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By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
ST. JOSEPH, Mi. – A former organic farmer, activist and journalist from Indiana has moved to Michigan to grow a new project – a book of essays that will tell the story of the working lives of lesbians.
Beth Neff needs the community’s help to make it happen.
Neff is the founder of the Womynswork project, which this month began with an online survey. In addition to the usual demographic questions, the survey invites lesbians to write about their lives at work. Is their workplace open and affirming, or do they step into the closet every morning when they arrive at the office? What aspects of their work are lesbians enjoying, and what parts are a challenge? How are lesbians’ career decisions impacted by their orientation?
“We don’t know about their experience. They haven’t been asked,” Neff said.
She plans to use the information she collects to create a book of literary essays about how work affects lesbians’ lives, and how being a lesbian affects women’s work.
Neff hopes her writing will be picked up by a mainstream publisher and will reach hearts as well as minds.
“Personalizing the victims of cultural abuse through art and literature, providing a voice to the disenchanted, has tremendous potential for altering harmful attitudes and behaviors,” she said.
Neff doesn’t plan to just take the information and write, however. She plans to interview willing survey participants, and hopes “to gather a community of women to influence how the essays develop.”
“I want to have feedback on the quality of what is being represented. I don’t think I can do this by myself – I don’t want to do this by myself,” she said.
Neff has already received a grant from the Puffin foundation for the project. According to Puffin’s web site, the foundation “provides grants to artists and art organizations who are often excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender or social philosophy.” The Out & Affirmation Center, an LGBT community center sponsored by the Berrien County YWCA, is providing collaboration and support to the project.
Neff is hoping to hear from lesbians across Michigan and even the country to make the final project as representative as possible.