[VIRTUAL] Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Free Expression in Alabama

This event was part of PEN America’s celebration of Banned Books Week.
Learn more about PEN America’s advocacy against book bans and championing the freedom to learn.

This roundtable conversation focused on the historical challenges to gender expression, sexuality, and free speech in Alabama, including how these challenges play out through the experiences of LGBTQ+ writers from the state. This panel explored the unspoken, spoke the unspeakable, and opened doors into the present.

This discussion was presented in partnership with the ACLU of Alabama.

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Brontez Purnell headshotBrontez Purnell is a writer, musician, dancer, filmmaker, and performance artist. He is the author of a graphic novel, a novella, a children’s book, and the novel Since I Laid My Burden Down. Recipient of a 2018 Whiting Award for fiction, he was named one of the 32 Black Male Writers for Our Time by T: The New York Times Style Magazine in 2018. Purnell is also the frontman for the band The Younger Lovers; the cofounder of the experimental dance group the Brontez Purnell Dance Company; the creator of the renowned cult zine Fag School; and the director of several short films, music videos, and most recently, the documentary Unstoppable Feat: Dances of Ed Mock. He recently released his current novel 100 Boyfriends (MCD x FSG). He won Lambda Literary’s James Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize in 2021. Born in Triana, AL, he’s lived in Oakland, CA for 19 years.

Minnie Bruce Pratt headshotBorn in Selma and raised in Centreville, AL, Minnie Bruce Pratt came out as a lesbian in Fayetteville, NC in 1975. She received her BA from The University of Alabama the year after segregationist Gov. George Wallace “stood in the schoolhouse door,” and her Ph.D. from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1979. Her books and poems have received awards from the Academy of American Poets, the American Library Association, the Poetry Society of America, Lambda Literary, and The Publishing Triangle. Her second book, Crime Against Nature, about losing custody of her children as a lesbian mother, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

An anti-racist, anti-imperialist women’s liberation activist, Pratt co-authored Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism (1984) with Barbara Smith and Elly Bulkin. Her essay from that volume, “Identity: Skin Blood Heart,” has been adopted in hundreds of college classrooms as a teaching model for diversity issues. Along with lesbian writers Chrystos and Audre Lorde, she received the Lillian Hellman/Dashiell Hammett Award given by the Fund for Free Expression to writers “who have been victimized by political persecution.” She is a managing editor of the Workers World/Mundo Obrero newspaper, and lives in her hometown in Alabama and in Central New York. Her most recent book is Magnified (Wesleyan University Press, March 2021), dedicated to her partner and spouse, Leslie Feinberg, trans activist and theoretician.

Joi Miner headshotJoi Miner, 39, is a mother of two beautiful daughters from Montgomery, AL (currently residing in Birmingham, AL). She is a full-time author-preneur: editor, performance poet, storyteller, and sexual assault and domestic violence activist, who loves spending time with her family, hosting shows, and listening to good music. Miner loves writing engaging stories and plot twists that keep her readers at the edge of their seats.

Emrys Donaldson headshotEmrys Donaldson’s work has recently appeared in Electric Literature, TriQuarterly, Passages North, Redivider, and The Rupture, among other venues. Donaldson holds a BA summa cum laude from Cornell University and an MFA from The University of Alabama. Donaldson is an assistant professor of English at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, AL.

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