Post-War Lesbian Publishing, Roller Derby, and PhD Studies: Clare Bermingham

Clare Bermingham

As Clare herself notes, the MA and PhD students in uWaterloo’s English department are quite diverse in their interests, projects, and methodologies. It seemed time to highlight some of that on the blog. Thanks to Clare, a PhD candidate, for being willing to talk about her experience and work.

JLH: Why did you decide on Waterloo?
CB: It was a collision of many things, personal and professional. To pare it down, I completed my undergraduate degree at UW many years after starting it elsewhere, and I didn’t feel quite ‘done’ with the department. There were a couple of professors I wanted to continue working with, including my committee supervisor, Victoria Lamont.  Also, the Dana Porter Library has a massive collection of lesbian pulp fiction from the 1950s and 1960s, which is related to my dissertation research.

JLH: Can you tell me a bit about your research?
CB: I’m fascinated by the period of U.S. social history that sits between World War Two and the liberation movements of the 1970s. Imagine an emerging gay and lesbian community, really beginning to develop a sense of shared identity and cohesion; out of that comes a new field of lesbian literature worming up through the cracks of the period’s oppressive cultural façade, finding any possible avenue for its voices, pulp fiction, for example. My research focuses on a magazine called The Ladder that was published by the first national lesbian organization, and which is a wonderful source of amateur and professional fiction and poetry. More specifically, I’m thinking about lesbian literature in terms of affective production and social change, in short, not only how literature participates in the production of emotional value, but actually constructs affective possibilities that change the emotional landscapes that comprise our social world.

JLH: What has been your experience of the PhD program so far?
CB: I enjoy the diversity of the PhD program that comes out of its dual focus on language and literature. I love that one of my colleagues focuses on video-games and more graphic forms of narrative, while another examines the poetics of Emily Dickinson. The variety really opens up one’s own work to different approaches and ways of thinking. I also really appreciate that the department works hard to find great independent teaching opportunities for its PhD candidates. These teaching opportunities are incredibly enriching, and invaluable in terms of future career goals.

JLH: I was fortunate enough to see you give a paper on roller-derby novels a while ago—can you tell me about your interest? And maybe throw out some titles for intrigued blog readers?
CB: Roller derby is a fascinating sport, one of the only sports played primarily by women. It had a resurgence around 2000 in the punk-alternative scene of Austin, Texas, and has spread across the States, Canada, Europe, and beyond like wild-fire, with leagues in nearly every city and small town. Although it’s becoming increasingly traditionally athletic and professionalized, it still has a third-wave feminist, do-it-yourself feel, with lots of costume and spectacle mixed with significant athleticism. What I find interesting is that it always seems to be associated with two types of narratives: first, there’s the double-life narrative where, for example, the respectable pastor or school-teacher by day becomes a roller derby superstar by night; and second, there’s the life-altering narrative where roller derby offers a kind of redemptive experience to the woman going through a difficult life transition, like divorce or loss, and reconnects her to her better, stronger self. You can see these narratives repeated across blogs, newspaper and magazine articles, and novels, and they seem to speak to ideas about female authenticity.

Going in Circles

Those interested in the history of the sport might like Melissa “Melicious” Joulwan’s Rollergirl: Totally True Tales from the Track, or Down and Derby: The Insider’s Guide to Roller Derby by Alex Cohen and Jennifer Barbee. Shauna Cross’s Derby Girl will be recognizable to anyone who has seen the Drew Barrymore movie, Whip It! which was based on this novel. Going in Circles by Pamela Ribon is another novel, and more along the female redemption line.

JLH: Because I am always going to ask, what are you currently reading?
CB: I just finished Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill. Next up is Terry Fallis’ The Best Laid Plans. I guess I’m catching up on my Canadian reading!


2 responses to “Post-War Lesbian Publishing, Roller Derby, and PhD Studies: Clare Bermingham

  1. Gord Higginson

    Going in Circles sounds like a fascinating read; I’ve got it on order. Thank you for the recommendations!

  2. Pingback: Top Ten Words in Place Posts of 2013 |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s