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Barrie Jean Borich writes a tale of two cities

Barrie Jean Borich
barriejeanborich.net
Barrie Jean Borich

She’s keeping an eye on the progress of the gay marriage legislation being debated at the Capitol, but Barrie Jean Borich doesn’t really need to pay attention to the arguments; she wrote the book on gay marriage a long time ago.

“My Lesbian Husband” is a romantic and philosophical love story about two women, and a groundbreaking look into the language that defines relationships. Originally published by Graywolf Press in 1999, the book has been reissued this week as an ebook, with a new introduction that reflects the added dimensions Barrie and her spouse Linnea have experienced as their relationship enters its third decade, and as gay rights and realities have come into the open.

“At the time I published that book, nothing happening now was even imaginable — all these constitutional amendment battles, so many states with same-sex marriage,” she said. “There’s still not a lot out there that’s like that book, in the ways I talked about the word ‘marriage,’ and what it means to lesbians. The complexity of that argument doesn’t always make it to the news.”

The ebook follows a new book into the world: Borich’s memoir “Body Geographic” (Graywolf Press) explores the ways in which places and maps help form experiences, memories, and ultimately identities. Borich grew up in Chicago before moving to Minneapolis as a young woman, and in many ways “Body Geographic” is a love story about the “White City,” a series of essays that mark her longing for that hometown. Last year, Borich got a chance to live in her memories once again when she accepted a teaching job at Chicago’s DePaul University.

“It’s very interesting to look for the city I knew growing up. There are still pockets here I remember, but it has really changed tremendously,” says Borich, whose sometimes romantic notions about Chicago were immediately readjusted when she was mugged soon after moving back. “The real city literally hit me on the head. That was hard, and a lot about the move was hard. We are doing the commuter marriage thing, which is a real adjustment. And it’s difficult to move for work when your support system is somewhere else. But the change forced me out of habits and invigorated my teaching and writing.”

It has also given her a new perspective upon which to gaze on Minneapolis. Although in her book she describes Chicago as a grand, alabaster lady, she now perceives it as more masculine. “Or maybe it’s like [1950s Chicago author, “The Man With the Golden Arm”] Nelson Algren described it, Chicago as a woman with a broken nose,” she says. “One of the first things I said to Linnea when I got here was that it felt more male here. I had to reach in to my inner boy to navigate the streets.”

cover of the body geographic

Meanwhile, Minneapolis, though smaller, now appears to be the more friendly and progressive city. “There’s a way that Minneapolis has that very visible, almost central alternative culture, almost a “Portlandia” thing. I really miss the bike culture in Minneapolis, because I was a serious bike commuter there, on the Greenway, and it’s much tougher terrain [in Chicago].”

Another thing Borich is missing is the Twin Cities’ strong writing community. This weekend, at her all-star book launch party, 15 writers will welcome her back by joining Borich on stage at the Loft. The writers will read their takes on the prompt, “The Map That Made Me, ” and map art will be on display and in production. Maps are central not just to the themes of “Body Geographic,” but to the book’s structure. Borich searched through historical maps and pulled several remarkable illustrations to accompany her words.

“I came upon [New Yorker illustrator] Saul Steinberg’s, “View of the World As Seen From 9th Avenue,” a map, obviously satirical, that showed along the river all the cities he had lived in, not in any accurate location, but in relation to his memory, bigger and smaller depending on his connection,” she said. “That really fired me up. I started thinking about how geography is just writing about place, and what happens in those places just become part of the map.”

For now, that means Borich herself is a dot on the map — of two different cities.

Events

  • March 16, 7 p.m. The Loft at Open Book, Minneapolis. Borich will be joined by Aundria Morgan; Ben Kreilkamp; Doug Federheart; Ellen Lansky; Heid Erdrich; Frieda Gardner; Kathyrn Kysar; Katrina Vandenberg; Laura Migliorino; Morgan Grayce Willow; Pat Cumbie; Patrick Scully; Sheila O’Connor; Sun Yung Shin, and Megan Maloney-Vinz.
  • March 17, 4 p.m. Common Good Books, St. Paul.

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