Out writer and teacher Kathie Bergquist has written six books including “Ricky Martin: The Unauthorized Book,” “Backstreet Boys: Larger than Life,” “’N Sync: The illustrated story (The unofficial book),” “Mandy Moore: The illustrated story (The unofficial book),” “A Field Guide to Gay and Lesbian Chicago” and “Windy City Queer: LGBTQ Dispatches from the Third Coast. “
Bergquist’s writings have appeared in publications such as The Chicago Reader, Curve, Out, Publishers Weekly and The Advocate. She’s won scores of fans for her popular column “The Kathie Klub” which appeared in Nightlines. Our lesbian sister from a different mother is a familiar face to the LGBTQ community having worked for two gay bookstores Women & Children’s First and Unabridged Bookstore. She’s currently the host Sappho’s Salon, a popular performance arts show for lesbians that occurs every third Saturday of the month at Women & Children First Bookstore. We spoke with Bergquist about Chicago’s rich gay culture, her writings and latest endeavors.
PRIDEINDEX: You’re not originally from Chicago. How did you become so fascinated with the Windy City?
KATHIE BERGQUIST: I moved to Chicago from Minneapolis when I was 19 years old; I was riding along with friends who were attending the School of the Art Institute. At that time, I thought it was a temporary relocation. Obviously, that has not been the case. Our first apartment in Chicago was in Pilsen. I remember getting off the expressway and driving down Halsted Street through the Maxwell Market (as it was in 1988): so many people on the streets! Street vendors, pan-handlers, people just doing their business and the pervasive smell of polish sausage and grilled onion. We were not in Minneapolis anymore!
PI: What do you want readers to retain from “Windy City Queer: LGBTQ Dispatches From the Third Coast?”
KB: The breadth and diversity of the Chicago queer experience (as well as the remarkable talent of our local culture). It’s easy to think of gay Chicago as some sort of homogeneous culture that pulses around North Halsted Street; I’d like to demonstrate how queer culture exists in every corner and enclave of the city – we are everywhere!
PI: How is Chicago’s gay scene different from NYC, San Francisco or other major cities you have visited?
KB: I feel like I am reaffirming a Midwestern stereotype but here goes. We’re nicer. We have less attitude. We’re less full of ourselves. In that sense, I think, we’re more real. You can strike up a conversation with a stranger at a bar, interact with other groups of friends, etc., and not be looked down upon as a weirdo. Of course, there are exceptions and plenty of shade gets tossed around, but in a way, you know, we have a sense that we’re all in this together. The sense of community is strong. Maybe this is because so many of us here are refugees from small farm towns – we recognize each other as survivors. Also, I think that Chicagoans are less jaded about supporting queer culture. Maybe it’s because we don’t take it for granted. This has allowed our queer cultural communities to really flourish.
PI: Tell us about your earliest memory of being a writer.
KB: (LAUGHS) This is funny but true. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. My favorite heroines from stories were writers. Back when I was quite young (maybe about 10), I checked out a copy of the “Writer’s Market” from the library and started to send my poems out to magazines, but not just any magazines – only the highest paying ones! So, back when I was about 10, 11 years old, I started getting rejection letters in the mail from magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and Ebony (!). A few editors were even kind enough to make some helpful suggestions in the margins of my work!
PI: How did you go from writing books on artists such as Ricky Martin, The Backstreet and N’Sync to writing anthologies and “field guides” on Chicago?
KB: The first books I had published were a series of fan books written for teenagers for Virgin UK book and Billboard Books. The way this came about was that I had a friend in publishing who, when Ricky Martin caused that big stir the first time he appeared in the Grammy awards (’98? ’99?), told me that he knew a publisher looking for someone to pen a quickie Ricky Martin bio. I chewed on this for about an hour before decided that I thought I could do this. That segued into the other pop bio work. The Field Guide to Gay and Lesbian Chicago, which I co-wrote with my dear friend Robert McDonald, came from an entirely different motivation, which is much closer to the early seeds of this anthology, Windy City Queer. That is, Chicago has a terrific queer culture with many rich and diverse communities, but it seems like nobody knew about it or appreciated it. I wanted to give queer Chicago that platform that it deserves.
PI: Any influences?
KB: I am super influenced by any writer who pushes the boundaries of their craft, while finding ways to insert provocative politics and challenge their assumptions, without being didactic about it. I like to have my world view slanted from time to time, in terms of what is possible with literature, as well as my assumptions about who we are and how we should be. To these ends, I am extremely influenced by Sarah Schulman and James Baldwin. There are many more, but these two writers are certainly the strongest personal influences on both my creative and my political aesthetic.
PI: Prideindex.com 2010 Esteem Award winners Sharon Bridgforth and E. Patrick Johnson are among the star studded contributors featured in “Windy City Queer.” What was it like to work them? How did you coordinate everyone’s work schedule?
KB: I love and admire both of their work so much! I was delighted beyond words that they were both willing to submit work for this project. Throughout the whole process they have both been nothing but generous, kind, and enthusiastic. Their individual contributions to the book (Bridgforth’s performance text is the entry in to the book, Johnson wrote the anthology’s brilliant afterword), deeply enrich the collection overall.
PI: How did you decide which authors and stories to include in this book?
KB: I had a two pronged approach. On one hand, there were a lot of authors who I knew I really wanted to appear in this book, without whom the book would seem incomplete (this includes Bridgforth and Johnson, as well as Achy Obejas, Aldo Alvarez, David Trinidad, Edmund White, and several more), so I personally asked them to submit something. But I also wanted to cast as wide a net as possible to attract the work of writers whose work was less familiar to me. The actual selection process started to happen as the book itself took shape. Using some pieces that I absolutely loved as anchors, I built the rest of the book around those pieces and, as a result, certain literary themes and ideas began to coalesce, which explains how and why the book is organized the way that it is. An easy, natural flow emerged.
PI: What do like to do when you’re not writing or teaching others how to write?
KB: Currently, I am training to run in the Prague International Marathon on May 13! I also organize and host Sappho’s Salon, a popular salon night for lesbians and their friends that occur every third Saturday of the month at Women & Children First Bookstore. Each Sappho’s features different lesbian artists from visual art to spoken work to music to dance to comedy and everything else you can imagine. We’re taking January off as a much-needed break, but we’ll be back in gear in February with our first-ever Sappho’s Salon lesbian dance party and mixer. It’s very fun and always something a little bit different.
PI: What’s next for you?
KB: I’m working on a novel that is taking waaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy to long to finish. I’m also blogging about my experiences as a lazy and self-indulgent person training for a marathon (kathieontherun.wordpress.com), and eventually I’d love to put together another Windy City Queer anthology featuring Writers under 30 so, “WCQtoo: The next Generation of Queer Voices from Chicago.”
PI: When and where’s the cocktail party/reading/signing for “Windy City Queer?”
KB: There are two events coming up. The first is Thursday, January 19, 7:00, at Gerber-Hart library. This reading features writers Aldo Alvarez, Deb R. Lewis, Karen Lee Osborne, Gerard Wozek, and Emma Vosicky. There will be wine and cheese, cocoa and cookies, and it’s free and open to the public.
The next event is Friday, March 2, at 6:00 p.m., Film Row Cinema (1105 S. Michigan Avenue, 8th floor). This event, co-sponsored by Columbia College Chicago’s Critical Encounters, Fiction Department, and Program for Creative Non-Fiction and Poetry (English Department), will feature contributors E. Patrick Johnson, Sharon Bridgforth, Achy Obejas, David Trinidad, J. Adams Oaks, Karen Lee Osborne, and Deb R. Lewis. Also free and open to the public, this event will be followed by a reception and book signing.