A Web Portal For Lesbians Of Color

Becky Birtha -- Writer

It is not uncommon to hear someone express disappointment by beginning a sentence with the words "in a perfect world . . ." Becky Birtha's poems exist in that perfect world, a world of tolerance, clarity, and understanding.  Consistently, Ms. Birtha expresses more hope that such a world will certainly become real than any bitterness at how it remains elusive.  Her poems about relationships, her garden, the countless large and small incidents which make up a personal history bear the stamp of her experiences as an African American, a Quaker, and a lesbian feminist.  But Ms. Birtha's voice carries beyond any of these neatly definable criteria of "identity" and speaks to her reader about universal themes of loss and hope.

Letha Bruce, Tasha Birtha, & Becky Birtha of Philadelphia, Penn. Becky adopted Tasha. Letha was Becky’s partner and, though now living out of state, is still close and part of the family.

Ms. Birtha holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Vermont College and a B.S. in children's studies from SUNY at Buffalo.  Her honors include a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Individual Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship. She has published three books of poetry, including the 1991 collection "The Forbidden Poems," and her work is included in several anthologies. She currently teaches at Goddard College and at Bryn Mawr College.

Becky defines herself as a black lesbian feminist Quaker from a middle-class background. She grew up primarily in Philadelphia, where she produced two collections of short stories and The Forbidden Poems (1991), a collection of her poetry.  Her work has appeared in many anthologies.  In 1985 she was awarded an Individual Fellowship in Literature from the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts, and in 1988 she received a Creative Writing Fellowship in literature from the National Endowment of the Arts.

Becky Birtha was born in Hampton, Virginia, and is the namesake of her great-grandmother, who was a slave. Birtha also claims Irish, Cherokee, and Catawba roots, a heritage which manifests itself in the multicultural slant of her fiction and poetry. She spent most of her childhood in Philadelphia, and attended college at Case Western Reserve before dropping out to move to Berkeley, California.  There she experienced the most intense times of the Berkeley protests and People's Park.  She soon moved to New York where she graduated from SUNY Buffalo with a self-designed major in children's studies.

Birtha's first short fiction collection, For Nights Like This One (1983), is an insightful look at the politics of lesbian and interracial relationships. In her second collection of short fiction, Lover's Choice (1987), Birtha creates complex characters, individuals who arrive at crossroad moments which require them to make critical life-changing decisions.  Many of her characters are involved in interracial relationships.  Birtha courageously depicts white women through black women's eyes, writing freely from a black lesbian perspective.

Lover's Choice takes the reader on short trips into the lives of eleven different women. Through her stories, Becky Birtha creates a sense of continuity by weaving strength, passion, pain, and ingenuity into each character. Ms. Moses makes clear that the government doesn't really help the poor: "Ain't no reason for you to be gaping at me. I pay my taxes, just like everyone else." Sahara "never wanted a man...Sometimes it seems she has spent her whole life finding ways to get close to other people's children." Camped out under the stars, she thinks back over those children and opens her heart to yet another one. Maurie questions her taste in women: "White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The Bourgeoisie. What the hell was she doing in love with someone...like that?" And Johnnieruth, who can ride her bike as fast as the boys and resents her mother trying to rein her in because she's a girl, watches in a park as two women greet each other with a kiss on the lips. For the first time, she sees herself mirrored. Lover's Choice is unusual in its ability to show the interconnectedness of eleven separate lives. Becky Birtha makes the reader care for and relate to each character as an individual, and as part of the whole that we call woman.

Source:  http://www.pewarts.org/93/Birtha/

Books by Becky Birtha

Back cover


For Nights Like This One : Stories of Loving Women
by Becky Birtha

The Forbidden Poems
by Becky Birtha