Seasoned writers share work and personal stories; Author commands with presence and confidence

Lesléa Newman read from her collection of short stories, ‘A Letter to Harvey Milk,’ on Thursday, Oct. 14. (Delisa O’Brien / Staff Photographer)

By Kelsey Wojdyla
Correspondent

Rather than using the podium in the corner of the Library Auditorium stage, Lesléa Newman stood front and center behind a music stand, assuring her audience that she would not sing.

The jokes kept coming as Newman at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14.

“I try to defuse hatred with humor whenever possible,” she said.

Newman is the author of 57 books for both children and adults, including titles such as “Out of the Closet and Nothing to Wear” and “Heather Has Two Mommies.”

Newman engaged her intimate audience of 30, made up of students and faculty, throughout her readings.

“I’ll amuse you, I’ll entertain you, and maybe you’ll learn something,” she promised.

She read from her award-winning collection of short stories, “A Letter to Harvey Milk,” about a fictitious character based on her grandmother, which was turned into both a play and a film, and has been optioned to become a musical.

“I tried to explain to them that I couldn’t help being gay like I couldn’t help being a Jew,” she read.

Pam Rotter, junior art education major, had previously read “A Letter to Harvey Milk.”

“Hearing her say it, I think, has a lot of impact and bridges the gap between the two communities,” she said.

Newman said she always ends with “Break the Glass,” a poem dedicated to her partner of 22 years. She uses her writing to draw attention to the problems that homosexual couples face on a daily basis, such as feeling uncomfortable, holding hands in public, not being able to join the gym as a family and having to file taxes separately, she said.

In her the discussion portion of the night, “How Can You Be a Lesbian? You’re Jewish,” Newman links the two communities together. Both cultures, she said, have struggled, been persecuted and have an immense history. Newman added that being Jewish is like training to be a lesbian since both groups value community, passionately believe in social justice and are led by fierce women.

“I’m Jewish and I’m straight, but I still thought it was interesting,” said Ava Boxer, sophomore special education and English major.

Newman started writing when she was 8 years old, and had a poem first published in Seventeen magazine. She has been a gay activist for more than 20 years, and has received numerous awards for both her writing and her contributions to the Jewish and LGBT communities.

“It’s who I am,” she said. “I feel like in order for me to embrace all of who I am, I have to express both those identities in my work.”