For much of her life, novelist Paula Martinac lived in either Pittsburgh or New York City, but she and her wife moved to Charlotte in 2014. Since then, Paula has published three historical novels about lesbian characters who have Southern connections. The first of these novels, The Ada Decades, came out in 2017. Set in Charlotte between 1947 and 2015, this novel traces the evolving relationship between Ada Shook, a school librarian, and Cam Lively, a teacher in the Charlotte public schools. In 2019, Paula published Clio Rising, a novel about a young woman named Livvie Bliss who leaves her home in North Carolina and relocates to New York in 1983 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 most recent novel, Testimony, came out this month from Bywater Books. It tells the story of Gen Rider, a professor who teaches at a private college for women in rural Virginia in the early 1960s. Gen’s career is threatened when a neighbor reports to the local police that she has seen Gen kissing a woman. Testimony is a powerful story that underscores the destructive nature of LGBTQ discrimination that was commonplace in the South and elsewhere in America during the 1950s and ‘60s.
Although Testimony is a historical novel, I think that it also speaks to contemporary issues and concerns. I recently contacted Paula and asked her for more information about how this novel relates to our current situation. Here is what she sent to me:
A couple of years back, I’d finished writing my novel Clio Rising, and I was toying with ideas for what my next book might be. In my research, I stumbled on an article about Martha Deane, a tenured professor at UCLA in the 1950s who was fired because a neighbor reported her “moral turpitude”—she’d been seen kissing another woman through the window of her own home.
As I looked more closely at the period, I discovered many stories about repression at universities. The infamous Johns Committee in Florida systematically rooted out queer teachers and students through the mid-1960s. The esteemed literature professor and scholar, Newton Arvin, a gay man, lost his position at Smith in 1960 for keeping a private collection of nude photos of men.
My novel Testimony took its inspiration from stories like Deane’s and Arvin’s. Their experiences highlighted the issue of who gets to enjoy privacy, and, at the same time, who gets to be public about their relationships.
It’s no coincidence that I started writing Testimony during a new wave of anti-LGBTQ sentiment and activism. According to a report from Lambda Legal Defense, the Trump administration “ushered in a judicial landscape that is significantly more hostile toward LGBTQ people.” On the positive side, Deane’s story in particular spoke to the power of the support networks queer people and women create. I hope Testimony leaves readers with a sense of the LGBTQ community’s amazing resilience and also the importance of straight allies who speak up.
For readers who would like to learn more about Paula and her publications, please click on the following link: http://paulamartinac.com/ For readers who are interested in taking Paula’s upcoming Charlotte Lit workshop called “Start to Finish: The 10-Minute Play,” please click on the following link: www.charlottelit.org
Like her character Gen, Paula teaches on the college level. She regularly teaches creative writing courses as a part-time faculty member in UNC Charlotte’s English Department. When the publication of Testimony was announced to the members of the English Department last week, Paula was inundated with congratulatory email messages. As a member of the English Department, I share my colleagues’ pride in Paula’s latest publication. In fact, I think everyone associated with Storied Charlotte can take pride in the fact that Paula has established herself as one of Charlotte’s leading novelists.