POW-WOW Inc. (Performers or Writers for Women on Women’s Issues) has been running for seven years, featuring a spoken-word performance by Chicago’s LGBT artists, every Tuesday of every week. This year, at the outset of Women’s History Month, it is poised to expand its programming in a special month-long series as the first Chicago festival for LBT women in honor of Women’s History Month.
Some of the highlights include the 2010 premiere of Eve Ansler’s Any One of Us: Words from Prison, a collection of monologues by over 50 incarcerated or formerly incarcerated women in the United States. The schedule also includes the 1st Annual Rainbow Shoe/Tie Affair, which marks the return of the International Women’s Dance. This year’s dance is the primary fundraiser for POW-WOW and will include a pre-award ceremony honoring women and men in the community who promote the health of women. This year’s honorees are Lora Branch, Dr. Margo Bell, Keith Green, the Rev. Charles Straight and the creators of The Red Pump/Red Tie Project. Other events include a screening of the documentary No! The Rape Documentary, with a discussion following.
While POW-WOW has been a force in the Chicago creative arts world, this new series also indicates a conscious attempt to showcase the work of LGBTs of color in a city where even the queer community tends to patronize businesses and creative arts in ways that mirror the racial segregation of the city. C.C. Carter, founder of POW-WOW, is herself a well-known spoken-word performer and writer whose first book of poetry, Body Language, was a 2003 Lambda Literary Award nominee.
Carter told Windy City Times she felt the need for this kind of LGBT programming in part because Pride tends to be Eurocentric and middle class while Black Pride is focused on African-American men. That made her question the lack of space for the female segments of the LGBT community: “I asked myself, ‘What avenues exist in this city for lesbians?’ There was also, within the Chicago women’s rights community, a lack of representation of lesbians.” In looking for venues and performers, Carter knew she wanted to represent a diverse group that would, for instance, include Latinas as well as African Americans but in more substantive ways than is possible during a one-evening performance. And she knew she wanted to shake up the LGBT community’s tendency to gravitate only to the North Side of the city for entertainment.
“The South Side is this cultural mecca, with venues and audiences you don’t often hear about,” she said. “People tend to imagine that the South Side must automatically be a difficult place to host LGBT events because of the presence of the Black church, but we have found that businesses there are incredibly supportive of our work. We found venues with no problem.” The events are spread throughout the city, and spaces include the Echelon Theatre, 2101 E. 83rd, which will host the burlesque and drag performances of The Pantomime Follies March 6. Comediennes Dana Austin and Gloria Bigelow will perform on March 14 at Jokes and Notes, 4641 S. Martin Luther King.
Carter is looking forward to the month’s events becoming the springboard of a new and dynamic creative arena that encourages and fosters emergent LGBT talent and showcases the South Side as a safe space for all women. She is acutely aware of how the term “safe space” translates differently for women, depending on their ethnic and racial background, and that white women have historically been reluctant to make it out to what might be defined as a “Black space.” The performance of Eve Ansler’s Any One But Us, which will take place at Northeastern Illinois Universitys’ Jacob Carruther’s Center for Inner City Studies, is the kind of programming she thinks will bring communities together to consider the interrelated experiences of people of color, women and LGBTs.