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Pride Month with Michael Helquist

June 27, 2017

Michael Helquist, author of Marie Equi: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions, is joining us today in celebration of Pride Month. His biography of this little-known woman received the 2016 American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book Award. Marie Equi was one of the first women physicians in the West. She received a medal from the US Army for her help to San Francisco earthquake victims in 1906. Throughout her career, she leveraged her professional status to fight for women's suffrage, workers' rights, fair pay, and reproductive rights. She was eventually imprisoned in San Quentin for her protest of World War I.

To get better acquainted with Michael Helquist and Marie Equi, make sure to check out his website.

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Powerful Stuff: Reading Your Book for a Live Audience

Actor and author Jeffrey Tambor recently exalted the effect of authors reading their books out loud in a bookstore. "It's theater," he remarked in a New York Times interview of May 18, 2017. "Different venues-- same goal-- as E.m. Forster wrote, 'Connect! ... Only connect.'"

The connection between author and readers can be powerful and transformative. I've presented my biography of the early woman physician and political radical Marie Equi for dozens of gatherings. Each time I feel that I'm performing with the words, phrases and rhythms that survived a steady stream of revisions.

I get an extra charge from knowing I'm presenting the life of a remarkable but little-known woman. Audiences often allow me privileged access to their own inner lives-- their appreciation for my protagonist or their disinterest, their sharing a laugh with the person next to them or their close following of the obstacles my character encountered. Sometimes I witness eyes widening, smiles broadening, and heads nodding with affirmation.

Often the Q and A is the best part of an author event. This is a time when the connection between author and reader becomes more immediate, spontaneous, and personal. I can embellish my story-telling, and I gain insight into what intrigued listeners. I often wait for a question never before asked. At my most recent reading in an Oakland, California bookstore, an older woman inquired how I felt as a man writing the biography of a woman and why I was drawn to do so. This was the question I expected to be asked at an author event sooner or later.

I explained that Marie Equi did not leave extensive journals-- or they were discarded by others soon after her death. I would have relied heavily on those to understand her experiences as an individual and as a woman. Instead, I wrote about what she did and what was known about her beliefs and thoughts. I avoided inserting my thoughts of how she "must have" felt. And I came to believe that Equi's actions revealed much about what was important to her. I also disclosed more about myself, how I identified with Equi's outsider status and her overcoming many obstacles.

Interactions like these with listeners and readers make the theatrical connection more intimate and powerful, and I look forward to more.

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