Fourteen Hills reconnects with award-winning fiction writer and San Francisco State University Professor, Nona Caspers (Fourteen Hills 1.1, 11.1, New Standards Anthology), to talk about her recent book, Lawfully Wedded Wives. She, along with Joell Hallowell, edited a compilation of interviews and photographs of lesbian couples sharing their hilarious, moving, and honest stories of marriage and married life. Copies of the book can be purchased for discount at http://www.spuytenduyvil.net/lawfully-wedded-wives.html. View a video (free of charge) about the book and brides at www.weddedwives.com.
--Interview with Fourteen Hills Web Content Editor, Sommer Schafer
Fourteen Hills: What inspired you to write and edit Lawfully Wedded Wives?
Nona Caspers: I was going through a divorce. We owned a flat together, had raised a dog, ten years of family holidays, and then she had an affair (which doesn't really tell you anything) and we began to dismantle the whole shebang. I was left feeling bewildered—no—beyond that—about relationships. Completely confused. One morning during this splitting up process, Joell and I were walking around Stow Lake with our dogs and we started talking about working on an oral history book together. I said I'd like to talk to people in long-term relationships about how they get through the sloppy stuff, the putrid dynamics, the affairs—because people do stay together after affairs I hear. I wanted the stories about the on and on of partnership. At the same time, all these women were getting legally married during the window before Prop 8 passed, rushing to the altar. The next week, Joell said, “let's talk to the women who got married before Prop 8 passed.” I thought, oh no. Not those women; they're in the happy happy phase. I thought hearing their stories would plummet me into the abyss. But I said yes anyway, because I really was curious about why anyone would want to get legally married and make divorce that much more stony. And I really wanted to hear how they made the decision to marry—what that meant to them, what marriage is for lesbians in the 21st century.
FH: When did you begin the project and how long did it take?
Caspers: A long time. We began interviewing in April of 2009. Students from San Francisco State University transcribed the interviews over several semesters as part of the SFSU Community Projects in Literature course. Joell and I went back and forth with edits, back and forth with couples. Gathered photographs. Found readers to give us feedback.
FH: What was the process like of finding and interviewing the couples?
Caspers: We put ads on blogs and sent out emails to our friends, family, and other connections across California. Women would email us if they wanted to participate—they'd tell us a bit of their stories. And people would say, "OH, you have to talk with so ‘n so." We wanted the stories to range from reluctant brides to always-wanted-to-marry brides. From long-time couples to new couples; from mothers, activists, teachers and police officers. One bride came in on a horse (they were married at their ranch). One reception featured a surprise Bollywood dance number. One couple harvested their own flowers and were married in a park in Oakland where the Black Panthers met.
At the first interview, I think it was with Sarah Grace and Deb, we all talked and laughed and got teary eyed. I walked out of the house and said to Joell, "Oh, this is love. This is heartening." The women were all so generous and open; their ideas and feelings about marriage surprised and inspired me. An honest desire to be recognized and to belong to family and community and to each other.
FH: Why do you think that a book like this is important? Did you set out with a specific goal in mind or simply to find and relay real-life stories of same-sex female couples?
Caspers: A few years back I was spending time with my large Catholic family—this little story is in my forward in the book. I was standing in the bathroom in front of my mother's wall-to-wall vanity mirror, brushing my hair, when a gaggle of nieces aged five to twelve appeared in the doorway, giggling. I asked them, "What's up?" They nudged each other and made silly faces, and then one of them spoke up. "Nona," she said. "Can girls really marry girls?" They became quiet. I looked at myself in the mirror, and then turned to them and said, "Girls can do whatever girls want to do." It's not really true—but it was the right thing to say. That's why this book needs to be in the world, with all these varying personal stories and photographs—to show that girls can do what they want to do—girls who want to get married to girls, can. Maybe the stories and images can extend possibilities, what we can imagine.
FH: What do you hope the book does, i.e.; do you hope it helps lead to continued political and cultural changes regarding homosexual marriage; that it helps educate and enlighten society; that it simply appeals to people for its true stories? All of the above?
Caspers: I hope lots of people enjoy the stories and photos. I hope the stories inspire readers to think and rethink marriage and community and family. These are meaningful stories, heartfelt, honest, funny. I hope readers feel an emotional connection, are moved by the stories. If that translates into a wider view for some, wonderful.
FH: What have the differences been between writing, compiling, and editing this book of non-fiction, and doing the same with your own fiction?
Caspers: So different. This was more like sculpting from material given to me, entrusted to me. Joell and I were very careful while editing the 45 page transcripts into 6-7 page stories to honor the women's voices and distill the essential part of their stories. We did keep in mind the whole, pulling forward different aspects, different views. For example, in one story we emphasized the couple's discovery that marriage could be about twoness--that it could make them more themselves, make the world larger, not smaller. "Finding our own version of marriage has made me feel incredibly happy," Laine from Laine and Renee said. We looked for the heart and heat in their interviews and sculpted around that, and then carefully fit the pieces together to make the whole a dimensioned thing. Or at least we intended that.
FH: Do you have one or two favorite stories from the book?
Caspers: I love some particular thing from each one. The humor in Lane and Renee's story—some of them are really funny—the way Sara and Paloma honestly talk about how different they are and their reservations and troubles in the first year. Just for examples. Each one really does offer a perspective, an angle into this age-old thing of falling in love and building some relationship and making that relationship belong to a social force, getting sanctioned by family, friends, society. I loved it when Paloma said, "You say that you're married, and everyone gets it." For better or worse, everyone gets it.
FH: One of my favorite parts of the book is the photos of the couples. They’re wonderful. Some of the couples, however, have chosen not to be photographed for the book. Why is that?
Caspers: People gave us their personal photos—so moving—some from professional photographers and then some off the cuff because they hadn't planned anything. Other couples just didn't want photos in the book for personal reasons, or didn't have photos with high-enough resolution.
The photos knock me out—I don't know why. I get teary looking at them—sentimental. They are just so charged with triumph and joy and whimsy and love and humor and personal culture. Jumping over a broom, smudging and special teas and Native American blessings. These people are wild.
FH: What projects are you working on now?
Caspers: A story collection "This Isn't What I Came to Say." The voice and perspective of a woman reconstructing a time period after her first lover Michelle died—she lives inside the tilted sometimes strangely beautiful world of grief. And I'm working on a longer narrative, a long story, maybe a novel. I'm inhabiting three voices, all of whom loved a girl named Lily, who dies before the book begins. I am endlessly intrigued and bewildered by death, that permanent loss, and how it blows people apart and open, and allows in weird perceptions, heightened perceptions. Grief adds a shimmer to the world, makes us more aware of shadows and light.
Join the book release party on Thursday, November 7, 6:30-8 PM at the James C. Hormel Room (3rd floor) of the Main Library, 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco. Civic Center BART, MUNI, and parking garages are within easy access. Come with your copy of the book, available in print at http://www.spuytenduyvil.net/lawfully-wedded-wives.html and E-book at http://amzn.to/16nBVt6.