For readers of Saidiya Hartman and Jeanette Winterson, Lesbian Love Story is an intimate journey into the archives—uncovering the romances and role models written out of history and what their stories can teach us all about how to love
When Amelia Possanza moved to Brooklyn to build a life of her own, she found herself surrounded by queer stories: she read them on landmark placards, overheard them on the pool deck when she joined the world’s largest LGBTQ swim team, and even watched them on TV in her cockroach-infested apartment. These stories inspired her to seek out lesbians throughout history who could become her role models, in romance and in life.
Centered around seven love stories for the ages, this is Possanza’s journey into the archives to recover the personal histories of lesbians in the twentieth century: who they were, how they loved, why their stories were destroyed, and where their memories echo and live on. Possanza’s hunt takes readers from a drag king show in Bushwick to the home of activists in Harlem and then across the ocean to Hadrian’s Library, where she searches for traces of Sappho in the ruins. Along the way, she discovers her own love—for swimming, for community, for New York City—and adds her record to the archive.
At the heart of this riveting, inventive history, Possanza asks: How could lesbian love help us reimagine care and community? What would our world look like if we replaced its foundation of misogyny with something new, with something distinctly lesbian?
In her impressive debut, Possanza stitches together personal memoir, painstaking research, and fictional imaginings with a fluid style and a sure hand. Lesbians, Possanza asserts, "invent their own systems of love"—romantic, family, friend—"even when they are at risk of losing everything," yet remain largely ignored by history. So Possanza, determined to restore her own curdling concept of love, became a "collector of lesbians," exhuming hidden histories to see what she and other cynics might learn from their lesbian forebears. She tracked down Mary Casal's 1930 lesbian memoir, The Stone Wall, and learned it was written by Ruth White Fuller, who shielded her identity with a pen name. Subsequent chapters highlight Mabel Hampton, cofounder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharias, ancient Greek singer Sappho ("the patron saint of today's lesbians"), male impersonator Rusty Brown, Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldúa, and writer Amy Hoffman. Possanza's sensuous prose also introduces fictive elements: in Hampton's first encounter with her lover Lillian, Possanza imagines the two meeting "on a downtown sidewalk thatched with leaves turned gold by the alchemy of the season." Throughout, she weaves the threads beautifully. This is an outstanding work of literary scholarship that also delivers a vulnerable, intimate portrait of its author.