On the first of June, I was sitting in the Main Library’s auditorium. It was the first day of my favorite month, of PRIDE month, summer was in the air, and I was staring at Michelle Tea’s ass, which was looking pretty great in her all-white jumper.
You see, my girlfriend and I have been reading Valencia out loud to each other for the last few weeks and when I saw the author, who so happens to be the founder and host of RADAR Productions, I couldn’t help but marvel at her… accomplishments.
RADAR was turning eight that evening and we were celebrating with cake and a bill promising some of the heaviest heavyweights of the queer lit universe.
If I learned anything from going to RADAR in the past, it was to expect anything. I went in with that sentiment and a vague knowledge of the artists. I walked away feeling like I had attended a thousand dollar-a-plate dinner that offered an intimate probe into the brain of a genius. But it was free. And I was inspired.
The evening began with poetry, good poetry. Chinaka Hodge delivered in slam style, first off the page, then growing more comfortable, walked away from the sterile library podium and spit it. Her words were intellectual, wise, personal. Her poems echoed images of being the other woman and mortality. “Every poet dies… survived only by their body of work.” When she walked off stage, the auditorium’s acoustics were ringing with applause that was genuine for a poet at a reading series.
Pamela Sneed kept the momentum, as well as the performance poetry going with some poems from her collection Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery. Sneed is a voice and performance professor at Long Island University so it goes without saying that she had full command of the audience. So midway through, RADAR is 2/2 and the best is yet to come…
As a host, Tea is the San Francisco glue holding these amazing artists from all over the country together in one room, charming the audience and talent alike. The true test any host or orator will face during a live event is technical difficulties. Can they keep the audience rapt while the computers and projectors fail?
As Jonathan Katz struggled with the uncooperative wires and screens that were necessary for his presentation on the role of the queer in post-modern society and art, Michelle Tea had everyone laughing, making wishes on the new moon in Gemini, and just being downright adorable. It was part of the night, and cheerfully reminded everyone they were part of something happening here inside the library, inside a room where things are being created, challenged, and thought about. Together.
When Katz appeased the gods of technology, he lectured on homoeroticism. How in the past, queer meant feminine. He showed slides of famous paintings like George Bellows’ “The Shower Bath,” and Paul Cadmus’ “What I Believe.” Katz explained how the role of the queer was vital in past societies, stating that it was more accepted and even balanced out the straight society. As the pioneer in gay and lesbian studies in the collegiate field, I felt extremely lucky to have received his theory without the looming cloud of student loans that shadows most college goers. He joked, “Queer people keep the arts alive, straight people kill others.” Everyone roared.
The absolute best part of the night was, of course, saved for last. Catherine Opie debuted her mid-career survey at the Guggenheim in New York. Her photography is inspired by systems, like shopping malls and high school football teams, but her standouts are queer portraits. Standing on stage at the public library, she humbly began a slideshow of her favorite photos from her “Girlfriends” exhibition.
Opie was inspired to create “Girlfriends” after seeing an exhibit in New York that was centered around the artist’s ideal woman. Opie embarked on her project trying to capture and challenge the image of the butch dyke—her ideal woman. Each slide that appeared on the projector screen was breathtaking, controversial, and brilliant. Her anecdotes and familiarity were even better, flipping through the slides, “This is Kate, this is Raven, oh and here’s Idexa again…” I don’t care that I wasn’t at the Guggenheim because what she presented at RADAR was akin to an intimate dinner conversation about her genius work. I truly felt like I was in the presence of one of the great ones and she could do no wrong.
Want to see for yourself? What are you waiting for? RADAR Productions is having a benefit on June 17 at the Verdi Club. Michelle Tea is doing things, going places, bringing together all the people you need to know right now. Watch, be a part of it, just don’t miss out. Happy Pride.