of privilege and oppression. She spends her free time cooking, sailing small boats and riding her non-fixey bicycle.
Renee Martin is a freelance writer and blogger whose work has appeared in the The Guardian and Ms Magazine Blogs. Her articles have been discussed on CNN and the NPR. In between chasing her lovely two children around, and feeding the dog, she is the executive editor and owner the blog Womanist Musings, co-creator and editor at Fangs For the Fantasy, and co-creator and writer at Women's Eye on Media. Much of her work is dedicated to discussing everyday issues from a social justice perspective.
River Willow Fagan is a genderqueer writer who grew up in Southeastern Michigan. Their short stories have appeared in Fantasy Magazine and The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2011. Two of their essays are in the anthologies Queering Sexual Violence and Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification and the Desire to Conform.
Sara is a traveling nomad, searching for peace and trying to restore a part of her former self that was destroyed by the attack. She hopes for peace to find not only herself, but all survivors everywhere. She remembers that each breath is progress; we need to keep breathing, living and believe that eventually the healing will come.
Sarah M. Cash is a sensualist who refuses to wear a watch as she believes in living in the moment. She admires those with decisive walks because she's a meandering sort. She has experienced failure before success. She defines success for herself. She believes in: slow dancing in the kitchen to the Drifters, writing inscriptions in books given as gifts, good conversation, comfortable silences, nights like jazz, the continued applicability of the Civil Rights Movement, and peanut butter pie. She may be found facing the world with the perfect tube of lipstick and a lot of sass.
Shanna Katz, M.Ed ACS, is a sexuality educator, relationship counselor and writer based in the Southwest. As a queer femme with disabilities, she works to provide accessible sex education and support to the LGBTQ, PWD, poly and other often marginalized communities.
Sumayyah Talibah is a wife, mother, and avid reader. Her work can be found in Liberated Muse Volume 1: How I Freed My Soul, Liberated Muse Volume 2: Betrayal Wears a Pretty Face, several zines, and by visiting SumayyahSaidSo.com
Sydette Harry is a writer singer blogger problem NYC born by way of the Guyana. Writing as Blackamazon, she has started boycotts but she is most proud of making her fellow beautiful beautiful girls of every color feel not alone and thankful they have done the same for her by SPEAK!ing. She continues to blog at Having Read The Fine Print http: //guyaneseterror.blogspot.com and Blackamazon Is Too Much (blackamazon.tumblr.com) theorize heavily, write the first play of Salt&Rice Productions, apply for a PHD and try to fall in love a little bit more every day.
TweetyBird Birdy is a thirty-two year old survivor. Birdy's contribution to this anthology is a part of her healing process.
Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and poet living in the Los Angeles area. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and writes movie, book, and anime reviews and personal thoughts at Duncan Heights (http: //www.duncanheights.com/blog). She's been involved in LGBT rights and women's rights activism since high school and she is currently working on her first memoir. She has a cantankerous cat named Cleopatra.
Zoe Flowers is the author of Dirty Laundry and has appeared on National Public Radio, Black Power Radio and was a guest speaker at U*Space Gallery in Atlanta, GA. Flowers also works internationally on the issue of domestic violence. Most recently, in Lima, Peru where she spoke at the country's first international conference on domestic violence. In 2011, Zoe started the Angel's Dust Theatre company to produce socially relevant and culturally responsible theater. The Company's first production is "From Ashes to Angel's Dust: A Journey Through Womanhood."