Heather Has Two Mommies
"Oh, she wrote Heather Has Two Mommies."That may be what people think when they hear the name Leslea Newman -- if they think anything at all. She has written quite a lot of other things, though, and she would rather talk about them."Since I wrote Heather seven years ago and have written seventeen books since then, I'd like to talk about other things," Newman said.Heather Has Two Mommies is a children book about a girl whose mothers are lesbians. The book received a lot of publicity when it first appeared. If people have ever heard of Newman, it is probably because of the controversy of including in schools this book about lesbians raising children.In December 1989, four thousand copies of Heather Has Two Mommies arrived at Newman's door. Six months later, Alyson Publications offered to buy the rights to the book for their new Alyson Wonderland series of children's books. In 1992, the book was included in the Rainbow Curriculum, which meant it was listed in a guide for New York City's public school elementary teachers. Eventually, Heather and two other books about gay and lesbian families were removed from the curriculum, but not before bringing Newman into the national spotlight.The book that gained her the most name recognition and praise, though, also brought the harshest criticism. It is simply the story of a little girl who goes off to preschool and learns her family is different."I think people hear lesbian or gay and children in the same sentence and they go berserk," Newman said.Newman's list of works and accomplishments is three typewritten pages long. Heather is about three-quarters of the way down on the first page. It heads up the children's book section. Two novels, three short stories, three books of poetry and two works of non-fiction are before it. Seven more children's books follow it. Anthologies, films, and plays are on the next page. That does not count her works in progress or the books that are coming out later.Obviously, she doesn't limit herself to just one kind of writing or to one topic. She said the academic establishment is responsible for so many writers focusing on a single genre. To go to graduate school, Newman said, writers must choose whether they are poets or playwrights or other kinds of authors. Newman does not prescribe to that kind of narrow focus in writing."I really go where the writing leads me," she said. "I just see what comes out."Heather Has Two Mommies joins titles like Gloria Goes To Gay Pride and Just Looking For My Shoes in Newman's portfolio of published titles.Newman describes her collection of works as "varied." That is an understatement in most people's opinion. She has not just written about lesbian families, but about eating disorders, AIDS, and the Holocaust.Newman's unique approach has led her to become more than a writer. She is an entrepreneur, working as her own publicist and promoter. She makes a career of freelance writing, something very few people are able to do. Recently, she has worked on a book of poetry about AIDS called The Buddy Poems, and the book Out of the Closet and Nothing to Wear is nearly complete. She also edited an anthology she describes as "a big fat collection of love poems by 125 lesbian poets" called My Lover which came out in February. She also writes a regular column for gay and lesbian publications.Heather Has Two Mommies and the controversy it caused gave Newman name recognition, but it also provided much more. The reaction to the book changed Newman's perspective."It has propelled me to be a spokesperson for the rights of lesbians," Newman said. "And it has allowed me to see how hated we are."Since she was born into a Jewish family just ten years after the Holocaust, Newman said she grew up knowing that social justice was "crucial" and that community was important, too.Newman has seen discrimination both as a Jew and as a lesbian. "I have experienced oppression because of having both of these identities," Newman said. "I think it is pretty obvious that lesbians in this country have no rights. Growing up as a Jew was a good training ground."Being a member of an oppressed group can be both good and bad."I am too lesbian for a Jewish audience, and I'm too Jewish for a lesbian audience," Newman told Poet and Writer Magazine. "The positive side of being a lesbian writer is that there is a very strong gay press and women's press."She knows that the audience for some of her work is limited, but she said she writes for herself and worries about selling the work later. She hopes once a book is published, however, it will have an influence."What's most gratifying to me is knowing that my work has had an impact on individuals," Newman said.SIDEBAR ONEEXCERPT FROM HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIESHeather's favorite number is two. She has two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, two hands and two feet. Heather has two pets... Heather also has two mommies: Mama Jane and Mama Kate... "Each family is special. The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other."