Page Turner: Sassafras Lowrey
The author takes on the queer punk scene her debut novel, "Roving Pack."
Photo credit: Syd London
Sassafras Lowrey’s debut novel Roving Pack delves in deep, looking at complexities of gender and sexuality from the angle of a group of queer, homeless teens. The story takes a look at the privilege of born masculinity and the extreme pressures youth everywhere face today to conform to a traditionalist society. Roving Pack has burst onto the scene and acquired magnificent reviews from the likes of The Huffington Post, Advocate, Lambda Library and Velvet Park Media. Lowrey shines a light on the queer punk scene and shows the audience that she means business as a debut novelist.
You've said that you "needed" to write the book. Could you elaborate on what you mean by that and where the idea sprang from?
I started working on Roving Pack a bit by accident. I was on tour with my anthology Kicked Out and around that time was blessed with getting back in touch with an old friend from my "punk house years." At the time she was dealing with a lot of medical issues, some of which were impacting her memory. In an attempt to counter that, we began texting each other little 160 character snippets of memories (neither of us had smart phones at the time) from when we were young and precariously housed and building home, family and community in the queer punk world.
I remember being on the road and walking into a youth center in San Francisco or Detroit and being flooded with memories and sending off a little text to her about some part of our lives or being home in Brooklyn and having her send me a bit of a memory she had, and then being flooded with so many other memoires of coming of age in punk houses and all the misadventures we got ourselves into. When I get really inspired what always happens is that I begin writing. At first I didn't conceptualize of this writing I was doing as something that would lead to a book, but then the characters took over and really captivated me with a story I knew needed to be told.
The "need" for me is very much about knowing that there are people/times/places that haven't yet been memorialized in print in the ways that they should be - youth cultures, queer punks etc. I wanted to create a story that amongst other things honored, recorded, and preserved the memory of a time and place where so many of us grew up that was underrepresented in queer literature.
What do you think this novel has done for the world in terms of bringing awareness to queer homeless youth?
Bringing awareness to queer youth homelessness was at the forefront of my first book Kicked Out an anthology of current and former homeless LGBTQ youth. However, with Roving Pack although queer youth homelessness is an experience shared by many of the characters, the focus isn’t so much about raising awareness of the issue. As I was writing, I really conceptualized Roving Pack as being about recreating a queer punk world. It’s a novel that is about telling our stories, using our language, and representing our worlds without a focus on trying to translate that to other people.
As a writer, where do you draw inspiration? What books/authors have helped you along the way?
Some of my biggest inspiration has come from the queer world around me, not only my own experience, but also the worlds and stories I've been privileged to witness. Most of all, I believe in writing what I know, the worlds I come from that beat me down and raised me up. I've been constantly inspired by the power of queer folks to create new worlds for ourselves - to not be satisfied with what we're given and instead forge our own families, genders, and communities. As such, these are themes that make consistent appearances in my work.
I absolutely would not be where I am today without the books I read, and the authors that paved the way for me to write a book like Roving Pack or edit an anthology like Kicked Out. As I was first coming out fundamental texts for me were Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina and Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues. I've always been most drawn to the kind of books that can break me open and help me to see some aspect of my life or identity on the page. Lynne Breedlove’s Godspeed and Michelle Tea’s Valencia definitely paved the way for a genre that could include Roving Pack. I am indebted forever to author Kate Bornstein; working with her gave me the skills to learn to harness the power of anger in my writing. I’ve been incredibly blessed with friendships and connections with authors who I really look up to and admire, and to have them support my work- I know I old t be where I am today were it not for folks like Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?), S Bear Bergman (Butch is a Noun), Laura Antoniou (The Marketplace) Toni Amato (Pinned Down By Pronouns), Ivan Coyote (Loose End) and so many others.
You've gotten amazing reviews on this novel! How does that feel, being that this is your debut as a novelist?
The response to Roving Pack has truly been overwhelming. This is not what most would call a "tame" book and I really wasn't sure how the community was going to respond to it. Historically because of my anthology Kicked Out and other places where my work has most often appeared I've often had the reputation of being a memoirist/nonfiction writer. With Roving Pack I broke out of that, and have solidly positioned myself also as a fiction writer, which I think surprising folks (perhaps myself most of all). To have my first novel be the recipient of so much praise so early is a truly unexpected and incredible experience. I think even more surprising and overwhelming than the good reviews that have steadily come in, has been the response directly from readers. Since the book released in October every week I've received physical letters, email, Facebook messages etc. from readers who have been personally touched by the book. I think the most powerful thing I could ever do as an author is create a place where someone is able to see themselves, his or her world, created families and communities on the page. Knowing that many readers are feeling seen and understood, some for the fist time within the pages of a book means more to me than any award or good review ever could. (rovingpack.com)