Books - Laura Relyea finds her muse in Kesha
Author uses singer as a character conduit in 'All Glitter Everything'
When Laura Relyea was 10 years old she wrote a 31-page paper on African-American women and their influence on culture. The white, introverted army brat waxed fifth-grade poetic on the "badass" nature of NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, aviator Bessie Coleman, Olympian Wilma Rudolph, and civil rights advocate Barbara Jordan.
"That was when I was first like, 'Holy Moses, what world are we in?' These women are amazing and they're not household names," says Relyea of her ambitious, elementary school feminist essay. "So I guess that's where my journey started."
That sentiment's followed Relyea since childhood and culminated in her latest book, All Glitter Everything, out this month on Deer Bear Wolf Press. Originally published as a 31-story chapbook in October 2013, Glitter was the product of a collection of short stories about different women in Relyea's life, their real names substituted with that of self-proclaimed "cock pop" star Kesha. Like Kesha's story of a bad girl singer on the road to redemption from rehab, the characters in Glitter are all dealing with various personal struggles, and find themselves at different phases of overcoming said obstacles.
A year prior to its initial release, Relyea, the 28-year-old Scoutmob managing editor and editor-in-chief of small press literature hub Vouched Books, had been asked by Hyde ATL's Jayne O'Connor to read at the zine's annual "Bad Bitch" variety show. Though not a fan of the "B" word, Relyea saw it as a chance to share some of the real-life tales of womanhood and letters to the women that inspire her, which she'd been writing as exercises of creative therapy to take her mind off of marriage woes that would later end in a divorce.
Matt DeBenedictis' Safety Third Enterprises, a now defunct, handcrafted chapbook publishing house, first pressed 130 copies of Glitter, and the book sold out almost instantly. Even with that quick buzz, Relyea figured she was done with it. "At that point I didn't think I'd pick it up again," she says.
Relyea's doubts aside, Glitter was picked up by Lake Forest College's the &Now Awards, a biannual anthology of the best innovative writing in the country. She shared the news with DeBenedictis who, at the urging of DBW's Davy Minor, had taken over as the curator for the art and music site's literature arm. The two agreed that Relyea would expand on the chapbook, and re-release it as a full text. For good measure, she would write 19 more stories, bringing Glitter 2.0's tally to an even 50.
Despite her reservations about revisiting the project, Relyea knew there still was more story to be told. "Where the chapbook ends the narrator who you kind of follow throughout it is happy and content, and it seems like she's made her way through the journey but she's still dependent on someone else for her own happiness," she says. "I knew where I wanted to take it again. It wouldn't be an accurate reflection of where I am now, it would be a series of outdated portraits."
Where Relyea is now, as a fixture in the city's ever-growing literary scene, is a tribute to the women in her life, the very ones whose personal struggles and triumphs fill Glitter's pages. From the knife-in-garter wielding friend who accompanies Relyea to New Orleans ("Kesha You Make Me Feel Brave Enough To Say SEXY Out-Loud") to offering words of encouragement to a young girl with aspirations of being a cosmonaut and/or "crazy cat lady" ("Kesha Is the Fastest"), Glitter's more in line with the "girl power" ethos of the Shine Theory, or playwright Clare Boothe Luce's The Women, than a tell-all confessional from a fallen music star. The "glitter babe" in each story functions as a conduit to bigger themes on feminism, self-worth, vulnerability, and every other life experience in between.
The identities of the women behind Glitter are set to be revealed at the book's forthcoming release event at the Big House on Ponce. Relyea invited all of the glitter babes, including O'Connor, Leesa Cross-Smith, Stevi Waggoner (who coined the term "glitter babe"), and others to read their respective stories in front of an audience.
For Relyea, Glitter, in a way, finishes what she set out to do when she first wrote about those female icons of African-American history. "I wouldn't have all of these silly titles if it weren't for these women," Relyea says. "They deserve to be in the spotlight, and a lot of them are not writers at all and would probably never do anything like this again. I'll definitely wear waterproof mascara that night."