by Lou Mancinelli
Mt. Airy author, journalist and teacher Anndee Hochman is breaking down walls and telling the stories of people who for years had been largely overlooked.
“Words link lives,” Hochman, 50, the author of two books, one non-fiction and one fiction, and numerous pieces of journalism, writes on her website. “Stories invite us to crawl inside another’s skin, to prowl the same old world with different eyes.”
In her work as a journalist and author, Hochman has routinely told the stories of people who have made different family choices from the traditional mom, dad and kids American family arrangement. She has written extensively about adoption, foster care, assisted reproduction and same-sex parenting. But she has also interviewed urban chicken farmers, tattoo artists, professional childproofers and dream researchers.
And Anndee is breaking down walls by building youths’ and adults’ communication and reading skills as a teacher with the New Jersey Writers Project and the Arts In Education program of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, with which she has been involved since 1992, among others.
“In my classes,” she insists, “whether in public or private schools, after-school programs, juvenile detention facilities or senior centers, every voice matters; every child or adult can find strength in self-expression. Our work is both rigorous and playful. We learn to believe in the potential of each poem or story, and we respond to our own and others’ work in an effort to make the meaning shine.”
A freelance writer for publications like the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsworks’ Speak Easy column, the Huffington Post, O, The Oprah Magazine and many others, Hochman has long explored subjects generally hidden from mainstream America (although that has changed significantly in recent years).
For example, “Sperm Search: As children of lesbians who used donor insemination come of age, Anndee Hochman explores issues that arise when donors make their IDs available,” which was published in 2003 in “Out,” a gay and lesbian magazine.
In her short-story “In Case Of Emergency,” the daughter of lesbian parents asks if their friend Hank, who’s been sleeping on the couch, can take her to a father-daughter basketball dinner. The story is part of her second book, “Anatomies: A Novella and Stories” (Picadoor USA, 2000), a collection of short stories.
As a young women in her 20s living in Portland, Oregon, Hochman became interested in stories of people who arranged their lives in different ways than the traditional heterosexual marriage. She remembers one specific incident that caused her to write an essay.
Two of her roommates, a man and a woman, became engaged and were met with a shower of praise from people, even strangers, wishing them luck and congratulating them, as if they had caught hold of a powerful secret.
“I became interested in why that particular form of marriage configuration was such a source of societal approval and privilege,” said Hochman, “when what I saw was many different kinds of families, different ways of raising children.”
Like women who chose to remain single. Or same-sex parents. She was looking for those kinds of specific arrangements for her first book, “Everyday Acts & Small Subversions: Women Reinventing Family, Community and Home” (The Eighth Mountain Press 1994). A collection of stories and essays about all the different ways there are to make a family, it was named one of the “100 Most Important Feminist Books of the Century” by Sojourner magazine.
The book stemmed from an essay she wrote for “Just Out,” a Portland LGBT publication, exploring the issue of societal praise her roommates’ engagement generated. She wanted to give a voice to the families who “were not getting mainstream airplay.”
Hochman’s mother, Gloria, is also a prolific journalist who has written numerous long-form pieces for the Inquirer, and Anndee’s own writing career began her freshmen year of college as a reporter for the Yale University newspaper,. By junior year she was editor-in-chief. After graduating from Yale in 1984, she took a summer internship with The Washington Post.
By the end of the year, she was hired full-time on the metro desk. She worked at the Post for two years before realizing she didn’t want to be a journalist anymore. “It can’t really be called a midlife crisis because I was only 22 at the time,” said Hochman. “The way I describe it now is that I was running away from home at 22.”
Anndee’s great-grandparents ran a bakery in what is now Northern Liberties. Raised in Wynnwood, she attended Lower Merion schools throughout her primary education.
When she left her coveted job at one of the nation’s top newspapers, she became an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer and landed in Portland, Oregon, where she worked with a homeless shelter that helped kids living on the streets get a meal and a shower.
She stayed with the organization, Outside In, for seven years. When she moved back to Philadelphia in 1993, to West Mt. Airy, it was because her partner, Elissa, was going to grad school at Bryn Mawr College while helping to raise their 13-year-old daughter.
It was while she was in Oregon that Hochman decided to freelance again. She wrote for the alternative weekly paper, similar to the City Paper, and for The Oregonian, a Sunday magazine. There she covered a psychotherapy cult that had ensnared a number of people in Portland in the 1980s. And she wrote about two zealous sisters from a Catholic family, one a passionate pro-choice advocate, the other a zealous pro-lifer.
When she moved back to Philadelphia, she began writing book reviews for the Inquirer and growing her freelance portfolio.
This March, she wrote an essay for “Brain, Child,” a mothers’ magazine, about some situations she has faced as a same-sex parent with her 13-year-old daughter. “Those are parenting issues,” she said about how to communicate with her teenage daughter, “not lesbian-parenting or gay-parenting issues.”
Anndee explains poignantly, “I use language to discover, chronicle, subvert and understand. I write, and the words change me. I go back into the glittering, broken world to listen some more.”
For more information visit AnndeeHochman.com.