Saturday, June 04, 2011

The RADAR Reading Series Eighth Anniversary: Michelle Tea Gets What She Wants

The RADAR Reading Series, which for eight years has presented a cavalcade of literary artists for the enjoyment of their fans and the curious in search of new writers, is the wondrous creation of unique writer Michelle Tea. Tea is best known not only for hostessing the queercore RADAR Series, but also as a co-founder of the famous Sister Spit traveling spoken word tour and also her novels "Valencia" and "The Chelsea Whistle."

The special anniversary night at the San Francisco Main Public Library on June 1 featured performers that Tea had fantasized about introducing for years and all four were there, and they came on strong. Renee Gladman is a poet and professor, Chinaka Hodge is a playwright and poet, Jonathan David Katz was the co-curator of the recent National Portrait Gallery Hide/Seek exhibit, and Catherine Opie is a world-renowned photographer with a unique eye for high-impact images.

Karen Sundheim, of the library's James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center, warmly greeted the sizable audience and announced the upcoming events for June, then Tea invited the throng to pick up a piece of eighth anniversary cake.

Renee Gladman is highly regarded for her novel "Event Factory," which is the first in a trilogy about a city in a foreign land that is undergoing crises similar to what is happening in America today. She is the author of four books of prose and her goal of enlarging the definition of what is poetry and what is prose is admirable and is reaching national readership.

Chinaka Hodge is riding high since the East Bay Express awarded her a Best Poet title in 2008. Her most recent book "For Girls With Hips" is in its third publication, due to heavy demand. She read others works that had meaning for her, but then she stepped away from the lectern and performed one of her own spoken word confections, with great physicality and she was met with sustained applause.

Jonathan David Katz drew his former students, political operatives who have been following the censorship media coverage of the Hide/Seek show at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., and activists who knew him when he co-founded San Francisco’s Queer Nation. Katz taught at Yale University and he is the first tenured faculty member of a lesbian and gay studies program in U.S. history. He showed slides of images that were in the D.C. show and he discussed their Sapphic and homoerotic symbolism. Tea interjected that the attentive crowd was being treated to a Yale-level art lecture and that it should be inspirational and enlightening.

Photographer Catherine Opie’s slide show raised the tension level measurably in the auditorium with images of what she said was her type of butch lesbian. S&M scars were another subject of the slides, and her new expansion into photographs of male high school football players made it possible for more of the diverse audience to appreciate the subjects of her work, which she said is influenced by the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. Opie is a professor of photography at UCLA, and it was evident that about half the crowd came by to see her when Tea announced that the June 17 benefit for RADAR at the Verdi Club will not have Good Vibrations sex toys as raffle prizes, since each audience member already owned all of them. There was a loud roar of laughter in a room with almost every one of the 200+ seats filled.

The event did not end when the library closed because a large number of the audience members crowded the sidewalk outside to meet and mingle and discuss what they had seen and heard, long after the RADAR anniversary was over. Coordinator Tea and the Hormel Center deserve multiple compliments for a superb event.

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