Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How This Saturday's Event with Michael Lowenthal and Lysley Tenorio Came Together (and It Only Took About Ten Years).

I would like to say that the genesis for this event started with a dinner I had in Boston, when I was in town for the wedding of Jocelyn and Chris (niece and nephew-in-law) last summer. Kirk and I had dinner with several of my old friends, including two Michaels and two Scot/ts (one has one T, one has two). One of the Michaels was Michael Lowenthal, the author of soon-to-be-released novel, The Paternity Test.  I had read the book beforehand because, well, I read all of Lowenthal's novels.

The Paternity Test is about a couple of guys, Pat and Stu, who decide to have children with a surrogate. Stu's decided that he'd like to continue his Jewish lineage (Pat is not Jewish) and so they find a Brazilian Marrano who lives nearby. Close enough, right? Well, for some. But the story gets more complicated when Pat and Debora find themselves drawn to each other. Modern family indeed.

When I really think about it, this event has been coming together from 1998, when I read Lowenthal's first published novel, The Same Embrace, which was about two twins, one openly gay, the other having embraced Orthodox Judaism. Lowenthal took over for John Preston, who was known for editing wonderful anthologies of gay men's writing, and whose life was cut short by AIDS. I remember getting my friend Heidi and my sister Claudia to read it too, and they both really liked it.

I went down to Chicago to see Lowenthal at Unabridged Books (back when they used to do a lot of author events), and we wound up staying in touch. Booksellers and authors bond over lots of things, and it didn't hurt that we both went to the same college. I actually had first heard of Lowenthal as he was the first openly gay valedictorian at Dartmouth (and this milestone seems timely as Wisconsin has just elected the first openly gay senator).

I also embraced Avoidance, Lowenthal's second novel, which was probably his edgiest, about a counselor who develops an attraction for one of his students. As in all of Lowenthal's novels, the novel defies expectation and heads in a different direction, and leads to several moral quandaries. I actually got several large book clubs to try that in paperback--outside their comfort zone for sure, but made for good discussion.

Lowenthal changed up again for Charity Girl, a historical novel that brought to life the government's quarantine of young women who were thought to spread venereal disease to soldiers during World War I. Note that the soldiers were not quarantined. I wound up writing the Indie Next quote for that one--how could I resist a novel where the heroine was a department store clerk? Like his other novels, Charity Girl touched on his themes of transgression and marginalization, that area where love and lust collide with morality (whether that is religion, law, or one's inner own moral code).

Lowenthal's novels have never had huge marketing budgets that would allow for national author tours, but that's where being published by University of Wisconsin Press made a difference. But we still felt we needed a second author to make this work, and Lowenthal suggested Lysley Tenorio, author of the acclaimed short story collection Monstress.

So read that too. And from the first story, of a director and his lead actress who create Filipino B movies in Manila, I was immersed in a stunning, passionate, and slightly skewed world. In story after story, Tenorio told of lives in Manila and Southern California, of the immigrant experience, of the everyday and the transgressive. I love his recreation of the Beatles visit to Manila to entertain the Marcoses, and I was moved by his tale of two elderly Filipinos in a condemned San Francisco residential hotel.

Tenorio has been quickly compared to Jessica Hagedorn, but I think that's mostly because she also writes about the Filipino experience, which seems to be overlooked in contemporary fiction. Please comment on wonderful Filipino-American writers you recommend, by the way.

Of course there was no budget for these events with the publishers, but we found a hole on Saturday afternoon where we could make this work, and the folks at University of Wisconsin Press offered to drive our authors over from Madison. So now Lowenthal and Tenorio are reading together on Saturday, November 10, 2 pm.

We're co-sponsoring the event with the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, and we'll have some activities in our magazine area for folks who attend with their kids.

If you think about it, this event took over a decade to put together. Come enjoy the fruits of our labor this Saturday at 2 pm.

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