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2017 Emma McGordon

Emma McGordon, is the winner of the Juia Darling Travel Fellowship 2017. She is a  writer from West Cumbria and plans to use the award to travel to San Francisco.

Emmas’ poems have been published by Black Suede Boot Press, Penned in the Margins and Tall Lighthouse. She has previously been highly commended in the Rosamund Prize and in the University Women in the Arts awards as well as being shortlisted for Cumbria Writer for the Year.

On winning the award Emma said:

“I am delighted to have been awarded the fellowship. It will enable me to start working on a new project that will begin with a journey to San Francisco. I am excited to see how my work will develop in response to the trip and I am extremely grateful to the panel for the opportunity. As well as the financial benefit, an award like this also gives me a huge sense of recognition as a writer and the confidence to keep producing.”

There were over 90 entrants for this year’s fellowship and the judges, Jo Shapcott, Margaret Wilkinson, Charlie Hardwick and Bev Robinson had a hard job of selecting the winner.  There were many fascinating and interesting projects demonstrating the depth of talent and imagination of the creative writers in the North.

Margaret Wilkinson said of Emma’s proposal:

“A compelling project with real depth, I was greatly impressed by the clarity and precision of this application from a writer who has spent years giving to others in her community wishing to now take inspiration from place and space to write. There was a fearlessness about this writer, juxtaposing the queer experience in rural Cumbria and San Francisco.”

and Charlie Hardwick commented:

  “The winning proposal was buzzing with energy and enthusiasm. Its journey –from rural to urban, from quiet to loud, from black & white to technicolour, from largely in to hugely out – is theatrical and culturally thrilling. I felt that Emma was chomping at the bit, and that not only would she devour the experience but she would also bring it back and share it through her work and with her community.”

Emma's blog on her trip to San Francisco

I like synchronicity. I like tracing back a long thread of time, people, and decisions to understood where I am now. Being awarded the Julia Darling Fellowship and the subsequent trip felt like a big old whirring train of synchronicity hurtling through my life, and I don’t think the train has quite finished passing.

Back in February 2017 I came across a social media post about a docu-film called Rebel Dykes. The film, about the lives of Queer, punk women in 70s/80s London, was showing an early cut in Manchester. I made a few arrangements and got myself a place on a mate’s sofa and we went along together.  This film is partly how, four months later, I ended up being at the front of San Francisco’s famous Dyke March. When I got home that night I found myself down the rabbit hole of the internet searching “Rebel Dykes”, now that takes you to a lot of interesting places. I stumbled upon the San Francisco Frame Line Queer film festival. Somewhere in the same week I’d also read that the Julia Darling Travel Fellowship was open for entries. I had my idea.

Now San Francisco is a big crazy-ass place when you come from the rurality of West Cumbria and don’t know a soul.  My memory of the first night, 26 hours into sleep deprivation, is that I was in a piano bar in the Tender Loin area where they played duelling-piano versions of Gangster’s Paradise. I sung along and decided I’d definitely made it in life.

After a day or two of sleep adjustment I made my way towards the Mission District where the film festival was taking place. I’d signed up to be a volunteer and wanted to get to know the neighbourhood. The Mission is a mix of extreme poverty including high levels of visible homeless living cheek by jowl with the super rich Generation Tech who are gentrifying the area with an alarming disregard for the people who made it – the Artists, the Queers, the wanderers.

I’d put myself down for a film called QueerCore: How to Punk a Revolution – I was so early that when I signed-on the volunteer list they thought I was there for another film and quickly issued my yellow volunteer shirt.

It was while on the door volunteering for the wrong film that a person I can only describe as rocking up looking like one of the coolest people I’ve ever seen, starts asking me questions about the QueerCore film. I know this is somebody I definitely need to speak to as part of the project. They are everything that I didn’t experience in West Cumbria. They need free tickets for the film, so with zero understanding of how I am going to acquire these tickets, I say it will be no problem at all.

This person turns out to be Lynne Breedlove. Lynne has not only come to see the film but is also in the film as the lead singer of influential 70s Queer Punk Band Tribe8.  After both films, which I did manage to sort tickets for,  Lynne invites me to meet current band The Homobiles, including guitarist Fureigh who uses the pronoun ‘They’ –  a whole other thing that I am slowly getting my head around and making a lot of mistakes along the way.

Fureigh tells me about an interesting gig happening in a couple of days, we arrange to meet, but they later can’t make it. I decide to go it alone. It is at this bar, surrounded by more Queer women than I ever thought possible, that I meet Shani Heckman. It had taken me a while to get in the place because I’d forgotten my ID, but I persuade the woman on the door to by talking about the Fellowship

There’s a couple collecting for charity and I start talking to them because I’m feeling a bit weird about being alone. I talk about being a writer and they pull Shani over and say she’s a scriptwriter, you should talk to her. Shani is on the committee for Dyke March and invites me to work backstage.  We make a vague plan and I get her contacts, but at that point don’t have her surname and don’t actually enter the number correctly.

I’m a bit annoyed with myself realising that I’ve lost the opportunity to get involved with exactly what I came here for.

The next day I go to the Trans Pride march in Dolores Park and am sitting listening to an inspiring speech by Trans women of colour. Now there are thousands of people in this park, but who, when I glance up is sitting literally two people away – Shani Heckman.

Shani makes a whole load of things possible from helping out backstage and being on the lead team of the march to introducing me to more people including Cassandra Williams, one of life’s truly good humans. I spent my last day talking with her in a park in Oakland about how we’d both grown-up in small communities and the lack of Queer role models that had been available. She dropped me at the metro station later that day and I sat in the airport feeling like a changed person from when I’d arrived. So much more happened on this trip than I have space to write here.

Six months later and I have a collection of poems I am working on and will send out for publication in the coming months. I’m using language differently. I’ve thought about visibility and vulnerability especially around people in small communities. And I’m still tracing and chasing that thread of time and circumstance that makes us who we are and who we will become. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity offered in Julia’s memory and am privileged to be able to say that I did meet her back at an awards ceremony in 2002.I could never have imagined then that I would one day help lead the San Francisco Dyke March in her name.

Emma put together some pictures of her trip which you can see by clicking on this link to  youtube