Nelson poet Jane Byers has been honoured for her poetry book Acquired Community. Photo: Will Johnson

Nelson poet lands lesbian lit prize

Jane Byers honoured for her book Acquired Community

The good news was in her junk mail.

Nelson poet Jane Byers was scrolling through her social media feed during a break at the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival earlier this summer, anxiously awaiting news from a Chicago gala in which her poetry book Acquired Community was up for a prize.

The “Goldie” award in question was coming from the Golden Crown Literary Society, a U.S. non-profit established in 2004 to promote and enhance the future of lesbian lit — and since Byers’ book is an exploration of LGBTQ history, it felt like a huge deal to receive this recognition.

“Then I actually found a posting on Facebook, but I still didn’t quite believe it because I hadn’t received anything personally. As it turns out, they had sent me an email but it was sitting in my junk mail folder,” Byers told the Star.

“I’m like ‘do I trust this?’ but then I called my wife Amy and she was like ‘I see it too, it says you won. Believe it, it’s real.’ So here I am all excited, and I was surrounded by a bunch of other writers who were congratulating me and celebrating. It was wonderful.”

Earlier she’d been disappointed that she couldn’t make the trip to Chicago, but this outcome meant she was celebrating the news among some of her closest literary allies. And all of this momentum gives her hope that readers are ready to embrace work from the lesbian community.

“The Goldies are about trying to put some of our literature on the map. As far as we’ve come along in our society, I feel like we still have a long way to go to get to a place where people want to pick up a book about lesbian and gay history and want to read it, even if they’re not lesbian or gay.”

She doesn’t just want to “preach to the converted.”

“I think it’s important that there’s a larger audience that understands the history of the equal rights struggle, understands the grace and humour with which our communities have responded to oppression over the years, because it’s a good model.”

Put another way: “Have you heard about any mass acts of violence from the LGBTQ community on other communities?”

Byers reflected on that deeply while researching and writing Community, so much so that she’s contemplating writing a sequel now — but not before she takes a break following the release of her latest chapbook It Hurt, That’s All I Know, which is an exploration of pain based on her experiences working in physical rehabilitation.

The last few years have been pretty full-on for Byers, who’s been touring with her book while raising her twins Theo and Franny with her wife, filmmaker Amy Bohigian, and she figures maybe it’s time for a bit of a rest. She’s taken a writer in residence gig at the lesbian archives at Simon Fraser University, which is coming up, and she can’t wait to further engage with other writers from her community.

“I’m super excited about my career. I’m going to take a breather, it’s time to creatively rejuvenate and figure out what I want to write about, maybe play around with words and write new poems without an agenda.”