"Scene" is AfterEllen.com’s monthly (usually) series of articles focusing on the lesbian happenings in a town near you. For previous installments, go here.
Define New York City’s lesbian life in a few words? Fuhgettaboutit! There’s no simple way to describe this town. We peek into the multiple lesbian/bi communities of New York by visiting the literary scene, hobnobbing with corporate lesbians, mixing with calendar girls, rubbing elbows with politicos, hanging with Margaret Cho, and reminiscing with Ann Bannon. In September, like always, the place speaks for itself.
Scene 1: Nightlight: A Memoir Book Release Party
Mercedes Benz Fashion Week had already concluded uptown, but chic eyewear remained in vogue as literary lesbians poured into Housing Works Used Books Café in Soho. Crowded into the library-like venue decorated with rolling ladders and a prominent staircase, the mix of brainy women and their straight counterparts presented an unusual Saturday night situation, even for New York.
Of course, this was no ordinary affair between the paperbacks. Nearly 200 friends, family members and colleagues were gathered to celebrate the publication of out author and educator Janine Avril’s first book, Nightlight: A Memoir (Alyson Books).
She conveyed the seriousness of her festive intentions when she announced that food for everyone was on the way from Carmine’s, the Southern Italian restaurant known for its heaping, family-style portions of Caesar salad, baked ziti and lasagna.
Nightlight is the coming-of-age tale of Avril, who grapples with the deaths of both her parents — her father to AIDS — before she reaches her 20s. When she is 21, she learns a shocking family secret that prompts her to re-evaluate her childhood and undergo a deeply personal journey.
Avril, now 31 and a graduate of Cornell University, believes her book may be the first memoir of a child survivor of AIDS. "I wrote the book because I discovered as an adult that my childhood was not what I thought it to be," she explained. "When I learned what it was, I realized that it was a story that was probably more common than is actually spoken about. I wanted to be a voice to address something that I know people have experienced, often quietly."
Many of those assembled for Avril’s party know her as the beloved creator of Girlsalon, a monthly forum for queer and women writers in New York City that she founded in 2002. Although accustomed to literary fêtes, Avril admitted she was amazed at the how her book launch drew people together from all areas of her life. The ecstatic pattern of her dress seemed to telegraph her mood as well as the appreciation of the attendees.
Always a gracious hostess, Avril encouraged people to mingle before she read from the first chapter of her book. She sweetly introduced her guests to the characters "Papa," who worked as a popular French chef in Manhattan, and "Mama." When she finished, her uncle delivered a moving testimony to her strength and courage.
Soon afterward, everyone began to stream toward the back of the room. The pasta had arrived.