The title intrigued me. As I took my Pandora-esque peek between the pages of Sinister Wisdom, I was caught in a whirlwind of shadows, hope, despair, courage and fire. There is no complacency here, folks, so if that’s what you came for, you’ve come to the wrong place. These essays, poetry and art by lesbians who experienced the “coming out” times of the 60’s and 70’s force the reader’s eyes open, shines a light into them—a light that is sometimes too bright, too painful. You want to look away, but don’t. There is much here that you should not miss.
Sinister Wisdom is a song of emerging from women summoning the courage to break a shell of silence and taboo, to live in the truth of who they are. These essays speak of the lesbian movement at its roots, of organizing, of the dreams that were sometimes realized and sometimes shattered. At times angry and other times whimsical, sweet, and shy, these essays are always brave. They are proud. It is one hell of a collection.
The first essay in the issue, Fran Winant’s “Come Out! Join The Sisters And Brothers Of The Gay Liberation Front!” takes the reader straight to the heart of the gay rights movement:
. . . the first thing I notice is the large number of gay individuals and couples strolling together on a warm night (in Greenwich Village). Unlike straight couples, these do not hold hands or touch, preserving an unreal anonymity for fear of being stared at, jeered at, “found out,” or attacked by straights or even arrested or threatened with arrest. . . our 1969 evening walk has the feel of prisoners passing before their captors in review.
Artist Evelyn Torton Beck describes the joy of finally coming out, of owning her truth and the effect it has on her art: “The space that truth clears is communal, but the process starts within the individual. 'Coming out' is a process of truth-telling (first to oneself and then to others) that frees layers of possibilities within the self.”
At the heart of this issue is the stark, yet beautiful, poetry of Cheryl Clarke. Clarke weaves images and rhythm together to build songs on the page. Her pieces beg to be read aloud, drummed to, swallowed whole.
For this reader, Sinister Wisdom misses the mark in only one area: near the end of the editor’s notes, with a call to get this fine magazine “into the hands of lesbians everywhere.” If we are to stop perpetuating the chasm between the gay and straight, I believe the call should be to get Sinister Wisdom into the hands of everyone—period. It’s good reading—not always easy reading—but it is truth at its finest. An inspiring read.