Late on a Friday afternoon in June 2019, my husband and I were just beginning a weekend road-trip when my phone beeped to indicate I had a new email message. I scanned quickly before shouting, “You are not going to believe this!”
“What’s wrong?” my husband replied apprehensively from the driver’s seat.
“That’s it! The official word from the University Press of Mississippi (UPM). They are going to publish my book. I can finally relax.”
Today, looking back on that moment, I think, “little did I know.”
The time between that email and the publication of my first book in May 2020 was a roller coaster of emotions for me. At first there were the exciting, surreal moments: seeing the book proofs of the manuscript I had re-written and revised for years; the scheduling of book signings and talks; the feeling of holding my book for the first time in my hands. But then, as it became apparent that COVID-19 was not going away, the disappointment when events were cancelled; the frustration that of all times to publish a book, mine had to be during a pandemic.
Around the time my book was officially released, I remember a staff member in marketing welcoming me to the “family.” I was skeptical. Even if I was part of a larger team of UPM staff and authors, any chance of connecting with them in person at an event like the Mississippi Book Festival had vanished. “Maybe someday in the future when the pandemic is in the rearview mirror,” I thought.
Months later, though, anticipation and hope have pushed aside the disappointment. I have been surprised to discover that being a member of the UPM family has enabled me to join a shared voice in, not only promoting my own work, but promoting a discipline.
As the denial that the pandemic would continue past the summer changed to acceptance, we realized that we had to do more than send out tweets and posts on Facebook. When I say “we,” I mean me and two other UPM authors who published books in LGBTQ+ studies. Seeing our books marketed together in advertisements, we contacted each other and worked with the marketing director to hold a virtual panel discussion in June entitled “Queer Souths: Memory, Change, Love, and Marriage.” That proved to be the “beginning of beautiful friendship.” Three of us first-time authors on that panel, Morris Ardoin, Phillip “Pip” Gordon, and myself, began promoting each other on our social media sites. We were soon meeting virtually each week to share ideas and consider how we could collaborate.
I already admired Morris and Pip as authors. I did not anticipate that they would become regular collaborators and friends.
Today, our “business meetings” often evolve into a virtual happy hour, as we talk about everything from when we first came out to our parents to our past relationships to our plans for the future as authors, and, of course, to living during a pandemic.
So, like any friends, we decided to go on a new adventure together; what Morris called a “wonderful and crazy idea.” We started a podcast. Housed on the New Books Network, we interview other authors of LGBTQ+ studies books, especially those that have focused on or in some way given voice to the lives of queer southerners. Our podcast is aptly named “Voices of the Queer South.”
When UPM decided to publish and market our books, they gave each of us a voice to tell stories of the queer South, both past and present, which had been silenced or ignored. In effect, by inviting us into the UPM family, they elevated what were single voices, to a shared voice in Morris, Pip, and me, as we, in turn, work to promote other voices of the queer South.