Last weekend, Mt. Airy author Janet Mason shared her experiences as a lesbian writer, as part of the Equality Forum panel, The Power of Our Words and Stories, at the University of the Arts. Joining Mason to discuss issues surrounding the impact of authors’ works on their audiences were fiction writer Renee Bess, humor essayist Fay Jacobs, children’s author and playwright Cheril N. Clarke, and erotic poet Ms. Scorpio ”N”.
“When I write, I really don’t think about the change I’m affecting,” author Janet Mason told the audience. “I write to find out who I am.
The panelists agreed that while they don’t mind broadening readers’ expectations when it comes to LGBT stories, they do strive to emphasize the common thread that runs through the lives of readers and writers alike.
“My stories are about issues we all deal with,” explained panelist Cheril N. Clarke. “My characters just happen to be black. And gay.”
In Mason’s case, the characters of her recently published memoir, Tea Leaves, are fleshed out from the author’s experiences caring for her mother as she slowly deteriorated from stage four cancer. Mason’s mother was a woman who stood apart from the other women of her day, which caused some friction between her daughter and girls in her age group.
“My mother was a card-carrying feminist,” Mason remembers. “She took me to NOW meetings when I was a teenager in the seventies. I didn’t know any of my friends’ mothers who were involved in the women’s movement. It was a singular situation that I had among my peers, and it definitely influenced me. You always want to fit in, and I really didn’t.”
Mason’s mother’s forwardness and sense of humor, made her a compelling character to write about in Tea Leaves.
“While I was taking care of her, I actually took notes, but never in her presence. I did not use a tape recorder because my mother was alternately shy and outrageous, and I didn’t want the tape recorder to be an impediment to her being herself. So I would take notes in the afternoon while I was staying at my parent’s [home] in the privacy of my room, like Truman Capote. When he wrote In Cold Blood, he would memorize the conversations he had with the killers and jot down notes on the toilet paper in the cell!”
In her memoir, Janet Mason initially set out to make sense of her relationship with her mother and how it formed her identity. Mason said that the organization Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) played a significant role when she came out to her family. “It was a great organization for my mother and father in particular, because it gave them peers they could talk to, it gave them an opportunity to share concerns about their children, and acted as a consciousness-raising group for them.”
Since her first teaching gig at the Women’s Y on Germantown Avenue, Mason has facilitated writing workshops at the Kelly Writer’s House at the University of Pennsylvania, instructed writers at Temple University’s Continuing Education program and currently leads creative writing classes at the Mt. Airy Learning Tree.