PW on Eating Fire

"This memoir shines as surely as its history needs telling."

Queer activism from the early 1990s is receiving a wave of attention at the moment, from ACT UP documentaries to artist biographies to oral history archives. Gay City News columnist Cogswell's memoir (as much a cultural as personal history) is a needed addition to this focus, highlighting the understudied path of the international force, the Lesbian Avengers. Starting in New York's East Village in 1992, with all its accompanying grit and glitter, Cogswell guides us through her own initiation into the newly formed activist vanguard (which involved literally eating fire together) and her political and personal transformation. Fast-paced and reminiscent of New Narrative, there's a lot of instructive joy to be found as the "early actions, with their rituals changing hate and fear into a kind of resolve, bound [the group] together," a mixture of performance and protest fueling the prose. Likewise, Cogswell's arc as she learns from her mistakes and battles disillusionment is a story both familiar and heuristic for activists. Other texts addressing this moment in queer history provide more nuanced analysis, particularly around racism in the movement, but Cogswell's focus on her lived particulars within this influential group offers unique rewards. Even as some readers will disagree with her assessment or find their attention wavering in later chapters, this memoir shines as surely as its history needs telling. (Mar.)


Published in: Publishers Weekly