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Aunt Lute Asks: Shay Brawn

Aunt Lute Asks is a series that features voices in our Aunt Lute family. Today we are talking to Shay Brawn, the Artistic Director of Aunt Lute Books.

When did you join Aunt Lute?

I joined Aunt Lute in 1995. I was still working on my PhD then and was trying to decide whether or not I wanted to stay in academia. Aunt Lute was very attractive to me as a different kind of path because it had published books that had been very important to me in my academic career and I just thought Aunt Lute was doing really important work.

What Aunt Lute illuminated that hadn't been that clear to me in graduate school, where the culture and canon wars were really blazing, was that had been having all these arguments about who should people be reading, what should be on the reading list and no conversation at all, or very little, about who was getting published about how the books got to be available to be on those reading lists at all. And here was Aunt Lute playing this very important role of making sure that some works were existing that we're speaking to experiences and questions that we were really interested in engaging with.

How do you see literature's role in the social justice fight?

I think literature is crucial to the social justice fight in many ways. For me, what literature does that almost nothing else can do in the same way is that it shows us how things are experienced in embodied ways that we can identify with. It helps us lead lives that we wouldn't otherwise lead to experience things from points of view that we wouldn't otherwise experience and sometimes to see our own experience represented in ways that just often aren't in other domains.

So there's both things. Both getting to kind of break out of the sort of bubbles that we all live in, but also to see oneself reflected in the culture. I think both of those things are really important to a sense of belonging in the world, but also a sense of openness. Openness to other people belonging in the world with you and you know etc., so I just I think that there's something fundamental about recognition that happens through narrative that literature does.

Who was your Aunt Lute?

I think my Aunt Lute was probably in some ways my mother, who was just a very strong independent kind of trailblazing person. She was a computer scientist at the very sort of dawn of computer scientists and did all kinds of work. She was a professional woman and, you know, I very much admired her sort of self-determination and her willingness to kind of like strike out on a different path.

She also encouraged me to have a very different path from her because, my interest in literature, my interest in being more of a cultural worker was very different from the choices that she made. I think that she was really just very interested in, not in that I kind of follow her footsteps, but that I feel empowered to follow in my own.

What is your favorite part of radically reading or radically writing or both?

My favorite thing about radical reading and radical writing is when people take sort of familiar stories and tropes and then just surprise the hell out of me and make me see something new, something that hadn't been visible to me before, that allow me to then sort of take that lens and look at other things. That's literature, that's good television, that's good culture. Good kind of radical culture that just defamiliarizes the world in in ways.

I like it best when it's fun and kind of irreverent. Just the way that cracking open old sort of structures—narrative structures, visual structures, anything—and then just like kind of opening up new possibilities. That's just exhilarating and it makes me feel hopeful when sometimes it's really hard to feel hopeful. Because you just feel like it's always going to be this stuck kind of brutal world, but now there's all kinds of possibilities for connection and for people to love each other in ways that aren't always clear.


What are your Aunt Lute memories?

As part of our anniversary celebrations we'd love to hear your Aunt Lute memories. Whether it's a book that meant a lot to you or an event that you can't stop thinking about, share with us here.

We'll be sharing these memories as part of our anniversary celebrations.

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