LGBTQ Literature As Transformative and Life-Saving! Social Media As Digital Activism and Life-Changing!: An Interpretation of Lambda Literary Foundation’s 2014 Crowd-Sourcing Campaign: “What LGBTQI Book Saved Your Life?”

Overview of This Project
My project interprets a specific LGBTQ-themed crowd-sourcing campaign to mean that: 1) LGBTQ literature is transformative and life-saving, and 2) social media can be a form of digital activism with life-changing aspects, as it connects the LGBTQ community.  I examine the Lambda Literary Foundation’s 2014 Crowd-Sourcing Campaign: “What LGBTQI Book Saved Your Life?”  This project includes the following: 1) an explanation of my personal journey to this project and my research; 2) the history of Lambda Literary Foundation’s crowd-sourcing campaign; 3) the launch of the campaign; 4) the history of the Lambda Literary Foundation; 5) links to the sources; and 6) a series of images that visualize this project.

My Personal Journey to This Project
Since 2012, I have been researching the effects of LGBTQ literature on the lives of its LGBTQ readers and writers. My overarching research question was, and still is: Can LGBTQ literature transform and save the lives of its LGBTQ readers and writers; if yes, then how; if no, then why not; if no, then what else can?  My other questions include: 1) What is LGBTQ literature; who reads it; who writes it?  2) What are the purposes and uses of LGBTQ literature?  3) How does LGBTQ literature affect its LGBTQ readers and writers, and what are the effects?  4) Does LGBTQ literature have transformative powers; if yes, what are they?  5) Can the acts of reading and writing LGBTQ literature prevent LGBTQ readers and writers from committing suicide?  6) Why must LGBTQ literature be separated from mainstream, popular, dominant, heterosexual literature?  7) What does a textual analysis of LGBTQ literature show?  8) Can LGBTQ literature give hope to the LGBTQ community; if yes, then how; if now, then why not?

Lambda Literary Foundation’s 2014 Crowd-Sourcing Campaign is enhancing my research and will be included in my dissertation: The Transformative, Empowering, and Political Acts of Reading and Writing LGBTQ Literature: An Activist Approach to the Multiple Purposes of Literature.  

Lambda Literary Foundation’s Crowd-Sourcing Campaign is an example of using digital technologies, the Internet, and social media to connect and record the oral and written histories of the LGBTQ Community, a population that has had its existence and history erased. This Campaign is also an example of digital activism in the form of documenting the existence of an oppressed group.

As a survivor of suicidal ideation and attempts, my research is personal. I have written about how I have used literature to survive—to heal, cope, and empower myself. This is also why I have a fascination for, and have been studying, Bibliotherapy[i] (see endnote for the definition and history of Bibliotherapy).  In his book, Interviewing as Qualitative Research, Irving Seidman writes that “Research, like almost everything else in life, has autobiographical roots” (24).  I agree with him, my research reveals such similar thinking, and this project proves just how personal and autobiographical research can be.

In my own writing, I have discussed my adolescence being consumed with thoughts of and attempts at suicide, which were the result of my loneliness and discomfort with growing gay in a heterosexual world.  In my essay, “This Is What I Remember,” which was published in the book that I co-edited, Our Naked Lives: Essays from Gay Italian-American Men, I declare: “Literature has amazing powers that can change the lives of the readers; literature saved my life” (8).  So, if literature could save my life, then could it save other people’s lives?  Yes, I also think that literature can and has saved the lives of other LGBTQ people.

The following excerpts from my essay, “This Is What I Remember,” reveal the transformative, empowering, and political acts of reading and writing about my gay identity:

I remember everything; yet, I remember nothing.  I remember more bad than good.  I remember more misery, pain, and suffering than happiness.  I remember the loneliness and discomfort of growing up gay in a heterosexual world. 
This is what I remember.
This is what I remember.

I remember the constant thoughts of wanting to commit suicide.  Or, more so, the constant thoughts of not wanting to exist.  My attempts were pathetic and cliché: trying to swallow a lot of aspirin, holding the razor blade to my wrist, sticking my head in the oven, tying a rope to a pipe.  But I was never brave enough to succeed.

Suicide: A Poem
The blood mixes
through the streams of veins
blue lines
decorating the skin
when cut and tasted
the juice is sweet
Life is blended
through the body
and when sliced
life is drained
and the problems
are peeled away
no more pain and suffering
Death is the only way

My youth was consumed with loneliness, feelings of not belonging, and thinking of ways to kill myself.  I experienced many dark nights of the soul.  And television saved me.  Although I read a lot, I looked to TV for the noise to comfort me, and make me feel less lonesome.  Reading is a solitary act, not always the best thing for a lonely person.  As a teenager, I was alone many Friday and Saturday nights because my single-parent mother worked as a waitress, and my teenage sister was either working, too, or out with her friends.  Those nights, I was at home by myself, sitting on the sofa, or lying in bed, watching TV shows.  The Golden Girls got me through many lonely Saturday nights—not so much the TV show, but those four extraordinary women.  I was a gay boy, and I knew it, and I yearned to have friends like those four elderly women. 

Lonely: A Poem
As I walk through the land,
I’m all alone.
There’s no one holding my hand.
People can be so cold.
There’s no one to hold.
I’m all alone.
No one cares,
But everyone stares.
I wish someone knew me.
Then someone would love me.
I’m all alone,
As I walk through the land.
I’m all alone,
No one to hold my hand.

Identity Crisis #1:
I remember my first identity crisis.  I hated being me practically my entire life.  I hated being Italian American practically my entire life.  I hated the negative stereotypes associated with being Italian American; I did not want to admit that I was American of Italian descent because of such negative stereotypes and images.  As a young child, I wanted to change my last name to “Carson,” or something else “non-Italian.”  I was embarrassed and ashamed of who I was and where I came from.  My identity was in a crisis, and it would not be until many years later—in my adulthood—after reading much about Italian Americans, written by Italian Americans, that my identity crisis would come to an end.  Literature has amazing powers that can change the lives of the readers; literature saved my life.    

Identity Crisis #2:
I remember my second identity crisis.  Later in life, I would come to realize that my ethnicity was not the only aspect of my life that marginalized me, and made me not “fit in.”  As a homosexual male, my sexual orientation also marginalized me, and made me feel like an outcast, made me feel less than human.  And it must be stated, and known, that with its conservative and traditional ways of thinking, the Italian American community—my own community—has not always been accepting and understanding of my sexual orientation.  Ironically, one marginalized community marginalizes—even minimizes and oppresses—another marginalized community.

I remember when I was a young child in elementary school.  Ironically, I cannot remember the exact age.  I had a difficult time relating to the other students.  I knew that I did not “fit in.”  I was not the only American of Italian descent, but I was one of the few in a school with mostly Jewish American and Irish American children.  And of course, I befriended the other three to five children who were also Italian American.  We formed a close bond.   

Currently, some people of certain vulnerable identities and populations are using literature to cope. I’m situating this presentation in the current events of: 1) An increase in police brutality against the Transgender Community; 2) The shooting at Pulse, the LGBTQ Nightclub in Orlando; and 3) President-Elect Trump’s New AmeriKKKa.

In his book, Why Read?, Mark Edmundson tells us that the fundamental purpose of literature is to give hope to all citizens.  I take it a step further to add that it is even more important for certain literatures to give hope to certain populations of people, certain groups/communities; for example, LGBTQ literature gives hope to LGBTQ readers and writers because of various political, social, cultural, historical, religious reasons.  It is from Edmundson that I define the purpose of literature, especially the purpose of LGBTQ literature.  I move from all literature in general to specific LGBTQ literature.

In our current world of daily cruelty, destruction, and injustices, literature is a tool for survival, coping, healing, empowerment, and betterment.  The functions and powers of literature are situated in its ability to improve lives and the societies in which they live.  In her book, Why Literature?, Cristina Bruns writes: “Why literature?  The question is a timely one for the profession of literary study.  In the past few decades as marketability and revenue production increasingly take precedence over all other considerations, scholars of the humanities and of literature specifically have faced the need to justify their work” (1).  An effective justification for the teaching and study of literature is that one of its purposes is to create social justice, and it can be used as an instrument to change and save the lives of its readers and writers.

In his poem, “An Open Letter to My Students” (published in This Assignment Is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching), Gerard Wozek explains to his students that LGBTQ literature matters because LGBTQ lives matter: “What I want you to know is that these lives / matter” (1-2).  He wants his students to know that LGBTQ literature is about identity and identity politics: “Throughout history, before and after labels, / there was always an impulse toward making fire: / woman to woman, man to man, one being to another / being. / Mark it down. / We burned for one another. / We risked everything” (15-19).  He references the gay characters, themes, issues, and subtexts in certain important works of literature, making the statement that LGBTQ lives matter, that same-sex love is significant, and that literature reveals such to be true: Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Tom in The Glass Menagerie, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, Shug and Celie in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Sebastian and Charles in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, David and Joey in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, and Adrienne Rich’s love poems in Dream of a Common Language: “Take note. These acts of love hold significance” (14).  Finally, Wozek tells his students that reading LGBTQ literature in the classroom can create positive change and social justice: “If we can enter the life of but one of those characters (30)… Then we / can allow that flame that exists in the text to leap / off the page and set up a bonfire in our own heart (33-35).   Thus, the literature can be used to create empathy and equity for LGBTQ lives.

Wozek eloquently explains how the teaching of LGBTQ literature creates positive change and social justice in the classroom and beyond.  I must add that LGBTQ literature, and the teaching and reading of it, whether in the classroom or outside of it, creates positive change and social justice because it declares to the students and everyone else that LGBTQ people exist, that they are human, that they are worthy, that their lives matter, that they have voices, and that their voices will no longer be silenced, ignored, marginalized, oppressed, discriminated against, and violated.  When LGBTQ literature is taught, read, and analyzed in the English classroom, the clear message is that it is important enough to study and to include in the curriculum; therefore, LGBTQ people must be important enough to be considered as human beings and citizens.  Thus, ideas of equality are created, minds are enlightened, hope is tangible, ignorance shrinks, and discrimination weakens.  This is how LGBTQ literature creates social justice in the classroom and beyond.

The History of Lambda Literary Foundation’s Crowd-Sourcing Campaign
The campaign was initially created for the 2014 Lambda Literary Awards, also known as “The Lammys.”  Melanie La Rosa, the 2014 Lammy Host Committee Co-Chair, created a video from the video submissions, which were sent to the Lambda Literary Foundation, via Facebook, Twitter, and email, from LGBTQ folks around the world, who answered the questions: “What LGBTQI Book Saved Your Life?” or “Has an LGBT Book Saved Your Life?”

Since the 2014 crowd-sourcing campaign, its Facebook page and its Twitter hashtag (#abooksavedmylife) continue to be used by LGBTQ individuals who continue to discover the campaign—which has evolved into a project with an ongoing life of its own—and submit more answers to the questions—“What LGBTQI Book Saved Your Life?” or “Has an LGBT Book Saved Your Life?”—responding to the LGBTQ literature that has transformed and saved their lives, with a reader-response approach.

In her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, Lesbian writer Jeanette Winterson writes: “I had no one to help me, but T.S. Eliot helped me.  So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes…I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy…That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is.  It isn’t a hiding place.  It’s a finding place.”  Thus, LGBTQ literature can be a “finding place,” helping us to survive in this complicated world that we share.

I also interpret the Lambda Literary Foundation’s crowd-sourcing campaign, which is in the form of digital social media, to be another “finding place” where LGBTQ readers and writers can connect with each other to share their personal stories on how they found themselves, how they found their identities, and how they found the literature that helped them to survive.  And that digital finding place is one of the most powerful spaces in existence for the LGBTQ community.

The Launch of the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Crowd-Sourcing Campaign
The following is the Press Release by Tony Valenzuela, Executive Director, March 26, 2014:What LGBT Book Saved Your Life?

Lambda Literary Foundation Launches Crowd-Sourcing Campaign: “Has an LGBT Book Saved Your Life?”

Has a book ever saved your life? Perhaps a book has changed the way you think about your sexual or gender identity. Or helped you through that rough patch, when you just weren’t sure you could own up to being a queer artist. Maybe reading an LGBTQI novel blew your mind and expanded your horizons. Did Huck Finn mean something totally different to you than he did to your classmates? Did Dancer from the Dance give you the courage to write about your first kiss? Has a piece of literature ever meant so much to you that it eased the pain of living and working outside the “mainstream,” in a world where not only our books but our lives are shelved separately from everyone else’s?

Read the full press release and call for submissions here:

The History of the Lambda Literary Foundation
From the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Web site: “The Lambda Literary Awards identify and celebrate the best lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender books of the year and affirm that LGBTQ stories are part of the literature of the world. The Lammys, which receive national and international media attention, bring together 600 attendees—including nominees, celebrities, sponsors, and publishing executives—to celebrate excellence in LGBTQ publishing. It is the most prestigious and glamorous LGBTQ literary event in the world. Winning a Lammy can literally launch a writer’s career.” (

Its mission statement: “Lambda Literary believes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer literature is fundamental to the preservation of our culture, and that LGBTQ lives are affirmed when our stories are written, published and read.” (

Its inception: “A History of Lambda Literary: Lambda Literary traces its beginnings back to 1987 when L. Page (Deacon) Maccubbin, owner of Lambda Rising Bookstore in Washington, DC, published the first Lambda Book Report. The Lambda Literary Awards were born in 1989.  At that first gala event, honors went to such distinguished writers as National Book Award Finalist Paul Monette (Borrowed Time), Dorothy Allison (Trash), Allan Hollinghurst (The Swimming Pool Library), and Edmund White (The Beautiful Room is Empty).  The purpose of the Awards in the early years was to identify and celebrate the best of lesbian and gay books in the year of their publication. The Awards gave national visibility to a literature that had established a firm if nascent beachhead through a network of dynamic lesbian and gay publishers and bookstores springing up across America. Lambda Book Report, meanwhile, grew into a comprehensive review periodical, and together LBR and the Lambda Literary Awards cemented the reality that a distinct, definable LGBT literature existed. Lambda Literary was created in 1997 as a 501(3)(c) corporation to officially host the Awards and LBR. Its first Executive Director was Jim Marks.” (

Never Take LGBTQ Literature for Granted
Finally, Kathleen DeBold, Awards Administrator at the Lambda Literary Foundation, wrote:

Water, water, everywhere.  Until it isn’t.  The California drought is making a lot of folks rethink their relationship with water. Having easy access to seemingly unlimited quantities of this precious resource created the illusion that it was and always would be available.  And so, it was taken for granted.  Those of us who grew up before Lambda Literary was founded in 1989 remember another kind of drought: the dearth of queer literature. If you are reading this, I don’t need to tell you that LGBTQ literature is as necessary to our souls as water is to our bodies.  You already have the thirst.  And you already know that the Lambda Literary Foundation is working hard to conserve, protect, and increase this life-affirming resource.  To those who aren’t in-the-know, however, the seemingly widespread availability of LGBTQ literature might easily give the impression that this huge lake will always be there.  But we can never take our literature for granted. Just as, in many parts of the world, people must walk for miles to haul their water from a tiny stream, in repressive countries and ultraconservative communities people have limited—if any—access to LGBTQ books.  And just as water is the first thing in peril             when the climate changes, books are the first things burned when the political climate changes.  Thank you for everything you do to convince others that the lake matters.  And for helping Lambda Literary honor and encourage the authors and publishers and readers who keep feeding it.

Links to the Sources in My Project
An explanation of the 2014 Crowd-Sourcing Campaign on Lambda Literary Foundation’s Web Site:

Access to the video of the Campaign and Project for the Lambda Literary Foundation’s 2014 Book Awards Ceremony:

The Facebook group for the Campaign and Project:

The Twitter hashtag for the Campaign and Project: #abooksavedmylife:

My articles from my Huff Post blog:

Additional coverage of Lambda Literary Foundation’s 2014 Crowd-Sourcing Campaign:

[i] “Bibliotherapy generally refers to the use of literature to help people cope with emotional problems, mental illness, or changes in their lives (Pardeck, 1994), or to produce affective change and promote personality growth and development (Lenkowsky, 1987; Adderholdt-Elliott & Eller, 1989). By providing literature relevant to their personal situations and developmental needs at appropriate times (Hebert & Kent, 2000), bibliotherapy practitioners attempt to help people of all ages to understand themselves and to cope with problems such as separation and divorce, child abuse, foster care, and adoption. Historically, bibliotherapy dates back to the 1930s when librarians began compiling lists of written material that helped individuals modify their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors for therapeutic purposes. Counselors worked in conjunction with librarians to ‘prescribe’ selected literature for clients experiencing problems (Pardeck, 1994). The underlying premise of bibliotherapy is that clients identify with literary characters similar to themselves, an association that helps the clients release emotions, gain new directions in life, and explore new ways of interacting (Gladding & Gladding, 1991).” –Mardziah Hayati Abdullah, “What Is Bibliotherapy?” (“Bibliotherapy,” ERIC Digest And Wikipedia provides a comprehensive page on Bibliotherapy: “Bibliotherapy is an expressive therapy that involves the reading of specific texts with the purpose of healing. It uses an individual’s relationship to the content of books and poetry and other written words as therapy. Bibliotherapy is often combined with writing therapy. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. These results have been shown to be long-lasting. Bibliotherapy is an old concept in library science. According to the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, in his monumental work Bibliotheca historica, there was a phrase above the entrance to the royal chamber where books were stored by King Ramses II of Egypt. Considered to be the oldest known library motto in the world, ψγxhσ Iatpeion, is translated: ‘the house of healing for the soul.’ Galen, the extraordinary philosopher and physician to Marcus Aurelius of Rome, maintained a medical library in the first century A.D., used not only by himself but by the staff of the Sanctuary Asclepion, a Roman spa famous for its therapeutic waters and considered to be one of the first hospital centers in the world. As far back as 1272, the Koran was prescribed reading in the Al-Mansur Hospital in Cairo as medical treatment. In the early nineteenth century, Benjamin Rush favored the use of literature in hospitals for both the ‘amusement and instruction of patients.’ By the middle of the century, Minson Galt II wrote on the uses of bibliotherapy in mental institutions, and by 1900 libraries were an important part of European psychiatric institutions. After the term bibliotherapy was coined by Samuel Crothers in an August 1916 Atlantic Monthly article, it eventually found its way into the medical lexicon. By the 1920s, there were training programs in bibliotherapy. One of the first to offer such training was the School of Library Science at Western Reserve University followed by a program at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. Hospital librarians were at the forefront of bibliotherapy techniques. E. Kathleen Jones, the editor of the book series Hospital Libraries, was the library administrator for the McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. This influential work was first published in 1923, and then updated in 1939, and then 1953. Pioneer librarian Sadie Peterson Delaney used bibliotherapy in her work at the VA Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama from 1924 to her death in 1958. Elizabeth Pomeroy, director of the Veterans Administration Library Service, published the results of her research in 1937 on the efficacy of bibliotherapy at VA hospitals. The United Kingdom, beginning in the 1930s, also began to show growth in the use in of reading therapy in hospital libraries. Charles Hagberg-Wright, librarian of the London Library, speaking at the 1930 British Empire Red Cross Conference, spoke about the importance of bibliotherapy as part of “curative medicine” in hospitals. In addition, reports from the 1930 Public Health Conference about bibliotherapy were included in the British journal, Lancet” (


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Google-Mapping Mark Chiusano’s Collection of Stories, MARINE PARK

I used Google Maps to plot 21 locations from the first 108 pages of Mark Chiusano’s book, Marine Park (also known as Marine Park: Stories), which is a collection of 17 short stories that are connected to the Marine Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, which is the tiny neighborhood that surrounds the actual park: Marine Park.  Chiusano’s book is a total of 196 pages, and I perused up to page 108, choosing locations to pin to my map.  (I did read the entire book last year, and it is wonderful!)  I chose locations that appeared on the pages and grabbed my attention, especially the ones that are personal to me.

I lived in the Marine Park neighborhood of Brooklyn from the ages of 18-29 (except for one year, 2000-2001, when I lived in the East Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan).  Marine Park is a neighborhood that never appears on maps.  I don’t think that it is an official neighborhood (but don’t tell the locals that).  Its zip code, 11234, is actually the zip code for the entire Flatlands neighborhood of Brooklyn.  Marine Park is a neighborhood that consists of a few blocks that surround the park itself.  So when I discovered that Chiusano, who also grew up in Marine Park, wrote a book about the neighborhood, I was excited because it was finally written into existence. It was recorded!  It was no longer ignored!  It had value!  It appeared!

I lived on East 21st Street, between Avenues X and Y, in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood—zip code 11235—for the first 18 months of my life.  My mother, my sister, and I then crossed Avenue X, and crossed the border to the Kings Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn, with the zip code of 11229.  We moved to Bedford Avenue, between Avenues W and X, and lived there until I was 18 years old, until we moved to Coyle Street in Marine Park.  In that location of Brooklyn, Bedford Avenue is considered East 25th Street, so we didn’t move far, only four blocks.  My aunt, uncle, and cousin lived above us.  My maternal grandparents lived one block away on East 24th Street, between Avenues X and Y; it was the typical close Italian American family.  Avenue X separated the two neighborhoods and zip codes: Sheepshead Bay 11235 and Kings Bay 11229.

The aforementioned details are important because the neighborhood of Kings Bay never appears on a map, too.  Marine Park and Kings Bay share that erasure.  Usually, only native Brooklynites know about my three neighborhoods.  People from other boroughs of New York City never heard of or visited Marine Park, Kings Bay, and Sheepshead Bay.  Transplants who move to New York City never know; they usually only know about the trendy parts of northern Brooklyn and Manhattan.  And only Sheepshead Bay appears on the maps because it is large, because of the train station, because of the bay itself, and because it is above Coney Island.  I tell people that I come from the neighborhoods above Coney Island, and then they understand.  Everyone knows about Coney Island.

I chose to plot 21 locations from Chiusano’s book on a map because it is my own way of empowering an aspect of my life—and the lives of others: the people who live in the neighborhood of Marine Park, but whose existence never appears on any maps.  It is also a way of empowering one of my identities: my local identity or my geographical identity, which then creates my cultural and linguistic identities.


Marine Park: Stories was a PEN/Hemingway Award Honorable Mention.

“Marine Park—in the far reaches of Brooklyn, train-less and tourist-free—finds its literary chronicler in Mark Chiusano. Chiusano’s dazzling stories delve into family, boyhood, sports, drugs, love, and all the weird quirks of growing up in a tight-knit community on the edge of the city. In the tradition of Junot Díaz’s Drown, Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago, and Russell Banks’s Trailerpark, this is a poignant and piercing collection—announcing the arrival of a distinct new voice in American fiction.” (

“The stories in Mark Chiusano’s debut collection all have links to Marine Park, a part of southern Brooklyn far removed from the gentrifying hordes. . . . Those that range more widely, either thematically or geographically — including one about a retiree who gets into trouble running a shady errand and another set in Los Alamos, N.M., during the Manhattan Project—showcase Mr. Chiusano’s more formidable talents. It will be worth watching what he does when he leaves the neighborhood.” —John Williams, The New York Times

“Mark Chiusano’s debut collection, Marine Park, homes in on the Brooklyn neighborhood of the title, where the 23-year-old author grew up, offering sparkling and concise linked stories about coming of age hard by some salt marshes, where backyards are boat docks and ball fields are showcases.” —Elle

“Chiusano gives a voice to the lesser-known Brooklyn neighborhood of Marine Park in his collection of interconnected stories that unearth broader truths among quotidian events, from haircuts to train rides.” —The Huffington Post

Mark Chiusano is the author of Marine Park, which received an honorable mention for the PEN/Hemingway Award. His fiction and essays have appeared in Guernica, Narrative Magazine, Five Chapters, Salon, Harvard Review, and online at Tin House, the New York Observer, NPR, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, among other places. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, educated at Harvard College, spent some summers playing baseball in Switzerland, among other places sometimes more exotic than the Parade Grounds, worked at Alfred A. Knopf and Vintage Books, and now writes for the editorial page at amNY and Newsday, which means you can find him on the subway or in Long Island.” (


Exploring “This Is Not a Poem”

The poet in me was fascinated to discover the link for “This Is Not a Poem”:  So, I decided to explore it further.  And I am happy to say that poetry is a part of digital literature, digital literary studies, and the digital humanities.  Digital poetry has entered the 21st century.  It’s Poetry 2.0!  Or, Poetry 3D!  Or, Interactive Poetry!  Or, Poetry as Performance Art!  (You get the point.)  Poetry is no longer stuck on a piece of paper.  Now, with the digital revolution, poetry can appear on a screen, with music, movement, images, and a human’s voice reading the poem, aloud.  The words, lines, and stanzas are able to dance on the screen.  The poem, itself, is performing in multiple ways for its readers, viewers, listeners, spectators, audience (whatever word you prefer to use).

“This Is Not a Poem” appears on the Web site:,, which was created by Alan Bigelow.  At the “Home” page of the Web site, Bigelow explains the purpose of his work and the site: “Welcome to, a collection of my work in electronic literature.  These stories and poems use images, text, audio, video, and other components.  They are non-traditional narratives which employ poetic and occasionally humorous and ironic metaphors.  Often they make statements about contemporary life, culture and politics.  These stories and poems are created for the web, although they also appear in museums, festivals, and galleries as media installations.  I hope you enjoy the work!”

At the “Me?” page of his site, Bigelow’s brief bio reads as follows: “Alan Bigelow’s work, installations, and conversations concerning digital fiction and poetry have appeared in the Library of Congress (USA), SFMOMA, La Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris),,, The National Art Center (Tokyo), Los Angeles Center for Digital Arts, FAD, VAD,, The Museum of New Art, Art Tech Media, FILE, Blackbird, Drunken Boat, IDEAS, New River Journal, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, and many other places worldwide. He is currently a Professor of Humanities at Medaille College in Buffalo, New York, USA.”

Bigelow explains “This Is Not a Poem” as follows: “This work takes the famous poem ‘Trees’ by Joyce Kilmer and, transcribing it onto a ‘scratchable’ disk, makes it into a toy, a game, and a language engine…”  He then asks the question: “Is Your Computer’s Sound On?”  The irony is that this is exactly a poem of six stanzas with two lines in each stanza.  It is a poem about trees.  And it is a digital presentation of that poem.  And yet, it is so much more than just a poem on a page.

After clicking the word, “begin,” which appears as “[Begin]” below Bigelow’s question in the middle of the screen, we are taken to the next screen on which the entire poem is written on a disk.  We then press the play icon to see the disk spin, to hear a voice reading the poem, and to hear music in the background.  When we move the computer’s mouse or arrow over the poem and disk, the words scatter to the margins of the disk.  After all of the words scatter from the center of the disk to the margins, and the poem is no longer in stanzas, a video appears on the screen, showing a tree in a forest being logged by a machine.  The video of the destruction of the forest is making a statement about this poem that is also not a poem, and this digital presentation that can be so many things.


“Trees” by Joyce Kilmer
(taken from The Poetry Foundation:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.


Bigelow’s digital presentation of Kilmer’s poem, which is meant to be interactive, made me think of my own interactive piece that I recently published.  However, my verse/prose piece is only interactive in that it asks the readers to answer questions.  I do not have the talent and knowledge to create an interactive digital presentation like Bigelow.

“Education as Political Act! Educator as Political Activist!: An Interactive Experimental Narrative and Manifesto” by Michael Carosone

(published September 2016, in Lunch Review, on–educator-as-)

“Literature offers –a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It’s a finding place.” –Jeanette Winterson

In my dream—
the same recurring dream
for months now—
I am with:
Theodore Adorno,
Antonio Gramsci,
Karl Marx,
Edward Said, and
Howard Zinn—
all men, I know,
but I can’t censor a dream for feminism;
women will appear soon—
and Noam Chomsky appears, too,
but the other five won’t let him stay;
they say that he still has too much work to do on Earth,
so I have to talk to him alone back on the planet.
The six of us are not in heaven;
we don’t believe in that crap;
we are either in my apartment,
or in a classroom,
or in a park or a forest,
or in a protest line,
sometimes at a café,
and we are always talking about the political acts
of education, of reading, or writing,
of speaking, of listening, of breathing,
of living every second of every day.
I am teaching them creative writing—
absurd, I know—
and I tell them to :


Write a postmodern poem in which you advocate for one or all of the following:

  1. Education as political act;
  2. Educator as political activist;
  3. Intellectual as speaker of truth to power;
  4. Auschwitz never to happen again;
  5. Literature to effect positive change, literature as social justice.


Dear Reader,

Now, I want you to use those prompts, above, to write your own poems!  Go!


We have questions for postmodern educators:

  1. How can education be a political act in a positive way?
  2. How can an educator (intellectual) be an activist who effects positive change?
  3. How can we be educator-activists when teaching literature?
  4. How can we use literature to make sure that the Holocaust never happens again?
  5. How can we use literature, literacy, reading, and writing as social justice?

Now, I want you to answer those questions! Go!

Creating and Teaching Comics with Pixton

Instead of evaluating and using Google Ngram for this week’s assignment and blog, I decided to explore and write about another tool: Pixton (  I chose Pixton because it is a Web site that allows the general public to make its on comics, whether for fun, an assignment for school, or as a technique for teaching, or a tool for the professional workplace (the first page of the Pixton Web site informs visitors that it can be used for a variety of reasons).  I also chose Pixton because it complemented the assigned reading for the week, which was Nick Sousanis’ book about creating, teaching and theorizing comics: Unflattening.  I also have fond memories and a personal connection to Nick Sousanis and Pixton.

In the spring of 2013, I was fortunate enough to take Sousanis’ class, “Comics in Education,” at Teachers College of Columbia University.  It was the last time that Nick would teach the course at Teachers College (TC) before immersing himself in his dissertation and finishing his studies at TC, earning his EdD degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.  Nick’s dissertation would become his book, Unflattening, and he shared parts of it with us throughout the semester.  We were lucky to explore his ideas with him, and I was lucky to be a student in his wonderful class—a class that he would teach for the last time.  (I was a doctoral student, at the time, in the EdD program in English Education at TC; I didn’t finish the EdD program and left TC with an EdM.)

Nick introduced us to Pixton.  Actually, to be more exact, Nick introduced me and a few others to Pixton because most of the other students in the class knew about it.  It was a small seminar course with twelve students, and I was one of the few students—maybe three of us—who did not know much about comics, especially the new digital tools to create them.  Unlike the other students in the class, my childhood was not consumed with reading comics; I read other things.  I didn’t know much about actual comic books.  I knew about comics mostly from watching the movie versions.  But I had read about using comics to teach, especially in literature courses.  And I was intrigued by Nick’s course, so I registered for it.  I also had known and read about a popular underground movement of queer comics.  Comics were popular in the LGBTQ community; however, LGBTQ comics were not popular in the mainstream world of comics.  Yet, LGBTQ comics were proliferating because of the Internet; Web sites, such as Tumblr; personal blogs; and digital tools, such as the ones that Pixton creates and offers to the public.  The democratic use of digital technology allowed LGBTQ comic artists to create and share their work.  So, I took Nick’s course, knowing that I would focus my study on LGBTQ comics, which I did.

I dabbled with Pixton because Nick did not require us to use it to create our own comics.  Instead, he distributed a comic strip template to us in a paper format.  This template was created by Pixton, and is available on its Web site.  We had to create our own comic strips, using the paper template that he supplied.  But I explored Pixton, and familiarized myself with it.  Anyone can use Pixton to create comics.  Pixton also has a function for professional workplaces to use its tools to create presentations in the format of comics.  But what fascinated me most was that Pixton has tools for students to create comics or complete their assignments in the format of comics, depending on how the teacher creates the assignment.  And what fascinates me most about Pixton is that educators can use it to teach.  First, they can try it for free during a trial period; then they can create an account.  One of the amazing features of Pixton is its archive of lesson plans for educators.



I wish to end this blog post with some of my work from Prof. Sousanis’ class.  Because of what Nick and Pixton taught me about comics, I was able to complete Nick’s assignments, which were for us, his students, to create a syllabus, a lesson plan, and a list of resources on comics.  So, I created a syllabus for a course on LGBTQ comics and queering comics; a lesson that used a poem with gay subject matter to queer a comic with straight subject matter; and a list of texts and resources on/for LGBTQ comics.


A&HE 4000: Queer Comics and Queering Comics
Mondays, 5:10-6:50 pm; Room 301, Grace Dodge Hall
Michael Carosone, Instructor
Office location and hour: Room 303, Grace Dodge Hall; Mondays, 7-8 pm
Teachers College
Fall 2013 Semester

“Comics and gays.  They go together well; after all they have one major thing in common: both tend not to get any respect.”  –Jerry Mills (“Introduction” to Meatmen #1. San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1986)

Description of the Course:
The purpose of the course is to understand how queer comics are situated in historical, cultural, artistic, social, and political contexts.  Using Queer Theory and a queer lens, we will analyze queer comics and straight comics.  We will ask certain questions, such as: 1) Why are these comics queer and why must they be labeled as such?; 2) Why are queer comics important?; 3) Why are queer comics marginalized and/or disrespected (as Jerry Mills stated; see aforementioned quotation)?; 4) What can we learn from queer comics?; 5) How can we use queer comics for our own interests and work?; 6) How can we queer straight comics?; and 7) How can we understand homophobia in comics?

Required Texts:
Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home
Jaime Cortez’s Sexile
Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby (edition with Tony Kushner’s introduction)
Diane DiMassa’s Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist
J.C. Etheredge’s Tongue in Cheek
Tim Fish’s Young Bottoms in Love
Justin Hall’s No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics
G.B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce’s J.D.s
Tristan Crane and Ted Naifeh’s How Loathsome
Eric Orner’s The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green (must also watch the film)
David Small’s Stitches
Christine Smith’s The Princess
Robert Triptow’s Strip AIDS USA
Roz Warren’s Dyke Strippers: Lesbian Cartoonists A to Z

Other required reading is posted on Moodle: critical essays, excerpts, comics, etc.

Recommended Texts:
Markus Pfalzgraf’s Stripped: A Story of Gay Comics (for more historical background)
Nikki Sullivan’s A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory (for an understanding of theory)
Robert Triptow’s Gay Comics

Organization of the Weekly Session:

  1. Lecture on the topics and assigned readings
  2. Seminar-style discussion on the topics and assigned readings
  3. Guest speakers may attend some sessions

 Weekly Schedule and Assignments:

Week 1

Theme: Putting It into Perspective

Topics: Introduction to the course

History of Queer Comics, Part One

Begin with Tom of Finland (images will be viewed in class)

Week 2

Theme: Putting It into Perspective

Topics: History of Queer Comics, Part Two

Reading due: Hall’s No Straight Lines…; critical essays posted on Moodle

 Week 3

Theme: From Extremely Marginal to Less Marginal (Maybe Even Somewhat Mainstream?)

Topics: History of Queer Comics, Part Three

Underground Queer Comix

From Comix to Comics

Queer Comics as Political Activism

Reading due: DiMassa’s Hothead Paisan…; excerpts from Gay Comix posted on Moodle

Assignment #1 is due (see below and read the instructions document)

Weeks 4 and 5

Theme: Illustrating a Queer Identity, Part One

Topics: Gay Men in Queer Comics

Queer Men in Queer Comics

Bisexual Men in Queer Comics

Reading due: Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby; Fish’s Young Bottoms in Love

Weeks 6 and 7

Theme: Illustrating a Queer Identity, Part Two

Topics: Lesbians in Queer Comics

Queer Women in Queer Comics

Bisexual Women in Queer Comics

Reading due: Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For; Warren’s Dyke Strippers

Weeks 8 and 9

Theme: Illustrating a Queer Identity, Part Three

Topic: Transgender Men and Women in Queer Comics

Reading due: Crane and Naifeh’s How Loathsome; Smith’s The Princess

Week 10

Theme: Queer Comics as Truth

Topics: AIDS in Queer Comics

Queer Comics as Memoirs

Reading due: Cortez’s Sexile; Triptow’s Strip AIDS USA; Bechdel’s Fun Home

Weeks 11 and 12

Theme: Different in Form, Same in Content

Topics: From Queer Comics to Queer Zines (The Homocore/Queercore Movements)

From Queer Comics to Queer Cinema

Queer Comics in Queer Poetry

Digital Queer Comics

Reading due: Jones andLaBruce’s J.D.s; Orner’s …Ethan Green (must also have watched the film adaptation); poems and digital comics posted on Moodle

Assignment #2 is due (see below and read the instructions document)

Week 13

Theme: Comics as a Reflection of Society

Topics: Homophobia in Straight Comics

Let’s Queer Straight Comics (Queer Theory and a Queer Lens)

Reading due: David Small’s Stitches; straight comic of your choice for your assignment

Assignment #3 is due (see below and read the instructions document)

Week 14

Theme: From Past to Present and Beyond

Topics: Queer Comics Today

Queer Super Heroes in Comics

Global Queer Comics

Reading due: J.C. Etheredge’s Tongue in Cheek; critical essays posted on Moodle

Week 15

Theme: A Queer Comics Happy Ending


Presentations: Student will read the introductions of their research papers

Assignment #4 is due (see below read the instructions document)

Assignments and Grading

For more information, read the instructions document for each assignment.

  1. Assignment #1: Create your own 3-page queer comic with a queer theme or issue; 20%
  2. Assignment #2: In 2-3 pages, analyze the similarities and differences between the comic and cinematic versions of The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green; 20%
  3. Assignment #3: Queer a straight comic: choose 1-3 pages of a straight comic to analyze under a queer lens, using Queer Theory; 20%
  4. Assignment #4: In a 10-15 page research paper, with a minimum of 5 secondary sources, analyze the queer aspects of an entire full-length queer comic, using Queer Theory; 40%

Lesson Plan: Using a Gay Poem to Queer a Straight Comic

The purpose of this lesson is to use a poem with gay subject matter to queer a comic with straight subject matter.

The goals of this lesson are:

  1. To show a connection (and/or make connections) between two literary genres/forms
  2. To analyze a poem and a comic (preferably with a queer lens)
  3. To queer comics

Materials for this lesson:

  1. The comic/graphic novel, Watchmen, by Alan Moore
  2. The poem, “Imagining Your Penis in Blue after Watching Watchmen,” by Stephen Mills


  1. Outside of class, students will have already read Watchmen
  2. In class, students will read the poem

Questions for discussion:

  1. What are your thoughts about and responses to the poem? Why? Explain.
  2. What literary elements and techniques do you notice in the poem that you also notice in the comic? Give examples.
  3. What poetic elements and techniques are special to the poem and are not in the comic? Give examples.
  4. How does your knowledge and understanding of the comic help you to understand the poem?
  5. How does the poem complement or enhance the comic, or vice versa?
  6. How is the poem queer?
  7. How does the poem queer the comic?
  8. What are the considerations that must be made about the poem referencing the film adaptation of Watchmen and not the original literary text? How is this third layer of using another medium/genre, that of film, important to our understanding and analysis of the poem and comic?

Other questions from students…

Assessment and Assignment: Write your own poem (any style) that makes references to Watchmen

List of texts for queer comics:
Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home
Jaime Cortez’s Sexile
Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby (edition with Tony Kushner’s introduction)
Diane DiMassa’s Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist
J.C. Etheredge’s Tongue in Cheek
Tim Fish’s Young Bottoms in Love
Eve Gilbert’s Tits, Ass, and Real Estate
Justin Hall’s No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics
David Heatley’s My Brain is Hanging Upside Down
Robert Kirby and David Kelly’s The Book of Boy Trouble
G.B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce’s J.D.s
Tristan Crane and Ted Naifeh’s How Loathsome
Eric Orner’s The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green
Markus Pfalzgraf’s Stripped: A Story of Gay Comics
David Small’s Stitches
Christine Smith’s The Princess
Nikki Sullivan’s A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory
Robert Triptow’s Gay Comics
Robert Triptow’s Strip AIDS USA
Roz Warren’s Dyke Strippers: Lesbian Cartoonists A to Z

List of resources for queer comics:
J.C. Etheredge’s Anti-Heroes:
Bent-Con (the convention for queer comics):
Censorship of queer comics:
Cinematic version of Eric Orner’s The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green
Comic Book Queers:
Erotic Gay Comics:
Fanboys of the Universe:
Gay Comic Book Superheroes:
Gay Comic Geek:
Gay Comics List:
Gay League:
Gay Porn Comics:
Geeks Out:
Guide to LGBTQ Comics
LGBT Themes in Comics:
Lonely Gods: Homosexuals in Comics:
Politically InQueerect:
Prism Comics:
Queering Straight Comics:
Tom of Finland Foundation:
Wolverine goes gay:

The Digital Humanities… DH and Me


In her essay, “On Beauty,” Marilynne Robinson reminds us that science is not perfect, has not always been perfect, and will not be perfect in the future.  She reminds us of the errors of science: “Racial theory and eugenics are cases in point.”  She also reminds us that “those who believe we have outlived every beautiful notion about what human life must be, because this is the age of science…must not have been paying attention.”  So, she looks to language, narratives, fiction, and storytelling—the humanities—to find the truth and beauty of humanity.

What does Marilynne Robinson’s essay have to do with my thoughts on the digital humanities and digital literary studies?  This is what you’re asking, right?  Well, for me, Robinson’s essay has everything to do with my approach to the digital humanities and digital literary studies.  Basically, I wish to remain skeptical about the extreme and unnecessary scientification of everything that is not science.  Therefore, I am skeptical with regards to the scientification of the humanities, including literature, especially fiction and poetry.  I am not anti-science.  Of course not!  However, I know that as separate disciplines, the humanities and the sciences have different functions, purposes, methods, and goals.  And in her essay, Robinson eloquently explains the need to keep the humanities separate from the sciences.  Yet, after reading about digital literary studies and the digital humanities, I noticed that quite a few people do not want to keep the disciplines separate, and do not see a need to do so.

I perused through Melissa Dinsman’s twelve interviews on the digital humanities, with experts in the field, which were published in the Los Angeles Review of Books.  I perused twelve, but I read three interviews from beginning to end (as a human, not a machine, I enjoy the human aspect of storytelling… yes, I am being sarcastic here).  I read Dinsman’s interview with Franco Moretti, first.  Then I read her interviews with Pamela Fletcher and Marisa Parham.  Immediately, in the beginning of the interview, Moretti supports my skepticism and bothers me when he says: “I have been interested in a scientific approach to literature for a long time, since the late-1980s when I wrote on evolutionary theory in literature. From here I moved to geography and wrote the Atlas of the European Novel. While doing geographical research, I realized that quantitative methods helped considerably with mapmaking. So I became interested in quantitative approaches to history of all kinds.”  I disagree!  I do not think that literature deserves a scientific approach.  And I do not think that the humanities deserve quantitative approaches.  I would also think that scientists would laugh at a scientific approach to literature and say that it must not be a “real” scientific approach.  I also know that social scientists do not use an exclusive quantitative approach because they say that they are studying humans not rocks.

I will now move to Matthew Kirschenbaum’s “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?”  I was not surprised to read that the digital humanities is “more rooted in English than any other departmental home” because English departments have a history of pioneering other fields: American Studies, African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Composition Studies, Ethnic Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies, Latino/a Studies, Native American Studies, Queer Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, etc. (you get my point).  I also was not surprised to learn that digital humanities manifestos are all over because I see them everywhere I look.  If you keep your eyes open, you will see a digital humanities manifesto.

I also learned a lot from Kirschenbaum.  I did not know and found it fascinating when I learned that the Office of Digital Humanities legitimized the field of DH because “the designation of ‘office’ assigning the program (and its budget line) a permanent place within the agency.”  My interpretation of this milestone is that in the capitalist and material culture of the United States, a field of study is not legitimate until it is given a budget (money) and a physical office (location).

One great aspect of the digital humanities is that scholars can be given control over their work, as Kirschenbaum writes about in his essay.  Also, the tenure process can be improved because the digital humanities advocates for the open access of information.  So, if DH can improve some dysfunctional traditions of academia, then I’m all for it!  However, I will remain skeptical: I’ll believe it when I see it!

Kirschenbaum ends his essay with: “the digital humanities today is about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible…a scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborative and depend on networks or people and that live an active 24/7 life online.  Isn’t that something you want in your English department?”  No!  No, this is absolutely not something that I want in my English department.  Actually, more important, this is not something that I want in my life!  I do not want to be connected 24/7 online.  I want time to breathe and be and contemplate.  I don’t want my tombstone to read: “He was connected 24/7 online.”  Once again, this is the false American thinking.  Kirschenbaum simply perpetuates the incorrect capitalist, corporatist, puritanical American way of thinking that working more means being more productive.  This has been proven wrong many times.  So, if the digital humanities means being active 24/7 then I don’t want it.  Thanks!

Moving to Kenneth Price and Ray Sieman’s introduction on the digital humanities, I was unable to stop thinking: “Aren’t they assuming too much?”  They claim that “literary studies is being reshaped in the digital age…to help all of us better appreciate.”  Why do they assume that all of us with benefit from digital literary studies?  Why do they assume that all of us will be better?  Hmm, they should know better than to assume.  Price and Sieman are simply classist in their assumption.  Years ago, I read a statistic that only 35% of Americans had access to the Internet in their homes (I will have to find those facts, but until I do, I present this idea).  Obviously, if every American is not digitally connected, then every person in the world is not.  So, clearly, Price and Sieman are wrong to assume that every person will benefit from the digital humanities.  Evidently, once again, poor people will suffer.

Price and Sieman also state that texts have always been data.  They, too, are responsible for the scientification of literature.  Yet, the explanation was weak when they tried to explain how defining a text as data will benefit humanity and society.  I think, at least, that if one is going to turn literature into a science, then one should at least present scientific evidence explaining how such will alleviate the problems that humanity and society deal with.  Anyway, I totally loved Stephen Marche’s essay, “Literature Is Not Data: Against Digital Humanities,” which nourished my skepticism.

Finally, Price and Sieman claim that the digital humanities will break the traditions of academia and will change the institutionalization of academia.  They claim that DH will continue to create a “culture of sharing and exchange.”  Once again, I’ll believe it when I see it.  The history of human beings is that they simply replace old institutions with new ones; therefore, I predict that the digital humanities will become its own old institution some day, and will then be replaced by the next new exciting thing that humans will create.

DH and Me?  Not a love affair.  Not a match made in heaven.  Not even a marriage of convenience.  Sorry, there is no harmony here… yet.  I say: “yet.”  I’ll need to see more before I convert and praise.  I’ll need to know more, and DH will have to prove itself a lot more.  Until then, I’ll remain a skeptic.  And a healthy dose of skepticism is required in every society.  This sheep isn’t following the rest of the herd.  There’s no brainwashing here, so move along.