Book tour ‘gives armor’ to transgender women, nonbinary writers

Women & Children First bookstore, 5233 N. Clark St.

By Miranda Manier

In August 2016, Amy Heart was attending a writer’s workshop for transgender women hosted by Topside Press, a publishing company that distributes transgender literature. Surrounded by 26 other transgender women struggling to have their work published and read, Heart decided to take matters into her own hands. Thus, Heartspark Press, a publishing collective that exclusively publishes the work of transgender women and nonbinary writers, was born. 

The publisher’s latest project, Heartspark’s “Resilience Anthology”—crowdfunded on Kickstarter this fall—is a collection of work written by nonbinary and transgender women writers. From Dec. 13–18, the “Resilience Anthology” writers will be on tour from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Toronto, Ontario, with a Dec. 17 stop in Chicago at Women & Children First Bookstore, 5233 N. Clark St. 

To Heart, live readings like those in the “Resilience Anthology” tour are sacred because transgender women get to read their own work onstage with other transgender women. 

“When a trans woman walks into a space full of other trans women, and then there’s people like you up onstage speaking about things no one has ever spoken before, it is life-changing,” she said. “It gives you armor.” 

Hosting an event so close to  Christmas is unusual for the bookstore, but this was an important exception, according to Sarah Hollenbeck, co-owner of Women & Children First. 

“In the last couple of years, we’ve made more of a conscientious effort to include trans authors and trans voices in our programming and on our shelves,” Hollenbeck said. “There’s a lot of problematic stuff that has come up in terms of trans women being excluded from the feminist movement, and we wanted to  make sure that we were as inclusive as possible.” 

Tobi Hill-Meyer, a Seattle-based writer who contributed to the “Resilience Anthology” and will be participating in the tour, recalled reading a chase scene in a story with a transgender woman as its protagonist and identifying with the character in a way she had never been able to do before. 

“It made me realize that’s a common experience for other people,” Hill-Meyer said. “But for myself, I always felt a little bit of distance because everybody that I read about wasn’t like me. Getting a chance to read about someone I could identify with was incredibly meaningful and made me realize that I wanted to be able to write those kinds of stories, too.” 

Luna Merbruja, another contributor to the “Resilience Anthology” and tour participant from San Francisco, hopes transgender people will attend the tour and experience the same kind of identification Hill-Meyer experienced when they hear stories about transgender characters who are flawed and fully human. 

Heart’s hope for the tour is a bit more succinct.

“I hope my trans and nonbinary siblings across the gender binary feel like they’re coming home for a minute,” she said, “and they’re able to hold that in their hearts for a while, and that it makes the world easier to walk in.”