Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Q&A with Adele Bertei


Photo by Jeanne Vienne



Adele Bertei is the author of the new memoir Twist: An American Girl. Her other books include Peter and the Wolves. Also a director, performer, and musician, she is the creator of the band the Bloods. She's based in Los Angeles.


Q: What inspired you to write your new memoir?


A: Growing up as a queer kid in the 1960s and ‘70s, life was perilous, and I think it’s important that our history be written and remembered. Back then, if people suspected you were queer you could lose your life.


I didn’t go through all of the trauma not to tell the tale of how I survived and what I learned about being human, in dark and light. I needed to understand the why behind the cruelty, to find compassion for people that hurt me. To forgive them but also to forgive myself. Forgiveness was a profound key to my survival. 


Q: You write, “Maddie Twist is a Trojan horse. Like Ulysses, I needed protection while taking the journey back through the war zones of my youth.” Can you say more about why you chose to use an alter ego, “Maddie Twist,” as your vantage point?


A: I’ve been writing this book in fits and starts for the last 50 years, often wrestling with the voice. Once I thought about having an alter ego, the flow clicked into gear and Maddie became my trusted friend—the girl who could tell the truth in its raw nakedness, as the kid going through it. She spoke in purer ways that I could not as an adult woman. 


Q: The writer Mary Gaitskill said of the book, “For all the pain and misfortune in the early life of the intrepid narrator, it is most of all about the connective, transformative power of art and soulful community.” What do you think of that description? 


A: I find it to be accurate. Mary Gaitskill is a great teacher, and in my opinion, one of America’s very best writers and I’m humbled to have her attention and support with Twist.


The underlying theme of the book is about transmutation of misfortune…a sort of unconscious alchemy where trauma is transformed into ways of seeing that illuminate a path forward, a path that can’t be walked alone.


I don’t want to write spoilers here, but the third act of the book is a story of community which, in many ways, saved my life. Art and music is the terrain where imagination turns darkness into light.


Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book, and what do you hope readers take away from it?


A: I gained much personal strength from owning my story and facing the darkness of it.


It’s not just my story; as a girl child, I face the brutality and cruelty that women of mine, my mother’s, and grandmother’s generations suffered. Writing through the darkness and following the strings of lights on that journey helped me heal.


So many LGBTQ people I know who grew up in the 1960s feel as if our history is disappearing, along with our language, and it’s important for younger people in our community to know what we went through and not to shame us for making mistakes regarding the current cultural mores.


We elders didn’t have an inch of the freedoms LGBTQ people have today. But we fought and endured the blows so that the next generation wouldn’t have to, at least as much as we did. It’s important our history not be erased.


I would love it if Twist might inspire others to write, to present their stories in whatever forms they might manifest, without shame. With courage and with love.  


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m writing a 33 1/3 book on Sinead O’Connor’s Universal Mother LP for Bloomsbury.


Also working on the third book in a trilogy of memoirs called No New York; a chronicle of the post-punk New York scene of the late 1970s/1980s. A revolution of women artists took place in NYC at that time, which has never been framed as powerfully woman-based as it was.


As an original member of the Contortions, I was one among many women making sounds and art at that time. We came from all over the U.S. but also from London, Berlin, Paris. We were the disruptors, ignoring all gendered ideologies.


It was the first revolution of women in art, and our courage and freedom inspired the men in the scene to also take risks. 


Oh, and I'm singing again. I’ve missed it terribly.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes! I hope to see readers at one of the book events in March! Here’s the schedule:


March 14: Skylight, L.A., with Lizzie Borden

March 19: Book Passage, S.F., with Nazelah Jamison

March 20: Brazos, Houston

March 23:  McNally Jackson, NYC, with Nan Goldin

March 27:  Heights Arts/Mac’s Backs, Cleveland, with Amanda Rabinowitz


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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