Saturday, August 7, 2010

Barrie Jean Borich

Here in blog-land, I return this month to my project of featuring writers I admire.

Barrie Jean Borich is the author of My Lesbian Husband, winner of the American Library Association GLBT Book Award. In preparation for a visit to her class at Hamline University this spring, I picked up the book, thinking that despite the obvious similarity - we’re both lesbian nonfiction writers - our lives and work would be wildly different.

And that’s true. I’m out the boonies; she’s in the city. I’m a former trails worker; she’s an established – and gifted – college professor. I have very few gay friends; she’s part of a large community.

Turns out none of that matters. Her book struck home with me. It’s a book about lesbianism – about identity and discovery and the joys and struggles of a long-term relationship – themes to which I can certainly relate; it’s also about family, neighbors, pets, and jobs. The language is rich and inventive and honest. The narrative structure, too, takes an original course, meandering through time while staying, well, wed, to her younger brother’s wedding and the feelings it inspires. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

My Lesbian Husband is largely about Minneapolis and various neighborhoods therein, her chosen home(s). Like the best nature writing, her descriptions brought the city, a place I’d never been when I read it, to life for me. Moreover, the way she grapples with the idea of home (especially in the fine chapter “Leaving Bohemia”) helped me understand that my own feelings aren’t as tied - or limited - to wilderness as I sometimes worry.

In a more recent essay, “Geographical Solutions” in the Fall 2009 issue of Ecotone, Borich boards the Amtrak “Empire Builder” and sets up her theme:

“… all Americans, even the most put-upon among us, might have a little bit of empire building in our makeup, some desire to refind the lost parts of ourselves through locating and owning, landing somewhere and inscribing our names.”

As she travels back to Chicago, where she grew up, she discovers that “There is a retaking that comes of reseeing.” Her work has helped me “re-see” some of my own ideas. For that, I’m grateful.

You can read “Geographical Solutions” at the Ecotone website:

For more about Barrie Jean Borich and her work, visit her website: