Does this picture look familiar? You might be thinking of this. The one I’ve put up here is part of Debbie Grossman’s project, “My Pie Town,” in which she re-imagines Russell Lee’s 1940 Farm Security Administration photography project documenting the lives of settlers in Pie Town (YUM, right?) New Mexico. In Grossman’s Pie Town, all the settlers are women.
I loved this project the minute I laid eyes on it, because it’s so akin to my own work in writing historical fiction. One of the things that motivated me to write what I’ve been writing is the knowledge–from carefully studied history and theory and literature–that women who attached themselves passionately (not just romantically, or sexually, but passionately in all kinds of ways) to other women abounded in the past, but did not record their experiences or have them recorded in ways we easily recognize today. For every account of a woman living as a man, or attaching herself for life to another woman, there must be many more unaccounted occasions of these things. Add a tradition of scholarship that, until recently was happy to bury what records there were of these lives under excuses and silence, and you have legions of lives forgotten; the history of a people, erased.
Some of them have been unearthed in recent years. Lots of great scholars are devoting their careers to that sort of work. Meanwhile, I’m having a wonderful time writing stories of women who might have been, who could have been, who probably were, in some form similar enough to my fictional versions to make those versions a sort of alternative history.
Were there any lesbians in Pie Town? Most likely. Do Russell Lee’s photos tell us about them or their lives? Not really, unless we add imagination. Which of the women in Pie Town were lesbians? Who knows–so, why not all of them!
I dare you not to smile as you click through the rest of Grossman’s alternative Pie Town.