Jewelle Gomez

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Jewelle Gomez
Kim shuck jewell gomez l frank reid gomez.jpg
Native women writers left to right, Kim Shuck (Cherokee-Sac and Fox), Jewelle Gomez (Iowa), L. Frank (Tongva-Acjachemen) and Reid Gómez (Navajo)
Born (1948-09-11) September 11, 1948 (age 74)
OccupationWriter, critic

Jewelle Gomez (born September 11, 1948) is an American author, poet, critic and playwright. She lived in New York City for 22 years, working in public television, theater, as well as philanthropy, before relocating to the West Coast. Her writing—fiction, poetry, essays and cultural criticism—has appeared in a wide variety of outlets, both feminist and mainstream. Her work centers on women's experiences,[1] particularly those of LGBTQ women of color.[2] She has been interviewed for several documentaries focused on LGBT rights and culture.


Jewelle Gomez was born on September 11, 1948, in Boston, Massachusetts, to Dolores Minor LeClaire, a nurse, and John Gomez, a bartender.[3] Gomez was raised by her great-grandmother, Grace, who was born on Indian land in Iowa to an African-American mother and Ioway father.[4][1][5] Grace returned to New England before she was 14, when her father died, and she was married to John E. Morandus, a Wampanoag and descendant of Massasoit, the sachem for whom Massachusetts was named.

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s Gomez was shaped socially and politically by the close family ties with her great-grandmother, Grace, and grandmother Lydia. Their history of independence as well as marginalization in an African-American community are referenced throughout her work. "Grace A." from the collection Don't Explain is an early example.[6][7] During her high school and college years Gomez was involved with Black political and social movements which is reflected in much of her writing. Subsequent years in New York City she spent in Black theater including work with the Frank Silvera Writers Workshop and many years as a stage manager for off-Broadway productions.[8]

During this time she became involved in lesbian feminist activism and magazine publication. She was a member of Conditions, a lesbian feminist literary magazine. More of her recent writing has begun to reflect her Native American (Ioway, Wampanoag) heritage.


Describing herself as a possible "foremother of Afrofuturism,"[9] Gomez is the author of seven books, including the double Lambda Literary Award-winning novel The Gilda Stories (Firebrand Books, 1991) .[10] This novel has been in print since 1991 and reframes traditional vampire mythology by taking a lesbian feminist perspective; it is an adventure about an escaped slave who comes of age over two hundred years. According to scholar Elyce Rae Helford, "Each stage of Gilda's personal voyage is also a study of life as part of multiple communities, all at the margins of mainstream white middle-class America."[11]

She also authored the theatrical adaptation of The Gilda Stories. Entitled Bones and Ash, the play began touring in 1996 and was performed in 13 U.S. cities by the Urban Bush Women Company.[12] The 25th-anniversary edition of The Gilda Stories includes a new foreword written by Gomez as well as an afterword written by Alexis Pauline Gumbs.[13]

Her other books include Don't Explain, a collection of short fiction; 43 Septembers, a collection of personal/political essays; and Oral Tradition: Selected Poems Old and New. Each of these collections feature Gomez' episodic approach, which John Howard has argued is a means of demonstrating the "linkages between current-day freedom struggles and the social/ political movements of prior generations."[2]

Her fiction and poetry is included in more than a hundred anthologies, including the first anthology of Black speculative fiction, Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (2000)[14] edited by Sheree R. Thomas;[15] Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology from Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, Daughters of Africa edited by Margaret Busby (1992), and Best American Poetry of 2001, edited by Robert Hass.[16]

Gomez has written literary and film criticism for numerous publications including The Village Voice, the San Francisco Chronicle, Ms. and The Black Scholar.[17] She particularly praises The Village Voice for helping her to develop as a writer.[18]

Over the past 25 years she has been frequently interviewed in periodicals and journals, including a September 1993 Advocate article where writer Victoria Brownworth[19] discussed her writing origins and political interests. In the Journal of Lesbian Studies (Vol. 5, No. 3) she was interviewed for a special issue entitled "Funding Lesbian Activism." This interview linked her career in philanthropy with her political roots. She was also interviewed for the 1999 film After Stonewall.[20]

Gomez has also written a comic novel, Televised, recounting the lives of survivors of the Black Nationalist movement, which was excerpted in the 2002 anthology Gumbo,[21] edited by Marita Golden and E. Lynn Harris.

She authored a play about James Baldwin, Waiting For Giovanni, in 2010 in collaboration with Harry Waters Jr., an actor and professor in the theatre department at MacAlester College.[22] Readings have been held in San Francisco at Intersection for the Arts[23] at a seminar on Baldwin at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., at the Yellow Springs Writers Workshop in Ohio, AfroSolo Festival and the 2009 National Black Theatre Festival. Gomez and Waters were interviewed on the public radio program Fresh Fruit on KFAI[24] by host Dixie Trechel in 2008. The segment also includes two short readings from the script. Gomez wrote the play Leaving the Blues in 2017 about singer Alberta Hunter which premiered in 2017 at San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre Center.[25]

Both Waiting for Giovanni and Leaving the Blues have been produced by TOSOS Theatre Company in New York City.[26] Leaving the Blues received a 2020 Audelco Award nomination for Best Play and won awards for Lead Actress in a Play (Rosalind Brown) and Featured Actor in a Play (Benjamin Mapp).[27]

Gomez contributed to Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times, edited by Carolina De Robertis and published by Vintage Books in 2017. In Radical Hope, her letter, "Not a Moment but a Movement," is a tribute to her maternal great-grandmother, whom she calls "Grace A." In May 2017, Gomez, along with other contributors, read her work at the book launch party for Radical Hope at Laurel Bookstore in Oakland.

New writing for Gomez includes Unpacking in Ptown Archived 2020-02-23 at the Wayback Machine, the third play in the trilogy "Words and Music." It is set to premiere at New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco in the Fall of 2021.


Gomez' activism on behalf of LGBTQ rights is "grounded in the history of race and gender in America."[2] In "The Marches," an essay in Don't Explain, she writes, "[N]o one of us should feel we can leave someone behind in the struggle for liberation."

Gomez was on the original staff of Say Brother (now Basic Black), one of the first weekly Black television shows (WGBH-TV Boston, 1968), and was on the founding board of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in 1984.[28]

She also served on the early boards of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation and the Open Meadows Foundation, both devoted to funding women's organizations and activities. She's been a member of the board of the Cornell University Human Sexuality Archives and the advisory board of the James Hormel LGBT Center of the main San Francisco Public Library. She was a member of the loose-knit philanthropic collective founded in San Francisco in 1998 called 100 Lesbians and Our Friends. The group, co-founded by Andrea Gillespie and Diane Sabin, was designed to educate lesbians who were culturally miseducated—as women—about the use of money and benefits of philanthropy. The philosophy of making "stretch gifts" (not reducing contributions already being made) to lesbian groups and projects raised more than $200,000 in two years.

She was a commencement speaker at the University of California Berkeley's Women and Gender Studies Commencement,[29] the University of California at Los Angeles Queer Commencement, and acted as a keynote speaker twice for Gay Pride in New York City and as a host for Pride San Francisco.

She and her partner, Dr. Diane Sabin, were among the litigants against the state of California suing for the right to legal marriage.[30] The case was brought to the courts by the City Attorney of San Francisco, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Gomez has written extensively about gay rights since the 1980s, including articles on equal marriage in Ms. Magazine and has been quoted extensively during the court case.[31] In May 2008 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the litigants, allowing marriage between same-sex couples in the state of California. Such ceremonies may legally begin after 30 days, allowing municipalities to make administrative changes. Gomez and Sabin were among 18,000 couples married in California before (Proposition 8), which banned further same-sex marriages in California, was approved by the voters on November 4, 2008.[32]


Formerly the executive director of the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University, she has also had a long career in philanthropy. She was the director of Cultural Equity Grants at the San Francisco Arts Commission and the director of the Literature Program for the New York State Council on the Arts.[33]

She has presented lectures and taught at numerous institutions of higher learning including San Francisco State University, Hunter College, Rutgers University, New College of California, Grinnell College, San Diego City College, Ohio State University, and the University of Washington (Seattle). She is the former director of the Literature Program at the New York State Council on the Arts and of Cultural Equity Grants at the San Francisco Arts Commission.[34] She also served as executive director of the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University.[4]

She is currently employed as Director of Grants and Community Initiatives for Horizons Foundation,[35] the oldest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender foundation in the US. She formerly served as the President of the San Francisco Public Library Commission.[36][37]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • The Gilda Stories: Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition (City Lights Publishers, 2016)
  • Don't Explain: Short Fiction (Firebrand Books, 1998)
  • Swords of the Rainbow (Alyson Books, 1996, edited with Eric Garber)
  • Oral Tradition: Selected Poems Old and New (Firebrand Books, 1995)
  • Forty-Three Septembers (Firebrand Books, 1993)
  • The Gilda Stories: A Novel (Firebrand Books, 1991)
  • Flamingos and Bears (Grace Publications, 1986)
  • The Lipstick Papers (1980)


  1. ^ a b "Today I Saw Desire: An Interview with Jewelle Gomez". R. L. Martinez. April 28, 2015. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Howard, John (1994). Gomez, Jewelle (ed.). "Selected Strands of Identity". Callaloo. 17 (4): 1276–1278. doi:10.2307/2932202. JSTOR 2932202.
  3. ^ "Gomez, Jewelle 1948–". Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  4. ^ a b Bader, Eleanor J. "Celebrating Lesbian Vampires: City Lights Books Releases Anniversary Edition of The Gilda Stories". Truthout. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  5. ^ “Before Stonewall – A Personal Journey” by Jewelle Gomez, PRIDE GUIDE, 1984, pp. 28–30
  6. ^ Gomez, Jewelle (1998). Don't explain : short fiction. Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand Books. ISBN 9781563410956. OCLC 38732227.
  7. ^ "Don't Explain". needtochange. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  8. ^ Nahmod, David-Elijah (February 24, 2017). "Meet Artist, Activist & Castro Regular Jewelle Gomez". Hoodline. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  9. ^ "Of Afrofuturism and Social Change". The Gay & Lesbian Review. 21 June 2016. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  10. ^ "Guide to the Jewelle Gomez Interview, 1998", Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
  11. ^ Utopian Studies, March 22, 2001.
  12. ^ Keehnen, Owen (1993). "Family Matters: An interview with Jewelle Gomez". Archived from the original on August 14, 2007. Retrieved August 11, 2007.
  13. ^ Gomez, Jewelle (2016). The Gilda stories (Expanded 25th anniversary ed.). San Francisco. ISBN 978-0872866744. OCLC 929863391.
  14. ^ "Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora", Hachette Book Group USA.
  15. ^ Sheree R. Thomas, AALBC.
  16. ^ The Best American Poetry Series | Series Archive
  17. ^ Gomez, Jewelle; Kovattana, Amanda (2001). "The Jewelle Gomez Stories as Told to Amanda Kovattana". Journal of Lesbian Studies. 5 (3): 79–86. doi:10.1300/J155v05n03_09. PMID 24802826. S2CID 207254352.
  18. ^ Fonseca (August 22, 2012). "Jewelle Gomez, Lesbian Trailblazer: The Autostraddle Interview". Autostraddle. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  19. ^ Victoria A Brownworth Archived June 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ "After Stonewall: From the Riots to the Millennium | UC Berkeley Library". Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  21. ^ Marita Golden and E. Lynn Harris (eds), Gumbo: An Anthology of African American Writing Archived May 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Harry Waters Jr. Archived 2016-08-03 at the Wayback Machine MacAlester College.
  23. ^ Intersection for the Arts
  24. ^ KFAI Radio Without Boundaries | 90.3 Minneapolis | 106.7 St. Paul Archived June 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ Doyle, Doug. "Jewelle Gomez's 'Leaving the Blues' Looks Deeper into Singer Alberta Hunter". Retrieved 2020-08-04.
  26. ^ "TOSOS: Past Productions". Retrieved 1 June 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  27. ^ "2019 – 2020 Theatre Season: Winners and Honorees". Audelco Awards. December 2020. Retrieved June 1, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  28. ^ "Jewelle Gomez on Queer Activism, Feminism, and Founding GLAAD - OUT FRONT". OUT FRONT. January 12, 2018. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  29. ^ "GWS Commencement". Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  30. ^ "California Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments in Marriage Case on March 4" (Press Release), NCLR.
  31. ^ Wyatt Buchanan, "How gays’ attitudes toward marriage evolved" Archived 2009-06-13 at the Wayback Machine, San Francisco Chronicle, June 15, 2008.
  32. ^ "Jewelle Gomez and Diane Sabin". The New York Times. November 2, 2008. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
  33. ^ NYSCA : New York State Council on the Arts
  34. ^ San Francisco Arts Commission. Archived 2008-03-09 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ Horizons Foundation Home
  36. ^ "Writer Jewelle Gomez to receive award", Windy City Times, May 4, 2016.
  37. ^ San Francisco SFGov Archived March 17, 2008, at the Wayback Machine

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]