Famous Poet and LGBTQ+ Activist Andrea Gibson to speak at Prairie Lights

Andrea Gibson returns to Iowa City in celebration of their new collection of work, Lord of the Butterflies.

Haley Triem, Arts Reporter

“Gender is the poetry each of us makes with the language we have been given.”

Andrea Gibson quotes Leslie Feinberg when asked about the journey of self-identification through poetry. Gibson is a poem-of-a-person, with the stanzas and lines in their life culminating to form a complex story. To them, poetry is a vessel for truth, a necessary element in today’s America.

“Sometimes my intention is to simply tell the truth, as telling the truth is in direct opposition to our current political climate,” they said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Other times I write to grieve. And other times it’s my intention to write down the beautiful and joyful details of my very queer life because to only write down the pain, I believe, is to dishonor the art, lives, and activism of those who came before me.”

Gibson will be bringing this testimony of truth-telling to Prairie Lights Bookstore Nov. 30, at 7 p.m. Iowa Youth Writing Program Director and Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate Mallory Hellman will facilitate a conversation with Gibson in celebration of their new collection Lord of the Butterflies, which champions equality, gender exploration, and political activism.

“This book was written over two years following the election of Trump,” Gibson said. “It’s my most political collection thus far, but it is also my most loving, and if I had to pick one thing to be proud of it would be that. I hope the book inspires people to live actively compassionate lives and I hope that includes self-compassion.”

But Gibson doesn’t just write for the purpose of political activism, or just for themselves.

“I write to ‘comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable,’” they said. “So I write with a wide variety of folks in mind. I hope to impact society as a whole, yes, but I focus on individuals when creating so not to lose the intimacy that I sense is required to change people’s hearts.”

Kathleen Johnson, events coordinator at Prairie Lights agreed with this sentiment, and noted how loyal Gibson’s fans are because of Gibson’s individualistic approach to writing.

“Their work really touches people deeply,” Johnson said. “I’m very excited [for this reading], it’s seldom that people come up to me and say ‘Wow! I can’t believe you’ve got this person!’ It seems like their fans are deeply, deeply devoted.”

Jen Weissmiller, owner of Prairie Lights agrees.

“We’re excited because they have such a big following,” she said. “And, it’s a type of spoken word event, which always makes for a good performative reading. There will be large excitement in the crowd.”

However, Gibson appreciates their fans, especially members of the queer community, as much as the community appreciates them.

“My life is possible because of queer community,” Gibson said. “Each performance I do feels like a community event, one in which there are many hearts coming together to lift each other up. I rarely have the experience of feeling like a lone voice, even on stage.”

With this passion towards the community, Gibson plans to spread their truth of finding themselves, in hopes of inspiring others to do the same.

“Poetry is where I uncover who I am and that has been especially true in regards to my gender,” they said. “Writing wakes me up to my own ever-evolving identity, startles me with truths I did not know were truths. It’s been exciting, and sometimes scary, and always transformative. Uncovering our own courage is a lifelong journey. It’s a process of simultaneously honoring your life and the lives of others.”