From The Washington Blade, May 21, 1999

Going home again
Author examines her past, asking, ‘Who walked this road before me?’

by Rachel Gantz

Some books take a long time to get written. Minnie Bruce Pratt’s fourth collection of poetry, Walking up Depot Street, has been 17 years in the making.

In Walking up Depot Street, readers follow a woman named Beatrice from her home in the rural, segregated South to the industrial North. The book becomes "a journey one woman takes from a place of real oppression to liberation," says Pratt.

The collection is split into two distinct sections, "North" and "South," allowing Pratt to reflect on her own experiences of living in both regions.

Pratt says this poetry represents her attempt to describe "a journey that all of us in the LGBT community have been on. Suddenly, it dawns on people that ‘I have a past that no one has talked to me about.’ You begin to question ‘Who walked before me?’"

Going home to Selma, Ala., helped Pratt answer that question for herself. She talked with her mother, trying to understand and learn about herself and the history that was never taught.

"My education in the South was very limited," Pratt recalls. "I was only taught the Civil War from the South’s point of view."

So she began to do research, finding narratives dating back to 1872, learning about the presence of the Ku Klux Klan in her town.

The poem entitled "Red String" is Pratt’s most personal work in this collection, mirroring her questioning of her surroundings.

"Growing up, I had always gone along with the status quo of segregation," she says, adding that only after coming out in 1975 and experiencing strained race relations did she begin challenging the status quo.

"I began to see the similarities between [the social oppression of] African Americans and homosexuals," she remembers.

She was raised with a good sense of oral tradition, Pratt says.

"I did not go to the theater, movies were not accessible nor books, and television wasn’t a dominant factor like it is today."

She is no stranger to poetry, either. She has written three previous volumes of poems: The Sound of One Fork, We Say We Love Each Other, and Crime Against Nature, outlining Pratt’s losing custody of her two sons because of her Lesbian sexual orientation. Crime Against Nature won the 1989 Lamont Poetry Prize and was nominated for a Pulitzer.

Pratt’s experiences are reflected in Beatrice’s.

"Beatrice is a Lesbian, which is a central part of her identity," Pratt says, "and her experiences reflect that part of her, both sexually and politically."

Many of the poems open with an epigraph, outlining a common theme.

"I wanted the quotes to show some of the great tradition of resistance and liberation … and how it has shaped Beatrice," Pratt says.

In addition, multi-vocal narratives are woven throughout the work because, Pratt says, "in this journey to liberation, you are never alone. You go with others, those who have gone before you and those you meet along the way."

The themes of solidarity and community are important to Pratt. In light of the recent fatal beatings of James Byrd and Matthew Shepard, Pratt urges all of her audience -- Gay, straight, and transgendered -- to "continue the strong tradition of resistance."

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