From Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Midler, and Diana Ross to Queen Elizabeth I, Julia Child, and Princess Leia, these divas have been sister, alter ego, fairy godmother, or model for survival to gay men and the closeted boys they once were. And anyone—straight or gay, young or old, male or female—who ever needed a muse, or found one, will see their own longing mirrored here as well. These witty and poignant short essays explore reasons for diva-worship as diverse as the writers themselves. My Diva offers both depth and glamour as it pays tribute with joy, intelligence, and fierce, fierce love. Finalist, Lambda Book Award for LGBT Anthology, Lambda Literary Foundation
Michael Montlack is the editor of the essay anthology MY DIVA: 65 GAY MEN ON THE WOMEN WHO INSPIRE THEM (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009) and the author of three poetry chapbooks: COVER CHARGE (Winner of the 2007 Gertrude Prize) and GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS (Pudding House, 2008) and THE SLIP (Poets Wear Prada, 2009). His work has appeared in CIMARRON REVIEW, SWINK, THE NEW YORK QUARTERLY, POET LORE, COURT GREEN, COLUMBIA POETRY REVIEW, MIPOESIAS and other journals. Recently he was awarded residencies from Ucross (Wyoming), Soul Mountain Retreat(Connecticut), VCCA (Virginia) and Lambda Literary Retreat(California). He splits his time between New York City (where he teaches at Berkeley College) and San Francisco, and has just finished writing his first novel. "
What woman doesn't want to be a gay icon? Answer: No one. Like most collections, My Diva is hit or miss. My Diva is at its best when the author is tying in the life of his chosen icon with his experiences as a gay man. My Diva is weakest when the author is providing a wikipedia definition of what a diva is, or is simply providing haphazardly organized biographical information. Jim Nason wrote with such passion about Celine Dion, I immediately downloaded a bunch of songs off her French language album. Of course, I deleted them after I remembered that I *hate* Celine. Nason made such a strong case for Celine, I was convinced I needed to give her another chance. If anything, My Diva convinced me to investigate some of the lesser known divas. I have so many exciting movie and music options to explore now. I was happiest reading this book when I realized the authors appreciated my divas just as much as I do: Eartha Kitt, Liza Minelli, Parker Posey, Margaret Cho, and Bjork. But no Big and Little Edie? Come on now, guys.
The voices in this anthology are as varied and colorful as the women they extol. The book opens up whole vistas about the females lauded, critiqued and observed as well as the impact on the gay men who took them as their idols. I’ve learned new things about famous figures and been exposed to women I’ve never heard of before now.
The ladies are fierce and funny, sober and reflective, factual and fictional. You may find some of your select divas within these pages or discover new ones. Either way, this anthology is a one-of-a-kind tribute that must be read by anyone who’s ever cherished a female star and the joy she brought into his/her life.
For culture vultures like me, My Diva is a thrill to behold. Edited by poet and fiction writer Michael Montlack, the book includes clever, urbane, campy, and ernest essays about some of my favorite pop culture icons. Encomiums include Grace Paley by Mark Doty, Margaret Cho by Kenji Oshima, and Eartha Kitt by D. A. Powell.
Honestly, there's an embarrassment of riches here, and some of the best essays are about lesser-known women or by emerging authors. One of my favorite essays, which jerked tears and titters during the reading last week and earned special notice from queer theory legend Camille Paglia, is "Auntie Mame," by Lewis DeSimone. The author (who's reading more of his own work next Tuesday at the Harvey Milk Branch of the SF Public Library at 7 p.m along with Paul Hufstedler and Donny Lobree) mixes insightful film commentary with poignant self-revelation and sissy-boy memoir to create an essay that stands out and stands on its own, even as it fits nicely with the book's theme.
Another favorite essay of mine is "Wendy Waldman" by fiction author Paul Lisicky, mainly because Waldman is a wonderful songwriter, redolent of Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell, whose fame hasn't risen to her '70s contemporaries' levels, despite having written or cowritten such gems as "Mad Mad Me" (Maria Muldaur), "Pirate Ships" (Judy Collins, The Cure), "Save The Best for Last" (Vanessa Williams), and several Linda Ronstadt numbers.
If My Diva succeeds in shining light on hidden gems, my one complaint—the complaint at every reading, says Montlack—is that too many great divas have been left out. Among the refusniks I most miss are Joni Mitchell, Judy Garland, Blossom Dearie, and Judy Holliday. Luckily, the book has been such a success already that a sequel may be just a year or two away. For now, Montlack, who celebrates his birthday this weekend in San Francisco, is busy promoting the first edition, as well as entertaining the idea of publishing a book of companion poems about the 65 divas, all written by the essay authors (most of whom are distinguished poets).
An interesting mix of short essays. I didn't know many of the divas, and was saddened that no one chose to write about Ella Fitzgerald. One writer said that a true diva must have detractors to be a diva. And who didn't like Ella? So there you go.
Some of the essays were hard to follow. Others bordered on brilliant. My favorites were the ones about Lucille Ball, Endora (yes, there are some fictional divas in this book) and Patti LuPone. I liked how the essays were listed in diva birth order, from Sappho (635 B.C.) to Princess Leia (1977).
A great idea for a book. You might be tempted to read only about the divas that you worship, but give the others a chance. Your next obsession could just be an essay away.
I'm totally biased since my essay on Jeanne Moreau is included in this collection. However, I must say I'm honored to be included in such a gorgeous book with so many talented writers. Be sure to check this one out.
Parker Posey, Elizabeth Taylor, Bjork: I could read about them endlessly. This collection, like all collections, is hit or miss. From the earnest to the erudite, there is a reflection of everyone contained within these essays that capture fame, isolation, and weaponized glamour.