In Paula Martinac’s recently published novel Clio Rising, the central character, a young woman named Livvie Bliss, leaves her home in North Carolina and relocates to New York in 1983. She moves to New York so that she can pursue a career in publishing and because she feels that she can live openly as a lesbian in New York. Paula’s story has connections to Livvie’s story, but there is a key difference. Paula spent much of her adult life pursuing a publishing and writing career in New York, but in 2014 she moved to North Carolina and took up residence in Charlotte.
Since arriving in the Queen City, Paula has quickly established herself as one of Charlotte’s leading LGBTQ writers. In 2017, Paula published The Ada Decades, a novel set in Charlotte between the years of 1947 and 2015. It tells the story of the evolving relationship between Ada Shook, a school librarian, and Cam Lively, a teacher in the Charlotte public schools. The novel deals with the prejudices facing lesbians during this time period, but it also deals with the desegregation of the Charlotte schools. At its core, though, this novel is a love story that spans six decades. Two years after the release of The Ada Decades, Paula published Clio Rising. Like The Ada Decades, Clio Rising is a story about a relationship, but in this case the relationship is a professional one between the young protagonist and an elderly writer named Clio Hartt. Last month Clio Rising received the gold medal for the Northeast Region in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards. For more information about Paula’s books, please click on the following link: http://paulamartinac.com/
I recently contacted Paula and asked her about her experiences as a lesbian writer living in Charlotte. Here is what she sent to me:
On June 15, the Supreme Court delivered a historic ruling in Bostock vs. Clayton County, Ga., which held that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. My Facebook and Twitter feeds lit up with friends and colleagues telling their stories of being fired because they’re queer.
I’m lucky. I’ve been out for a long time, and no employer has fired me for being gay. Because I write on LGBTQ themes, however, homophobia has taken a toll on my writing career. I’ve been passed over for writing and teaching gigs and, just last year, “disinvited” as a speaker (a common occurrence for queer artists).
Still, I’ve had amazing support for my writing. I have strong queer readership and a publisher dedicated to LGBTQ writing. In the physical communities where I’ve lived, the sources of support have shifted over the years. When I lived in New York 25 to 30 years ago, support came from other queer friends and writers. In Pittsburgh, where I lived until 2014, it came from a mix of queer and straight people. Here in Charlotte, it has come almost exclusively from straight colleagues. UNC Charlotte friends have attended my readings, bought my books, and touted my successes. I’m connected to a vibrant writing community at Charlotte Center for the Literary Arts, where I teach and coach, and also at Charlotte Readers Podcast. I’ve received fellowships from the Arts and Science Council and the NC Arts Council. The change strikes me as huge.
I’ve channeled my energies into writing queer historical fiction because I think it can help make that history more vivid and alive. In my most recent novels, LGBTQ workplace issues have been a major theme. In my novel-in-stories, The Ada Decades (2017), the protagonist is a white lesbian who works as a middle school librarian in Charlotte during the early days of school integration and busing; her female partner is an English teacher at the same school. They have a lively circle of queer friends, but losing their jobs is an ever-present threat. In Clio Rising (2019), a young lesbian moves from western North Carolina to New York City in 1983 and determines to be out everywhere—especially at work. In my novel-in-progress, Testimony (2021), a college history professor in Virginia in 1960 faces hearings and dismissal when a neighbor spots her kissing another woman through her kitchen window. That novel was inspired by a true story.
As Paula mentions in her comments, she teaches creative writing courses as a part-time faculty member in UNC Charlotte’s English Department. I take pride in the fact that I played a role in hiring her while I was serving as the Chair of the English Department. Also, since June is LGBTQ Pride Month, I think that now is an especially good time for all of us who are associated with Storied Charlotte to take pride in the fact that Paula Martinac is now a Charlotte writer.