Michelle Tea, San Francisco literary icon and founder of RADAR Productions, recently visited the KQED studios to record an episode of The Writers' Block, which will be released next week (listen to her latest episode as well as her 2006 episode). Until then, get to know her a little better with this Q+A, in which she talks about the 3rd annual RADAR Spectacle fundraiser and much more.
Tell us a little about the RADAR Spectacle fundraising event that's coming up and any other projects you're juggling at the moment.
Michelle Tea: The RADAR Spectacle is RADAR's once-a-year fundraising blow-out! Our monthly RADAR reading series is free, and most of our other programming is free, and this is the event that we charge for to raise 100% of our budget for our annual Radar LAB Writers' Retreat in Akumal, Mexico. We get extravagant and captivating performers to perform; this year Cintra Wilson is coming up from Los Angeles and she'll be joined with local legends Keith Hennessy, Fauxnique, LOVEWARZ, Lil Miss Hot Mess and perhaps some last minute surprise guests! Our art auction is always sort of incredible -- we've been blown away by what we've managed to offer up for bid. This year we have a print by Nan Goldin, who I am so crazy about; I can't believe it! I think it's safe to say many of the folks who come to RADAR would not be able to afford a Nan Goldin (!) so it's also exciting to get to offer that to people. We also have work by punk icon Richard Hell, the poet and writer Anne Carson (Autobiography of Red), Dave Eggers, street artist SWOON (as seen in Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop), the mind-blowing Xylor Jane, and the excellent Lisa Brown. I am SO EXCITED about this! We also have a rad raffle with prizes that include a weekend at a condo in Tahoe, symphony tickets, books from Dog Eared books, a fancy haircut, a session with a psychic witch and other fun prizes. Oh and snacks from Dolores Park Cafe! And hosted by myself and Ali Liebegott! Whew.
Personally, I am currently shopping two novels, a Young Adult fantasy book and an Old Adult fantasy book. The Old Adult is darker and about the end of love and the end of the world; the Young Adult features a cranky mermaid and a flock of revolutionary pigeons. I also blog about fashion at Ironing Board Collective, and on the SF Weekly's site the Exhibitionist.
You're a long-time San Francisco resident. What are some of your favorite spots in the city and what keeps you here?
MT: There is no place better to live if you are queer, or a writer, or a queer writer. The queer culture here has the sensibility I relate to, as does the literary culture. It's very community-oriented and work-oriented rather than career-oriented! Also, I have been curating literary culture events here for almost 20 years, so to go anywhere and begin anew would be insane! San Francisco and I have a mutually supportive relationship. I LOVE the Luggage Store, their space on Market that keeps getting bigger and better, and their magical Tenderloin National Forest is my #1 favorite spot in San Francisco. I love the San Francisco Zen Center -- I love to meditate there, and go and listen to mind-blowing dharma talks, and they host really smart art events and cook delicious food! Oddball Film and Video Archive hosts cool, quirky film events AND it's where the old 17 Reasons Why sign lives, which is amazing to see! I love to buy books at Dog Eared Books and soak up literary history vibes at City Lights. And queer history vibes at the GLBT Historical Society archives! And anything can happen vibes at YBCA's Big Idea night parties! And I am a new big fan of the Academy of Sciences and their fun Thursday night events that are only $12 and are kid-free!
Judging by your work, you seem to have seen and experienced a lot of crazy things in your life. What is the last thing that managed to shock you?
MT: I just had a really bad shock of a performer smoking and being sort of offensive without a greater meaning at the Zen Center (whom I invited, not the Zen Center! My bad!). Sometimes I do think nothing can shock me, so it's nice to know I do have limits and boundaries, and I don't like art that is offensive and insulting without a greater purpose; I think it is mean-spirited and cruel and there is already so much cruelty and unkindness in the world. I got shocked in a beautiful way when the performer Kirk Read did a performance art cover of a Yoko Ono piece at a RADAR event involving his own excrement. It was totally deep and poignant and touching and affirmed my love of art that shocks you into seeing something with a wider heart than you previously had.
Who did you look up to as a queer icon, while you were growing up?
MT: In childhood/teenager-hood, I wasn't queer, but still had mad queer love for John Waters, who inspired me to be a total wild freaky artist. And Pee Wee Herman instilled a certain childlike queer sensibility in me without me even knowing it. Andy Warhol. David Bowie. The movie Times Square. The effeminate Goth subculture which provided me with so many homosexual boyfriends. A bit younger, I was lucky to have gender-benders like Boy George and Annie Lennox coming at me mainstream. I I ferreted out artists like Soft Cell, and older Berlin -- Terri Nun was the first artist I ever heard talk about being bisexual, or masturbating, in an interview! The '80s were fun!
You're on stage at a karaoke bar. What are you singing?
MT: "Stand Back," "Edge of Seventeen," "Gypsy," "If Anyone Falls." Anything by Stevie Nicks, whose voice is dehydrated, as is mine, and whose trembles while holding a note, as does mine.
What's one book everyone should be required to read and why?
MT: Everyone should be required to read James Baldwin's Another Country. It is such a masterpiece, and he is such a hero of American literature, of Black literature, of queer literature. It is so intricate and insightful and heartbreaking in it's portrayal of the ways in which racism impacts and destroys people and their ability to connect with one another and themselves. It's such an important book, and he is such a genius; it is a pleasure to read.
If you could invite 3 people (dead/alive/fictional) to your dinner party, who would they be and why?
MT: John Waters, Daniel Handler and Oscar Wilde. And I would just serve them food and delight in their incredible banter.
If you could live inside one movie, which would it be and why?
MT: This is tricky because many of my favorite movies are brutal and I want to live inside a happy movie. I guess I'd have to say Amelie. Then I could be having constant French magic! Otherwise, Legend so I could hang out with unicorns and fairies and wear floaty dresses and either be a good person and cavort with young Tom Cruise who is all cute and Peter Pan-ish in it, or be bad and get a goth makeover from Tim Curry who is all evil and sexy with big horns on his head.
If you could visit any other time period and place in history, which would it be and what would you do there?
MT: I would go back to the East village in the late '70s and start a band and be part of that amazing movement that happened there and hopefully not OD on drugs before I got famous. Or I would go to Paris in the '20s when everyone was having such a super lezzed out lezzie time and making crazy art and being dramatic about each other. That would be fun.
Look for Michelle Tea's episode of The Writers' Block next Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at kqed.org/writersblock. And be sure not to miss each episode as it becomes available by subscribing to The Writers' Block podcast!