by Mel Wells
Incite: Queer Writers Read is a brand-new reading series at Literary Arts, and it’s curated and hosted by Kate Carroll de Gutes and Kate Gray. The first event was held on Tuesday, March 7 and featured five artists and a packed house. The theme was “resistance,” and each audience member found a card on their seat asking them a question about resistance. At the end of the reading, Carroll de Gutes and Gray instructed everyone to first discuss the questions with their seatmates, and then they moderated a discussion with the audience. To quote their Facebook page, “Our hope is to create conversation, connection, and greater understanding both within the Queer community and with other communities.”
I sat down with “the Kates” soon after the first event to discuss this new endeavor and addition to the literary community in Portland.
MW: Back when you pitched this reading series to Literary Arts, you mentioned being part of previous queer reading series in Portland. Could we start with you giving a little history of these?
Carroll de Gutes: Yes, I hosted a monthly open mic and performance space for queer, transgender, and genderqueer writers from 2013 to 2015 in the St. Johns neighborhood. It was called…can you print the F-word?
MW: I don’t see why not.
Carroll de Gutes: It was called GenderFuck. One word, capital F. And the goal was to bring together different generations and start conversations. We were trying to build community, especially to build understanding between old butch lesbians and young trans men.
MW: That’s an ambitious goal; I think there can be a lot of tension between those two groups.
Carroll de Gutes: [laughs] Yes, there was, and then we lost our space and I was working on my book, so after two years it ended. There was also Dirty Queer, which Sossity Chiricuzio ran for nine years.
MW: That was at In Other Words, right?
Gray: Yes, and it was monthly at first, then quarterly, and then it ended in 2015. Nine years is a lot of work and Sossity did a fantastic job with it.
MW: As a queer writer myself, this feels like a silly question, but why start one up again? I guess the devil’s advocate could argue that you’re both busy and it can seem like there are a lot of other reading series in Portland…
Gray: Sure, but there are so few places for queer people to meet each other. I recently met a young queer who is new to town and doesn’t know where to meet other young queers in person.
Carroll de Gutes: There are few places for us to gather, for us to read our work in an exclusively queer environment. After the election, it felt especially important to have places that feel safe. And while there are a lot of safe places in this city, Incite is uniquely, culturally safe for queer people.
Gray: And celebratory! We’re really celebrating queer culture.
Carroll de Gutes: And just like GenderFuck, our goal is still to be intergenerational and multicultural.
Gray: Yes, and we’re in discussion with a woman of color to become the third facilitator for Incite, so that we can be more inclusive for queer writers of color.
Carroll de Gutes: Another goal of Incite is to feature unpublished queer writers. There are so many queer writers out there who are producing great work but who are getting overlooked or haven’t broke out yet.
Gray: This is especially important when there are so many queer writers producing work that defies the stereotypes. Their work is literary and diverse. We want to showcase that diversity in its full range: in age, genre, culture, and so on.
Carroll de Gutes: That’s why we had a playwright at the very first show. And speaking of age, when those kids from Outside In walked in? I thought, yes, this is what we want.
MW: I was wondering who the young people were. Did a teacher bring them?
Carroll de Gutes: No, they came on their own. Outside In has a queer writing group on Tuesday nights and they saw it on Facebook—we were all over Facebook—and so they came.
MW: So, neither of you are strangers to Literary Arts: Kate [Carroll de Gutes], you won the Oregon Book Award for creative nonfiction this year for Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear, and Kate [Gray], you’ve won a Literary Fellowship and been an OBA finalist in poetry. But I’ve also seen you at many other literary events around town. Why have Incite at Literary Arts?
Carroll de Gutes: Well, honestly, I feel like Literary Arts needs to find opportunities to reach a wider audience to stay relevant. When I go to Portland Arts & Lectures, I think about how we need to reach a younger, diverse audience to stay relevant. I feel like I’m the youngest person in there other than the students who came in on busses.
MW: I agree, and that’s why we started working to bring students to lectures! We want the young, diverse parts of Portland to feel welcome in this fancy venue with older, mostly white people. These cultural spaces—the Schnitz, PAM, Literary Arts—are all theirs. We’ve been doing a lot of training around diversity, equity, and inclusion over the past couple years, and while we’re making strides, we definitely still have work to do. I know I wasn’t the only person who was really excited, and honored, really, that you approached us with Incite.
Gray: It felt like a validation that Literary Arts said yes.
Carroll de Gutes: Having your imprimatur connotes seriousness—it says that gay writing can be literary writing.
Gray: It’s also nice to have food.
Carroll de Gutes: It’s a great gift on multiple levels; it legitimizes the event, makes it event-like…
Gray: And it’s nice to have a reading that isn’t in a bar. The space is devoted to the reading and not about drinks.
MW: Was that your intention with making Incite a dry event?
Carroll de Gutes: Yes, that and because oppressed groups have much higher rates of struggle with substance abuse.
Gray: It was another part of making this a safe, welcoming space for everyone in the community.
MW: With everything being online these days, I was curious why you decided to do this as a physical, in-person reading instead of a blog or a podcast.
Gray: People need to see the faces of other queer people, those of us who pass and those who don’t.
Carroll de Gutes: And the dialogue was fabulous; people wanted to stay and continue talking. The discussion portion of our event is structured to build queer community and relationships between queers and straights. Incite does everything we should be doing in the darkest time we’ve faced so far.
We’re so grateful to The Kates for their thoughtful discussion, and hope to see you at Incite in the future! Here are the dates for this year:
Tuesday, May 2 7:00PM
Tuesday, July 11 7:00PM
Wednesday, September 6, 7:00PM
Wednesday, November 8, 7:00PM
All Incite events are in The Studio at Literary Arts, 925 SW Washington, Portland, Oregon.