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Academy rewards

Carleton prof wants to bring Ivan Coyote to Ottawa

LESBIAN LEARNINGS. Jodie Medd, assistant prof at Carleton, wants to bring Ivan E Coyote to Ottawa as a writer in residence. She's seeking community donations.

At 35, Jodie Medd has the charisma and repertoire of a seasoned intellectual.

“Once I had an article published called ‘The Cult of the Clitoris,’ I figured I had nothing else to achieve in my academic career,” says Medd, laughing.

In fact, she has much more to accomplish.

Medd has been an assistant prof at Carleton since 2000 and has used her time there well. She is the author of numerous papers that she has presented internationally, including “Modernist (Queer) Temporalities,” “Strong Hard Filth: The Erotics of Modernist Patronage,” and “A Most Mischievous and Dangerous Movement: Séances, Slander and Radclyffe Hall.”

She is now on sabbatical in New York and doing research on the power dynamics of modern patronage when it came to alternative writers, as well as lesbian scandals of the early 20th century.

“I focus less on lesbian folks in history and more about the concepts of lesbianism,” says Medd. “My argument is that around the 1910s and ’20s lesbianism didn’t have any real solid idea behind it. Because of that it could be used to express all these different social anxieties.”

She is researching a time when lesbians weren’t really out in the sense they are now, and asserts that their history is different from gay men’s history. Medd can recall the exact moment when she wanted to research lesbian history.

“I was in a class on lesbian context, which was the first of its kind at Queen’s University. The professor pointed out that in literary studies of the 20th century everybody knows about the James Joyce obscenity trials, but nobody talked about the Radclyffe Hall obscenity trials,” says Medd.

She is referring to when Irish writer James Joyce’s work, Ulysses, was printed without permission in 1927 in the US and was highly contested because of its “obscene and offensive content.” Its publication ban was lifted in 1933. Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 work, The Well of Loneliness, was considered obscene because it was about a masculine lesbian named Stephen Gordon. This work was subject to an obscenity trial in the United Kingdom and was ordered destroyed for its subject matter.

As an academic, Medd saw the importance of these events. As a queer person, she saw the controversy.

“I was one of those rare people who knew what I wanted to do from a very young age. I knew that I would pursue academia until I hit a wall. I was humble enough not to know what I would be able to achieve.”

Medd is working toward the creation of a sexuality studies program at Carleton.

“It’s been a while coming. There have been more and more programs of this kind developing in Canada and the US,” she says enthusiastically.

Medd’s vision is for Carleton to draw on some existing disciplines and add some core courses so a student could earn a minor in sexuality studies.

Medd was humbled to receive a teaching award in 2005 for her work on this project, as well as for her passionate teaching itself.

Medd has also been on the board of the Lambda Foundation since 2002. She is working with Lambda and Carleton to bring Vancouver lesbian writer Ivan E Coyote to Carleton as a writer in residence.

Coyote is the award-winning author of three short story collections and a novel. She is also a monthly columnist for Xtra West and has been called a natural-born storyteller.

“I have taught her stuff and students are very receptive to her,” says Medd. She first taught Coyote to a Women And Literature course and Coyote was a favourite even among great icons like Sylvia Plath and Toni Morrison.

A fan of Coyote’s work, Medd introduced her students to selections from Close To Spiderman and One Man’s Trash in 2004. Coyote’s work is now also taught in a sexuality studies course.

“I really found that we were able to talk about issues that students would otherwise find uncomfortable and difficult to address,” says Medd. “Ivan really builds those bridges.

“You read her, and you just want to be her friend.”

Coyote’s readings at Carleton have been well received and very well attended. And she’s impressed people with her honest and frank answers to some very upfront questions.

And as for Lambda, Coyote was chosen as a candidate for this project because she bridges the queer and mainstream communities. And she fits with their mandate of public education through scholarships in gay and lesbian studies. The project has great support from Carleton, but Lambda is still fundraising from Ottawa’s queer community.

“The idea is that she’s here to do her writing, and do her readings and things of her choice. She is also available to students and visiting classes,” says Medd. “I’m really keen and excited about getting Ivan here. I hope the community is as keen.”