Pink Steam. Suspect Thoughts Press, 2004; 190 pages; $16.95.
FROM THE DUST JACKET:
Pink steam rises from the vats of melting goo in the Vincent Price 3-D horror classic, House of Wax. Railroad buffs know "pink steam" as the first blast from a newly christened steam engine, which appears pink as it spews out rust. And now Pink Steam, the book, reveals the intimate secrets of Dodie Bellamy's life -- sex, shoplifting, voyeurism, writing. Like L. Frank Baum's Dorothy, in Thel Wizard of Oz, Bellamy grows up in a dreary Midwestern town. She's a bossy, queer child who identifies with the freaks she watches on The Twilight Zone. Her father's a carpenter obsessed with Kipling's The Jungle Book -- the only book he's ever read. Her mother is a pragmatist who longs for a normal daughter. Eventually Bellamy hurls out of Indiana and tumbles into Oz -- San Francisco's bohemian Mission District. As she attempts to reconcile her working-class origins with the privileged insanity of her arts community, everything crackles and blurs. True confession bleeds into high theory into trash cinema (soundtrack provided by David Bowie and Oliver Messiaen). Kathy Acker, Diane Arbus, and Bernadette Mayer are the fates who guide Bellamy as she searches for a voice in a whirlwind of sizzling images and strange encounters. In this world a woman can turn into a giant reptile, fuck a demon, lust for King Kong -- and still feel repressed, constricted. As she battles on the frontiers of über-female vision, Bellamy tries on genre after genre -- horror tale, essay, letter, academic novel, the fortune cookie tags of daily life. But, like off-the-rack clothing, no form fits exactly right. Pink Steam barges beyond the clichés of gendered experience. Unafraid of the personal, unabashed by politics and sex, Bellamy makes confusion her OK Corral. "When the legend is greater than the truth, print the legend." Dodie Bellamy is the girl who shot Liberty Valance.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
Publisher's Weekly: Dodie Bellamy sows poetic bedlam in Pink Steam, an introspective collection of bits of fictionalized memoir and reflection that explore everything from sexual desire to the temptations of shoplifting. Bellamy deconstructs Barbie's Dream House, recounts a run-in with "Venus," and reports from "the field" (read: her mother's couch in Indiana) on the 2000 Republican National Convention. Her offbeat, flirtatiously subversive prose puts a fresh spin on countercultural life in San Francisco and the Midwest from the 1970s to the present.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dodie Bellamy has written a novel, The Letters of Mina Harker, and an epistolary collaboration on AIDS with the late Sam D'Allesandro, Real. Her book, Cunt-Ups, a radical feminist revision of the "cut-up" pioneered by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, won the 2002 Firecracker Alternative Book Award for Poetry. Her work has appeared in, among others, the anthologies Pills, Thrills, Chills, and Heartache: Adventures in the First Person, The Best American Erotica 2001, High Risk, The Art of Practice: 45 Contemporary Poets, A Poetics of Criticism, The New Fuck You, Primary Troubleand Moving Borders: Three Decades of Innovative Writing by Woman. In 1998 she won the San Francisco Bay Guardian "Goldie" Award for Literature. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in The Village Voice, the San Francisco Chronicle, Bookforum, Out/Look, the San Diego Reader, Nest, as well as numerous small-press literary journals and websites. She has taught creative writing at the San Francisco Art Institute, Mills College, UC Santa Cruz, University of San Francisco, Naropa University, Antioch Los Angeles, San Francisco State, and CalArts. With her husband of many years, Kevin Killian, she has edited over 100 issues of the literary/art zine Mirage #4/Period(ical).
A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR: Dodie Bellamy, who has lived in San Francisco for almost three decades, told me that she was born in North Hammond, Indiana, right outside of Chicago, "which is kind of like what they call the 'rust belt.' I was born in '51, so I'm a baby boomer."
Her mother, Ms. Bellamy went on to say, "was a cafeteria lady in my high school cafeteria. You can imagine how much status that gave me. She also worked part-time as a janitor. We weren't poor, because my father was a union carpenter, but we were comfortable with having low expectations by not being materialistic."
As a child, Ms. Bellamy "read voraciously. I was interested in science. I read children's science books. Lots of archaeology books, lots of biographies of the first women doctors, that kind of stuff. As I got to junior high and up, I started reading more literature."
"Who was the first author you loved?"
"I loved Jane Austen."
Ms. Bellamy was the first person in her family to go to college. "Indiana University was cheap. I lived off campus. They paid for everything. My initial undergraduate years I worked part-time as a grill cook, but I told my parents I couldn't maintain a straight-A average and work, so they said, 'Okay.' They paid for part of my graduate school as well. I stayed at Indiana University. I should not have gone to graduate school when I did. I basically went so I could get student loans. It was funny. I'm a Phi Beta Kappa. But I ended up working in the dorm cafeteria -- the same job, basically, after I graduated, that my mother had. I went to graduate school to get student loans and a better work-study job."
After graduation in 1973 (with a degree in comparative literature), Ms. Bellamy lived in Chicago, and then in the 1970s, she moved to San Francisco. "I knew a lot of gay men in college, and they moved either to Chicago or San Francisco.
"I'd been out here and liked it. Friends put me up; they got me a job. For me it was absolutely the best place I could go because I started getting serious about my writing, and there was such a community here to get involved with."
Ms. Bellamy and Kevin Killian met, she said, in 1981 in Bob Gluck's writing workshop at Small Press Traffic (the Small Press Traffic website notes: "Since 1974 Small Press Traffic has been at the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area innovative writing scenes, bringing together independent readers, writers, and presses through publications, conferences, and an influential reading series"). Ms. Bellamy, during the 1980s, served for five years as the director of Small Press Traffic.