On Tuesday, June 18th, at 9 pm, PBS will air a documentary called The Lavender Scare, about the purge of homosexuals from government jobs in the 1950s. President Dwight Eisenhower deemed LGBTQ people to be “security risks” due to the possibility that they might be subject to blackmail.
Narrated by Glenn Close and featuring the voices of Cynthia Nixon and David Hyde Pierce, based on David K. Johnson’s book The Lavender Scare, the film was directed by Josh Howard, who has won two dozen Emmy Awards, mostly for his work on 60 Minutes.
PBS partners with the Portland Public Library to present the POV film series, a program that allows the Library to screen documentaries prior to their official air dates on PBS. Unfortunately The Lavender Scare is not a part of that series, and although it has played at various film festivals, for most of us, our first chance to see it will be on our local PBS station on June 18th.
For a press release about the film, click here. For a review by film critic Godfrey Cheshire, click on this link.
Our hearts are saying hi! June Staff Picks explore LGBTQ+ voices in music, poetry, art, and our nonfiction and fiction collections.
My June pick is the soundtrack for the original Broadway musical Fun Home, adapted from Alison Bechdel’s brilliant graphic memoir of the same name. Bechdel came out to her parents in college, and shortly after learned that her father was a closeted gay man. Fun Home explores these broad plot strokes with countless other precise and memorable details about Bechdel’s life. The stage production won five Tony Awards (including Best Musical) and is the first musical ever to feature a lesbian protagonist. Both the memoir and musical are complex stories, artfully told, but the soaring music and clever lyrics (by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron) make the soundtrack especially worth picking up. Check out the tracks “Changing My Major” for a sweet, comic take on first love, and “Ring of Keys” (quoted above) for an innocent, profound moment of discovery.
At the moment, I’m also relishing a collection of Molly Malone Cook’s photographs with accompanying text by her life partner, beloved poet Mary Oliver. What a delight to hold a book that softly glows with Oliver’s love as she speaks of Cook’s craft. The very title, Our World, brings forth the idea of two artists finding a way to approach the world we all share, but also a way to share it intimately as a pair. A reminder of all love should be allowed to be: simple, abiding, proud.
Sarah R’s Picks
On a recent and rare trip to the movies I got to enjoy Wild Nights With Emily, in which Molly Shannon gives life to Emily Dickinson’s lesser-known but delightfully gay side. Pulling from a collection of love letters, which history had straight-washed, the film sheds light on the (sometimes secretive) queer romances of great poets. Why not get whisked away by some verse from LGBTQ+ wordsmiths across the ages? Might as well begin with the many translations and unearthed fragments of Sappho, the Ancient Greek poet laureate for women who love women. Onward to the early twentieth century: spend some time with Maine-born bisexual icon and Pulitzer Prize for Poetry-winning Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose own sapphic correspondences can be found in a book of collected letters. For woke and hilarious poetry by a living, breathing, captivating writer, check out Nature Poem by Tommy Pico. The book-length poem muses on colonialism and pop culture among other things, and is full of cheeky remarks on dating as an Indigenous, queer city dweller: “I don’t like boys, men, or guys,” the protagonist states at the top of a page, later concluding with, “Men dancing is fine tho. / Or like maybe men in socks? I dunno.”
“In the beginning, there is no he. There is no she.”
In her 2015 novel She of the Mountains (our Reader’s Advisory June 10 Book of the Week) Vivek Shraya shares two tales of love: stories of the goddess Parvati and her beloved Shiva intertwine with those of two lovers in modern Canada. A lyricalexploration of the complexities of individuality, queerness, and understanding, and a powerful story about hearing your own voice over the din of the crowd, Shraya’s riveting work challenges homophobia and identity policing from all corners. This swift, heartfelt, thought-provoking read resonates.
Bonus picks: Vivek Shraya’s new nonfiction title I’m Afraid of Men looks at “how we might reimagine gender for the twenty-first century.”
In 1979 the buzz around Portland (at least among kids) was that the new Portland Public Library building in Monument Square had electronic stacks that MOVED BY THEMSELVES… at the press of a button! The Star Wars/Jetsons-like future had arrived, and it was right here in Portland.
This was a pretty big deal in 1979. It was the kind of story that’s worth talking about, and it spread fast, even in the pre-social media days.
I used the library often over the next decade for term papers, consulting more books than necessary as an excuse to operate the electronic stacks. I came to love the library for its free access to books, music, and videos, and also for offering what we now call “third space;” a public place to do your thing while feeling connected to the community around you.
In 2015, I moved back to Portland after many years away. With no term papers to write, and media accessible by smartphone, I confess I wasn’t thinking much about PPL.
I discovered a PPL that was completely transformed. In addition to the art gallery, meeting spaces, and daily storytelling, there are music performances, author readings, lecture series, film screenings, maker fest, comic arts festivals, 3D printing, and so much more.
PPL has become a vibrant center for culture, performance, science, tutoring, and community events, and it’s all free. It is vibrant and buzzing with life.
PPL welcomes more visitors each year than any other cultural or educational institution in Maine. Those who know about the library love it.
But my impression is that many in Greater Portland have not entered the main branch in years, maybe decades, and have no idea what PPL has become, and all that it offers BEYOND the traditional resources we associate with libraries.
I was honored to work with Sarah Campbell and her team to design a new brand for PPL that we hope will have something of the effect the electronic stacks did back in 1979 — create a buzz, encourage people to take a second look, and discover what the vibrant, 150-year-old “startup” in the middle of Portland has in store for you.
It’s not what you may think of when you think “library.”
Visit a show in the Lewis Gallery, or check out the Press Herald photo archive online at portlandlibrary.com. Attend a lecture or author talk. Host a business meeting in the conference space, or eat your lunch in the atrium. Bring your toddler to story time, your tween to Legos, or your grandparent to technology tutoring. And talk to the librarians! They are experts waiting to connect you with the portals to discovery you are looking for.
PPL is a jewel in the crown of today’s dynamic, vibrant Portland.
It’s the kind of story that’s worth talking about.