[Originally published in Vp issue 7 by Kent Martin (2004)]
Michelle Tea is the award-winning author of Chelsea Whistle, Valencia and The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America. At her relatively young age, she has blazed through lifetimes of experience. A bio on her online shrine at www.purpleglitter.com lists the various paths she has walked: “ex-prostitute, ex-Goth, ex-drummer for Dirt Bike Gang, ex-straight girl, ex-lesbian separatist vegan, ex-Catholic schoolgirl, and ex-resident of Chelsea, Boston’s working class slum.” She has channeled her many identities into a successful writing career. Her debut volume dubbed her as “the spokesperson for America’s young queer girl mutant horde,” and she’s since become a darling in reading rooms across the nation, especially in San Francisco, her home base.
Recently, while on the road promoting her work as a contributing writer and editor on two new anthologies (Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class and Pills, Thrills, Chills, and Heartache: Adventures in the First Person) and her own book of collected poems (The Beautiful), Michelle and I exchanged e-mails. E-mail, it turns out, is one of her favorite means of communication.
New Yorkers and Californians seem to have a curious, love/hate relationship. What attracts you to San Francisco as your home?
Well, I just ended up there on a coin flip, really. It was that or lesbian separatist land in the Arizona desert. But I do love San Francisco. People seem to flock there to forge community and to try to put theoretical political ideas into practice. There is more freedom to be a raging freak and live an interesting life and not get too wrapped up in notions of career or money. That can be tedious sometimes, but I’d rather live in a place where people are more interested in changing the world than competing for each other for a piece of it.
When did you think you might be able to actually become a writer?
Well, when I moved to San Francisco and found the intense open mic scene of the early ‘90s I understood that there was a place for me to bring the writing I’d already been doing. I began to understand that the only thing required of a ‘writer’ is that she ‘writes’ and I was doing that. And now I had a place to sort of showcase it and not be writing