Photo: Nicole Bengiveno/NYT
After twenty-six years of her sweet, funny, angry, groundbreaking comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, alas to ever dwindling readership and income as more and more queer newspapers went out of business, Alison Bechdel became a surprise critical darling with her tragicomic memoir Fun Home [Kindle], which explores her coming of age and coming out, her father's closeted life, his early, probably intentional death, and their shared love of literature, particularly Proust, whose work this memoir intentionally mirrors. Written in cartoon panels like a graphic novel, Fun Home was a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, and a best book of the year on at least seven major lists including Time's top ten. Suddenly embraced by the mainstream she did not sell out with a newfound urge to tell a "more accessible," "universal" [straight] story. Her Fun Home follow-up Are You My Mother? [Kindle] published four months ago again celebrates lesbian life almost exclusively (though the subject is her hetero mother). The NYTBR raved, "The tragedy and comedy are so entwined, so gloriously balanced, the reader can't help being fascinated. The book delivers lightening bolts of revelation...I haven't encountered a book about being an artist, or about the punishing entanglements of mothers and daughters, as engaging, profound or original as this one in a long time." It may be dated or naive in 2012 to praise someone for her integrity, but I greatly admire Bechdel's work ethic and her commitment to living simply in a modest home outside Burlington, Vermont with her partner Holly Rae Taylor, who tweets under the name Compost Maven.
Do not underestimate Bechdel's ascension into the literary elite. This morning, her 52nd birthday, The New Yorker announced its festival lineup for Oct 5-7. While the likes of Amis, Atwood, Barnes, Egan, Foer, and Pamuk are crammed together on group panels, the only authors to be given one-on-one interview sessions are Salman Rushdie, Patti Smith, and Alison Bechdel. In July, Bechdel was also invited to do several events at Comic Con. Rushdie wasn't.