Leah Lakshmi’s Dirty River released after ten years + Hard Femme Poetics…and more!

Below is an email I received from Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, with news of her autobiographical poetry book, Dirty River – I just had to pass it on and spread the word.

If you’re not familiar with Leah and her work, she a radical tarot reader, social justice activist, performance artist  queer, disabled femme of colour based in the US. She does so much I can’t summarise it here, but you can read this brilliant interview, in which Leah explores and explains the intersections of her tarot, her experience and her activism. It’s incredible, as is she.

Anyway! Leah has a new volume of poetry out very soon. If radical queer POC poetry, social justice or just-freakin’-incredible autobiograpohical writing (or all three) are your bag, read on, pre-order, and get excited.

Oh, and you can join Leah’s mailing list here, and find out about her tarot services here.


Hi beautiful people,

Hope this fall finds you well!  I’ve had a busy, beautiful summer in Brooklyn, resting up after an intense two months of touring for my new book of poetry, Bodymap (pro tip: if you think going on tour for two months is disability justice, it’s not) and working on final edits for Dirty River, the memoir I started working on in 2005. Ten years later, it went to the printer on Tuesday, and will be available October 13, 2015. You can pre-order it from Powells here, and if you can’t afford it, please ask your library to order copies!

The story of Dirty River getting written is a saga of queer of color publishing – about publisher after publisher saying it was too queer and POC, there wasn’t a market for it, it was too experimental, it wasn’t experimental enough, combined with small queer and feminist publisher after publisher going out of business. About going to grad school to buy time to finish it, not being able to work on it for a year after grad school because of the ways my voice felt colonized by the institutional whiteness, and then picking it up again when community members wanted more. (The section that got published in Make/Shift getting a Pushcart Prize nomination helped too.)

What started as a desire to write “the brown girl’s version of Valencia” turned into a desire to try and write about some of the hardest times in my life, my early 20s where I ran away from home and the United States to deal with my family’s legacy of childhood sexual abuse, internalized racism and displacement from Sri Lanka. I also wanted to document late 90s queer of color, psychiatric survivor and queer punk of color community and life in Toronto, the city I love. To write a transformative justice childhood sexual abuse survival book that broke away from easy ideas of healing and was all queer, brown and weird everything.

I never thought it would finally get done, but I am so grateful to Brian Lam and Arsenal Pulp Press for saying yes.  Below, please see the upcoming tour dates.  If you don’t see your city listed, please email brownstargirl@gmail.com.

Thank you so much for keeping the faith, supporting me and the work through all these years.

Oh yeah- and because I want to, and because I want to make rent in October, please check out the Hard Femme Poetics online writing workshop I am teaching in September!  There’s stll a few spaces left- please email if interested.



About Dirty River:

In 1996, poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, carrying only two backpacks, caught a Greyhound bus and ran away to Canada. She ended up in Toronto, where she was welcomed by a community of queer punks of colour offering promises of love and revolution, yet she remained haunted by the reasons she left home in the first place. This passionate, riveting memoir is a mixtape of dreams and nightmares, of immigration court lineups and queer South Asian dance nights; it is an intensely personal road map and an intersectional, tragicomic tale that reveals how a disabled queer woman of colour and abuse survivor navigates the dirty river of the not-so-distant past and, as the subtitle suggests, “dreams her way home.”

Praise for Dirty River:

Fierce and seductive. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is the kind of writer who reminds us with every turn of phrase and every turn of the page that art exorcises trauma, running can be good medicine, and the freedom to be our very own freaks is the happiest ending we might ever hope for. —Ariel Gore, author of The End of Eve and Atlas of the Human Heart

“Dirty River will give you back the life you stole and saved: your own. In the tradition of June Jordan’s Soldier, Audre Lorde’s Zami, Asha Bandele’s Something Like Beautiful, and Staceyann Chin’s The Other Side of Paradise, Dirty River is a memoir that will make you itch all over while you read it and emerge having shed another layer of internalized doubt. You are brave enough to face this honest, transformative work, because you are brave enough to be who you are.” —Alexis Pauline Gumbs, co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering

“Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s newest book is the powerful, badass, and important story of a young queer femme of color’s coming of age on her own terms. Intersectional and glittering and raw, this book has bite—it’s a kind of primal yell for all us survivors of abuse, as we pull together and howl and love and live.” —Randa Jarrar, author of A Map of Home

Dirty River is a candid and comic view from the tattooed underbelly of contemporary life. There is no syrup in this survivor’s tale, yet the sun does shine through these shadows, making you cheer for the hero(ine) in her odyssey to know her true self. —Jewelle Gomez, author of The Gilda Stories

Book tour, Dirty River, fall 2015

  • Thursday, October 15, 2015, New York launch, Bluestockings Books
  • Sunday, October 18, 2015, Toronto launch, Beit Zeitoun
  • Tuesday, October 19, 2015, OPIRG/ Trent University, Peterborough, ON (tbc)
  • Wednesday, October 20, 2015. Venus Envy, Ottawa, ON
  • Thursday, October 21, 2015. Montreal, ON, sponsored by QPIRG McGill
  • Thursday, October 29, 2015, Octavia’s Brood event, Rutgers University, Rutgers NJ
  • Tuesday, November 10, 2015, RADAR reading series, San Francisco Public Library
  • Wednesday, November 11, 2015, Oakland launch, Solespace
  • Thursday, November 12, 2015, keynote performance, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA
  • November 16-17, 2015, University of California at Riverside, Riverside CA
  • Wednesday, November 18, 2015, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA (to be confirmed.)
  • Friday, December 4, 2015, Wooden Shoe Bookstore, Philadelphia, PA

More events to be confirmed in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver for December and for Tucson, Austin, Ottawa and Chicago for winter 2016- stay stunned!  And if you want to bring me to your community or campus, please email brownstargirl@gmail.com

Hard Femme Poetics: A 5 week online writing workshop by and for queer femmes

This workshop is open to folks who identify as queer femmes, across the gender spectrum, and centers Black, Indigenous and/or of color/disabled/trans, intersex and gender nonconforming/fat/sex working/ poor and working class/ currently or formerly incarcerated/older and younger and otherwise marginalized femmes.

5 Mondays in September and October, September 14, 21 and 28, and October 5 and 12 2015

This year, when my book Bodymap came out, many people remarked on how much it focused on disability and femmes. It made me realize simultaneously how big the femmiverse has gotten and how there are no Femme Studies classes in academia, and most gender studies classes marginalize or erase femme writing, cultures, histories and politics.  It’s easy to read a lot of Jack Halberstam, not so easy to find classes that center the multigenerational genius of femme writers and cultural producers, particularly trans femmes, Black, Indigenous and POC femmes, disabled femmes, working class and poor femmes, older and rural femmes and/or sex working femmes.

I wanted to create this workshop to change that – to create an online social justice writing space that was unapologetically focused on the multiverse of queer femininity and writing. This five week online writing workshop is a collective love and survival letter we will write together.  You’ll receive weekly writing prompts you can work on at your own pace and in your own timeline, and weekly two hour online classes where we will discuss pieces of writing and share work, creating luscious femme creative community together. We will study femme writers from Luna Merbruja to Qwo Li Driskill to Chrystos to Jewelle Gomez to Maya Chinchilla to Dorothy Allison to Amber Dawn to Trish Salah to Che Gossett to Frances Varian to  Kim Millan to Ryka Aoki de la Cruz to Randa Jarrar to Amber Hollibaugh to Cyree Jarelle Johnson to Neve Be, and more.  We will write femifestos, love letters to our femme elders and descendents, experiment with forms like odes, buddhakarans, bops and glossas, and help co create the literary femiverse. This class works well for folks with many levels of experience writing.

Some important notes: I define femme as encompassing anyone who is queer and identifies with femmeness or femininity. This includes femme trans women and gender-noncomforming people, femme Two Spirit folks and femme cis women, femme intersex folks and femme queer cis and trans men.  If your expectation for a femme space is that cis women will be the norm and be centered, this class is not a good fit for you.

Unlike many of my classes, which are open to Black, Indigenous and People of Color only, I have chosen to experiment with opening this class to white folks who experience stuff like disability, being poor or working class, sex working and/or being older. I am committed to centering marginalized folks in co-building a community of trust online. I will maintain 70% minimum BIPOC enrollment.

I use PiratePad, an online text based interface that is screen reader compatible and accessible for folks who are Blind or visually impaired. I centralize disability access- there will be lots of breaks, trigger warnings, pacing and you get to do the class in your pajamas if you want!

I take payment plans, and accept payment on a sliding scale based on how much wealth you have access to.

You don’t have to identify as “hard femme” to take the class! There’s a million ways to be femme, and that’s one that speaks to me.

Cost: $195- 300 U.S. funds, sliding scale

To apply, please fill out the form at the top of the page at brownstargirl.org/writing-workshops and email it to brownstargirl@gmail.com. A $40 deposit via Paypal to the same email holds your spot.


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