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Eating Fire

My Life as a Lesbian Avenger

2014
Author:

Kelly J. Cogswell

Eating Fire

An outsider American recounts two decades of radical lesbian life in this urgent, ferociously funny memoir

At once streetwise and wistful, Eating Fire is a witty and urgent coming-of-age memoir as well as the first in-depth account of the influential Lesbian Avengers. A rare insider’s look at the process and perils of street activism, Kelly Cogswell’s story is an engaging blend of picaresque adventure, how-to activist handbook, and rigorous inquiry into questions of identity, resistance, and citizenship.

To have a volume about lesbian activism that focuses on the most effective, most publicized and controversial group, the Lesbian Avengers, is almost too good to be true. Eating Fire is an intimate activist handbook that offers a generous ‘us’ and we can happily enter the space of it from so many angles.

Eileen Myles, author of Inferno (A Poet’s Novel)

When Kelly Cogswell plunged into New York’s East Village in 1992, she had just come out. An ex–Southern Baptist born in Kentucky, she was camping in an Avenue B loft, scribbling poems, and playing in an underground band, trying to figure out her next move. A couple of months later she was consumed by the Lesbian Avengers, instigating direct action campaigns, battling cops on Fifth Avenue, mobilizing 20,000 dykes for a march on Washington, D.C., and eating fire—literally—in front of the White House.

At once streetwise and wistful, Eating Fire is a witty and urgent coming-of-age memoir spanning two decades, from the Culture War of the early 1990s to the War on Terror. Cogswell’s story is an engaging blend of picaresque adventure, how-to activist handbook, and rigorous inquiry into questions of identity, resistance, and citizenship. It is also a compelling, personal recollection of friendships and fallings-out and of finding true love—several times over. After the Lesbian Avengers imploded, Cogswell describes how she became a pioneering citizen journalist, cofounding the Gully online magazine with the groundbreaking goal of offering “queer views on everything.” Even while traveling, she stepped outside her role as tourist and immigrant, joining Parisians to protest racism and discrimination and provoking LGBT activism in Cuba.

The first in-depth account of the influential Lesbian Avengers, Eating Fire reveals the group’s relationship to the queer art and activist scene in early ’90s New York and establishes the media-savvy Avengers as an important precursor to groups such as Occupy Wall Street and La Barbe, in France. A rare insider’s look at the process and perils of street activism, Kelly Cogswell’s memoir is an uncompromising and ultimately empowering story of creative resistance against hatred and injustice.

Eating Fire

Kelly Cogswell is an independent journalist and blogger. She has been recognized by the New York Press Association for her regular column in New York’s Gay City News and is a recipient of a Joan Heller–Diane Bernard Fellowship for her project documenting the Lesbian Avengers.

Eating Fire

To have a volume about lesbian activism that focuses on the most effective, most publicized and controversial group, the Lesbian Avengers, is almost too good to be true. Eating Fire is an intimate activist handbook that offers a generous ‘us’ and we can happily enter the space of it from so many angles.

Eileen Myles, author of Inferno (A Poet’s Novel)

Activist histories of social movements are rare yet essential to understanding how social change actually happens. Stories of lesbian activism are even harder to find. This unique, evocative, and fascinating memoir tells both a personal and a community story of creativity, political commitment, grief, and the love that motivates it all.

Urvashi Vaid, author of Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics

This free wheeling memoir of lesbian activism—alternately funny and raucous, meditative and reflective—is a document of a specific time and place. But it is also a marvelous, timeless tale of wit, survival, determination, and ultimately facing history. Veering between Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dyke and Rebel Without a Pause, Cogswell’s memoir of the Lesbian Avengers is incisive, politically astute, and a much needed addition to LGBT history.

Michael Bronski, Harvard University

Although the Lesbian Avengers have been defunct since 1995, Cogswell’s idealistic objective in the fight for civil rights is still relevant: to make lesbians visible, change society, and most importantly, change lesbians, who will come to see the public space as theirs.

Kirkus Reviews

Gay City News columnist Cogswell’s memoir (as much a cultural as personal history) is a needed addition to this focus [on queer activism from the early 1990s], highlighting the understudied path of the international force, the Lesbian Avengers. Fast-paced and reminiscent of New Narrative, there’s a lot of instructive joy to be found with a mixture of performance and protest fueling the prose. . . this memoir shines as surely as its history needs telling.

Publishers Weekly

Eating Fire is a sometimes entertaining, sometimes painful read. It recounts an important chapter in queer history along with some useful principles of direct action.

Gay City News

Eating Fire is a reminder, an homage, a call to rally, and a plea to this generation of queer women. While this story is tenacious in some moments and vulnerable in others, it is always triumphant. Inspiring and absolutely heroic. This story belongs to us all.

Lambda Literary

Reading Cogswell’s account is also to read an object study in not only the exciting birth and life of such groups, but also the flipside, which is their painful decline and fall. [Her] book most powerfully reminds you of the necessary mess of activism.

The Daily Beast

An energetic and outspoken memoir.

Booklist

Kelly Cogswell’s Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger is an evocative, frequently funny glimpse at a provocative movement, a fascinating memoir about lesbian activism that spans more than two decades.

City Beat

She waxes nostalgic for the radicalism of the era, and like many of her contemporaries, laments the gay rights movement’s embrace of conservative mainstream ideals. Cogswell says she’s ‘burned out’ on activism, but her book is filled with longing for the sound of protest and the taste of fire.

Huffington Post

Cogswell’s nonlinear, adrenaline-fueled narrative captures the energy behind the Avengers’ creative and media-savvy actions.

Bitch

Cogswell’s savvy Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger is at once a sharp image of an under-served community and a reflection of a time that has been nearly lost in activist history. Cogswell’s tale is a tumultuous one at times, leaving readers to both want to lean in and duck for cover—all while steadily grasping their book in hand.

Windy City Times

Kelly Cogswell is a writer, not simply a chronicler of events in which she happened to be caught up. Her account of the intersection of the personal and the political is moving, droll, and bittersweet by turns.

Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review

Cogswell’s writing is astute and vital. She recalls the events she describes in compelling detail, yet avoids the self-congratulatory accounting that sometimes mars memoirs like these. Fascinating, insightful, and moving.

The Feminist Spectator

Eating Fire

Contents

I. Activist Honeymoon
II. Enemies Within
III. A Laboratory of Identity
IV. Vivas to Those Who Have Failed

Acknowledgments

Eating Fire

Eating Fire book trailer

www.lesbianavengers.com

the lesbian avenger handbook: a handy guide to homemade revolution

 

UMP blog - Notes from a reluctant memoirist.
I didn't mean to write a memoir. I'd been documenting the Lesbian Avengers for a couple of years already, and thought I'd pitch a popular history, just get the facts out there. I'd been shocked at how little people knew, even though we'd had sixty chapters across the world, and gotten tens of thousands of people in the street.
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