by Len Lear
The following is part two of an interview with Germantown journalist Victoria Brownworth, whose latest book, “Ordinary Mayhem,” about a female photojournalist in war zones, was published earlier this month:
When did you become the first “out” lesbian to have a column in a daily paper, and what paper was it?
I had been working for the Inquirer, and Rich Aregood, then-editor at the Daily News, loved my work and asked me if I’d be interested in writing a column for him. So I switched papers, and the rest is literally history. Rich, who won the Pulitzer Prize and is now teaching journalism, which is lucky for his students, was a terrific editor. He had real vision, and I was lucky that he had the foresight to realize that this was a demographic that needed to be addressed in daily newspapers. While I worked for him, I was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize twice.
When did your column, which dealt with gay issues end, and why?
I left the Daily News when they had a hiring freeze in the late 1990s and had to cut the paper by nearly 20 percent, which meant early retirements as well as outright “see ya” for folks who weren’t covered by the union. They cut half their columnists, and the “niche” ones went first, so I was out. I continued to do features and Op-Ed pieces for the Inquirer, and I was a book critic at the Baltimore Sun for 17 years until their bankruptcy and sale forced them to cut back drastically.
Please tell me about the history of Tiny Satchel Press.
I co-founded Tiny Satchel Press in 2010. I had been working for a New York publisher as an acquisitions editor for young adult books. And while I liked working with them, I was frustrated by hearing repeatedly that there was no room for books by either writers of color or LGBT writers for kids of color and LGBT kids. It was bothering me to be told that there was no readership for these books since I was mentoring kids of color in Germantown and knew they needed books for themselves with kids like themselves in the stories.
I was also bothered by how few books there were for girls of a certain age that were not solely romance-based. I was chairing a panel on women and publishing at the end of 2009 and met an African American author from New Jersey who had started her own press for romance novels by/for women of color. The books were gorgeous, and I thought (naively as it happened) I can do this. And so I did. Several of our books have won prestigious literary awards, so while the press has cost money rather than making any, and I donate as many books as we sell to schools and programs for kids, it has made a name for our writers, and it has changed the landscape, adding diverse books to the canon.
What other books have you written, edited or published?
I have published close to 30 books. Fiction and non-fiction as well as collections I have edited. My last book prior to “Ordinary Mayhem” was an anthology I edited called “From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth,” which won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for multicultural fiction and which was also nominated for the Coretta Scott King Award. Before that, my collection of short stories, “Day of the Dead,” won several literary awards.
Would you like to mention anything about your companion, Maddy Gold?
My fiancee — we are engaged to be married, now that the law has changed in PA —Maddy Gold is a local artist and art professor. She teaches at Drexel and University of the Arts and has shown her work locally and internationally. Both her parents are well-known local artists. We actually went to high school together and dated briefly then and in college. We met again 16 years ago after we had each ended long-term relationships and have been together since.
Anything else you would like to mention? Feel free to do so.
The reason “Ordinary Mayhem” is so important to me as a book is because I think the issue of violence against women must be addressed. Violence against women and girls is pandemic and has been cited by the World Health Organization and the UN as the worst health threat to women and girls worldwide, with one in three females worldwide being a victim of violence. That’s over a billion women and girls. A billion. So I wanted to focus on that “ordinary mayhem” which includes girls being raped at college, women being beheaded by ISIS, female genital mutilation, which has yet to be formally outlawed even in most countries in the West, and which I have campaigned against; child marriage, rape in conflict zones, etc.
Part of the novel takes place in the Congo. So my main character is covering these issues because they are pandemic. I wanted to tell the story of what happens to those of us who cover violence and predation on a daily basis. These are not easy stories to tell, and as I have been told, my book is not an easy book to read. In part that’s because this stuff is real; it’s not vampires and zombies. It’s guys who say hi to you on a street in Germantown in broad daylight and then almost kill you. But that’s why I had to write “Ordinary Mayhem.” For all the victims.
“Ordinary Mayhem,” published by Bold Strokes Books, is available online and at major booksellers. For more about Victoria, visit www.victoriabrownworth.com.