June Wrap Up: The First Pride was a Riot: Looking back at ITBR’s Month of Pride

It’s hard to imagine a more exciting month for our little team. At this time last year, The Ivory Tower Boiler Room was just some idea that Andrew and Adam were batting back and forth. Andrew and Mary had known each other since elementary school, but had not collaborated on anything since high school theater. Adam had not yet met Mary, and Erika had not yet met any of the other three. And now here we are. We have things planned for our anniversary in August (did someone say ‘live show’? I feel like I heard someone say ‘live show’), but this month already feels like the culmination of a year of progress.

We accomplished amazing things this month. Andrew kicked off the celebration, memorialization, and renewed commitment with a delightful rendition of his own coming-out story. Erika followed up with a searing yet ultimately hopeful take on the 40th anniversary of the first cases of AIDS in the United States. Members of the Boiler Room had friends and strangers alike, in person and on social media, accosting us to say what a beautiful job Erika did. Erika followed that piece up with an elegiac but redemptive piece on the Pulse massacre and its continued effects on her adopted hometown of Orlando, Florida, and finished strong with her Big Think about parsing the many aspects of her culture. Adam bled a little on the page as he examined his own internalized homophobia. Mary was at her intriguing best, writing her excellent true crime pieces, one about a tragic case of mental illness  and the other about a simple but baffling case of plagiarism, as well as giving us the inside look at what it means to be an ally who was raised Catholic. She also wrote our piece on Juneteenth. Not to be outdone, Tiffany wrote a particularly beautiful piece for us about the tendency of love to move toward the universal and the inclusive, in between watching her children graduate and much else besides.

So much for the big pieces. This month also saw the rise of Adam’s pet project (see what I did there?) “Big Cat, Little Cat” which hopefully speaks to the scowling, misanthropic feline in all of us. Erika wrote a delightful piece on bisexuality and combating bi erasure. (A one-off departure from her usual sturm und drang? Or a portent of things to come? Stay tuned!) And we’ve had little gems scattered here and there, like Andrew sharing his reading lists.

This month also included some firsts on the blog. Cameron Martin was our first guest-writer, coming to us from Idaho with an amazingly insightful piece about his own poetic process, and Sophia Basaldua was our second, reviewing books that we now all have on our reading lists. We also received the signal honor of hosting poetry by Rita “Rusty” Rose, a poet who was an eyewitness to the original Stonewall Riots, and has since seen fifty-two years of LGBTQ* progress and setbacks come and go. Her poems are gorgeous, and we are lucky to host them.

And that was just the blog. Over on the podcast side… 

We kicked off the month with a round-table (in two parts, plus a coda recorded by Erika and Andrew) about what this month meant to us. The topics ranged from light to heavy. Then we did a short segment called “The Real Housewives of Academia,” because of course we did, followed by a conversation with the brilliant Ula and Kathryn Klein. Their one-year-old gave them the hour off to chat with us about their respective writing projects. Both are churning out scholarship and fiction at an alarming rate, with Ula having just premiered her work Sapphic Crossings and Kathryn having debuted her latest book, From the Woods , a few months before. Ula has since come out with a novel, Enchanted Autumn. Why not?

Another first for ITBR: Our episode “The Closet in the Library” was our first book launch, courtesy of Kate Flint and Jason Rudy at the redoubtable Broadview Press. As much as we love geeking out with fellow book lovers, it was particularly poignant and joyful to be included in the process of bringing lost and suppressed voices into the canon–Mary Prince, Toru Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore, Amy Levy, and many others. All of our reading lists are stuffed to bursting, as if they weren’t already.

Part of what is most gratifying about this month’s reflections and festivities is how we feel ourselves planting the seeds of our future work. One great publishing house taking a chance on a lil podcast leads to others; one or two amazing poets using our site as their platform leads to others. It feels good to be doing good work and to have that work lead to opportunities. So stay tuned for our interview with New York Times theater critic Jesse Green, as well as more collaborations with writers and artists of every stripe. Also: if you are a writer or artist, please get in touch; let us know how we can help you!

One thought that we wanted to end with: there has been much talk this year about sanitizing Pride; about making the parades ‘kid-friendly’ or ‘family-friendly.’ We set out with the opposite intention: we can be proud and uncomfortable at the same time. No, it’s more than that. The idea of ‘pride’ implies having something to be proud of, which implies having come through something difficult. “The first pride was a riot,” lest we forget. None of the four of us was old enough to participate in that riot, and if we were, our privilege would likely have kept us safe from needing to do so, but we can stand in solidarity with those who did; with the difficulties they faced that drove them to that transformative act of resistance.

Come back to see Andrew and Erika give their personal concluding thoughts on this whirlwind of a month. And as always, keep reading.

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