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Queer on the Lower East Side: Beyond the Pale

Updated: Jan 10


Sunday, March 3, 2024, 3-4:30 pm Pacific

On March 3, the Yiddish Shmoozers (in Translation) will discuss the novel Beyond the Pale by Elana Dykewomon. Winner of the prestigious Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, an annual benchmark since 1987 of cutting-edge scholarship and creative work on LGBTQ+ topics, Beyond the Pale is the second of Elana Dykewomon's five prize-winning novels written over her lengthy career as writer, editor, and activist.

Elana Dykewomon at her home in Oakland before her death in 2022. Born Elana Nachman, she changed her name in the 1980s: “I chose ‘dyke’ for the power and ‘womon’ for the alliance,” she wrote in 2017. "I figured if I called myself Dykewomon,” she joked in a 2022 interview with The Jewish News of Northern California, “I would never get reviewed in The New York Times.” Poetic justice, as the NYT carried these comments and this photo in its lengthy obit.

The 400-page saga set in the Russian Pale and New York first appeared in 1997. It has since been kept continuously in print by independent presses with editions in 2003, 2013, and 2018. The blurb on the back of the current edition (Open Road, 2018) introduces the main characters and plot:

Born in a Russian-Jewish settlement, Gutke Gurvich is a midwife who immigrates to New York's Lower East Side with her partner, a woman passing as a man. Their story crosses with that of Chava Meyer, a girl who was attended by Gutke at her birth and was later orphaned during the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. Chava has come to American with the family of her cousin Rose, and the two girls begin working at fourteen. [Note: The girls experience the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 and become trade unionists.] As they live through the oppression and tragedies of their time, Chava and Rose grow to become lovers--and search for a community they can truly call their own.

This is an important work within the context of queer literature, Jewish immigration and labor history, and the Ashkenazic imaginary. --as updates to this blog will discuss. Anthropologists and longtime friends Donna Keren and Gelya Frank will co-facilitate this session. Stay tuned! More to come. -- GF 1/10/24

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