Gary Sullivan

Alysia Abbott
Interview

Gary Sullivan: While you've taken great pains I think to give a very good contextual background for steveabbott.com, I wonder if you might not mind, here, as a kind of entry for those who may not yet have visited the site, talking a little bit about starting it up. How the project developed, when you actually put it up online, what you see as the goal(s), and how you might feel about the relative success of that goal or goals ...

Alysia Abbott: My father's death from AIDS in December 1992 left an enormous void in my life. Since my mother had died when I was 2 and since I had no siblings Steve Abbott had been my family as well as my closest friend. (We had an unusual affinity — really understood each other and enjoyed hanging out. I am still surprised to discover that most people don't enjoy this kind of relationship with their parents)

Fortunately, though Dad left me little of monetary value he did leave me an incredible wealth of his writing — published and unpublished works, letters, journals, and comic strips. I don't know if he ever considered the impact of these writings in his absence but I have always turned to them when I missed him, in order to feel closer with him, grounded in "family." Still, the solitariness of reading these materials had a lonesome effect on me. I'd never been very close with dad's family and friends so I mourned him in a kind of isolation.

With steveabbott.com I have attempted to put forward a vision of Steve as a man, as a writer, and as a father. By doing this I can keep some of his spirit alive. Also, by making public my mourning, by sharing with whoever clicks through the Steve Abbott that I miss, I can direct my lingering grief towards a sense of community. (My mourning can so easily veer into self-pity, self-denial.)

Through the process of creating the site I also feel like I've re-opened a dialogue with my Dad. And in many ways I created steveabbott.com to thank him for giving me this opportunity by leaving me his writing and the memory of our intimacy. I launched the site on Father's day in San Francisco where he was based and where we grew up together.

The site would not have been possible without the talents and generosity of my ex-boyfriend Jason Schmidt an "information architect" who built with me the site as a Christmas present. He gave me the vehicle to express what I'd been carrying around these many years.

As far as the goals for the site, I feel like I have succeeded with many of them. I have introduced my father and his work to folks who would not normally know him. Since the launch approximately 6800 people have visited. I still would like to get some of his works republished (they are all out of print) and am slowing working toward that goal. I think I've also succeeded in showing what a startlingly gifted father Steve was. Without many resources he had an incredible capacity for loving — which, in turn, has allowed me to love well.

I hope the site could be a resource for other children of gay parents and offer a story that others could relate to and possibly find comfort in. I actually would like to work more toward creating community -- either through setting up a bulletin board, or linking with other organizations like COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere.) It's funny, because I created steveabbott.com for personal/selfish reasons — to release these feelings of grief, to achieve catharsis. And only in the months since the launch have I met others who relate to my experience awakening a desire to connect and foster community.

GS: You've been very public with your writing about your father, Steve, but I wonder what else you do, if you've been doing poetry and/or fiction of your own, perhaps inspired by (or maybe, at least initially, in spite of?) your father's example?

AA: Since living in New York I have worked a variety of jobs on the outskirts of the arts, writing but never billed as a "writer." (Currently I work in fundraising for The New York Public Library.) I must have developed some crazy-strict definition of what it means to be a "writer" because even though I have written extensively for the site, have organized and performed various readings and am being published this summer in an anthology, I still have difficulty calling myself "a writer."

Absolutely, being my father's daughter complicates my being a "writer." Steve had a scholarly knowledge of various arts and obscure topics: Gnostic sects, underground performance artists, French intellectuals, etc. He even studied in a monastery for several years following college. Though I consider myself cultured and intellectual I hardly possess the rigor my dad had and am shamefully more attuned to pop-culture and socializing.

As a writer, I've seen myself as an Athena born from my father's head since most everything I've written over the last few years relates to him. And I have worried that I could be a one trick pony. This may or may not be true. (Perhaps once I commit the story to paper I'll move on.) But even if it is, it's not such a bad trick I guess.

My definition of a writer is widening and I hope now to create my own fluid thing: a writer-organizer-legacybearer-humanist or something like that.

GS: You've racked up a number of awards for the site, and I personally think it's the single most moving thing I've ever seen on the web. It's the only time I've ever actually cried reading something online. I wonder — beyond the awards and media attention, what has the response been to the site so far? Do you get lots of letters from people who've found there way there and are similarly moved?

AA: Overall the response to the site has been pretty tremendous — not so much in the volume of response but in the quality of response. I have received scores of emails from strangers, who've stumbled onto the site through Yahoo or wherever, opening up their hearts to me, sharing their unique stories of loss or responding to my own.

To really touch someone, even only a few people, through something I have created is powerfully gratifying. It's strange too of course. I received numerous emails from someone in Australia who wanted me to visit them in Sydney to "be healed." Perhaps, the anonymity of email allows people to respond to the work in a way they might not be able in other circumstances. Maybe because I have been so open on the site, they feel free to be open with me.

Old friends and colleagues of my dad's (some of whom I'd last met when I was a little girl) contacted me after stumbling onto steveabbott.com. Many of these folks ended up sending me rare books and drawings of Steve's that made their way into my readings or on the site. Others I still am in touch with. It's great.

I have been amazed by the whole experience really. This kind of immediate, intense reaction to a creative work would not be possible in any other medium than the Internet. Certainly for me, I would never be able to reach so many people so quickly or cheaply than I have been able to with steveabbott.com. I check my statistics every day tickled by the range of countries and portals people reach me through. I hope only to keep the momentum going ...

GS: You mentioned feeling a desire now to foster/connect with a community of people who've had similar experiences ... and I wonder if you've begun to think about the details of that ... how you might go about doing this in some possibly formal way?

AA: Honestly, I haven't really hammered out how I would formally foster community through the site though there's clearly huge potential to do so. I'm considering posting a bulletin board where people could discuss subjects ranging from gay parenting, to how to memorialize the dead, to SF poetry. I also think it'd be great to form a network with similar sites or sites devoted to issues discussed on steveabbott.com  either resource oriented sites like colage.org (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), or more personal tribute sites to writers, parents etc. Of course, with gay parenting/gay marriage rights still being debated in many courtrooms there is a lobbying/advocacy angle that I could explore. Creating something that people enjoy is always wonderful but I'd prefer to create something that can open people's minds possibly inspire them to act or that they can connect with in real way. I've had folks tell me that after reading through steveabbott.com they re-thought their family relationships or potential family relationships. Of course, not everyone's looking for a heavy experience when they come online but it's nice to be able to offer it in what is becoming an increasingly "buy.com" medium.

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