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Possanza's book focuses on 7 lesbian couples representing eras of the 20th century


When writer Amelia Possanza moved to Brooklyn, she found herself, for the first time, surrounded by queer stories on historical placards, on her LGBTQ swim team and on her TV screen. But these stories were rarely about lesbians or lesbians in love. So Possanza began a journey to uncover the romances and role models written out of history. NPR's Julie Depenbrock has the story.

JULIE DEPENBROCK, BYLINE: Amelia Possanza is a part-time writer and a full-time publicist.

AMELIA POSSANZA: So I like to think of this project as me taking on being the publicist for lesbians.

DEPENBROCK: Her book, "Lesbian Love Story: A Memoir In Archives," focuses on seven couples, each representing a different era in the 20th century.

POSSANZA: And they're not, you know, traditionally well-known people. It's not, oh, here's the story of how Eleanor Roosevelt was secretly a lesbian, or here's the story of Emily Dickinson, who was maybe in love with her brother's wife. It's people who really kind of lived daringly and left some record of living a queer life.

DEPENBROCK: There's also a surprising amount about swimming in the book. Part of that, Possanza says, could be her own bias. She swims for a gay and lesbian aquatic team in New York. Another part is just what it means to feel free in your body.

POSSANZA: One sort of unexpected thing that came up for me in writing is there's so much policing of what women, lesbians, queer people wore, and that policing actually became a way of just policing queerness in general. Today we have drag bans in certain states, and before those existed, you know, before there was explicit terminology to ban these things, it was - a lot of it was based on what you wore. And I think the beach was somewhere to be free of that, especially if you could find a nude beach, if you could be in the water.

DEPENBROCK: Possanza didn't grow up with many stories about lesbians, but, she says, they're right there, even when the word is not used, even when that part of their story is erased.

POSSANZA: I come from a really nerdy family of readers. My father is a classicist, and my mother is a librarian, and I think they very much raised me to believe that, like, oh, if you're going to have an experience and you're nervous about it or you don't know about it, you can go read a book about it, right? Getting ready to go to school, getting ready to live away from home, there's all these stories to sort of guide you. And I realized that there actually weren't a lot of stories that I had about lesbians to guide me. And so I think doing this project made me start thinking about what gets you remembered, what generates records. You know, prisons generate records. Governments generate records. You know, sometimes being in love doesn't generate records.

DEPENBROCK: But Mary Casal and Mabel Hampton did leave records. Casal met the love of her life in a hotel lobby in 1892 and then wrote her own memoir. Hampton stayed with her partner for 40 years and lent her voice to the Lesbian Herstory Archives, a New York City-based museum dedicated to preserving lesbian history. Too often, queer stories end in tragedy. But what binds these stories together is how these lesbians create pockets of safety, security and community, even in the most hostile circumstances.

Julie Depenbrock, NPR News.

MARTÍNEZ: And if you're looking to add something to your Pride month reading list, Amelia Possanza's book, "Lesbian Love Story: A Memoir In Archives," has just been released. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie Depenbrock
Julie Depenbrock (she/her) is an assistant producer on Morning Edition. Previously, she worked at The Washington Post and on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show. Depenbrock holds a master's in journalism with a focus in investigative reporting from the University of Maryland. Before she became a journalist, she was a first grade teacher in Rosebud, South Dakota. Depenbrock double-majored in French and English at Lafayette College. She has a particular interest in covering education, LGBTQ issues and the environment. She loves dogs, hiking, yoga and reading books for work (and pleasure).