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Bryn Mawr's first-year students got to spend an evening with acclaimed author Alison Bechdel last Thursday as part of the Emily Balch Speaker Series.
Best known for her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For and her 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Bechdel's latest work is Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama, which was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in May 2012.
Bechdel spent an hour talking about her work for a rapt audience in Goodhart Hall and then joined the students for dessert at Thomas Great Hall, where she signed copies of her work and engaged in more intimate conversations with students.
Bechdel's visit marks the second year for the speaker series. Last year, author Karen Russell was the speaker. The series is linked to the Emily Balch Seminars, which are discussion-oriented, reading- and writing-intensive courses for first-year students.
Creative Writing Program Director Daniel Torday introduced Bechdel at Goodhart and served as an interviewer, asking her questions about her work while panels from her graphic memoirs and strips were projected on a screen. Bechdel then took questions from the audience.
On-campus excitement surrounding Bechdel's visit ran so high that an additional talk and book signing that was open to the entire community was added and took place earlier in the day at the English House.
The overall mood among many on campus was summed up nicely by the editors of the College News who tweeted, "We met Alison Bechdel today and now we're going to stop printing newspapers because we have peaked."
About Alison Bechdel (from her website):
For much of Alison Bechdel's thirty-year career she has skulked on the cultural margins, writing, drawing, and self-syndicating the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. That generational chronicle, "one of the preeminent oeuvres in the comics genre, period," (Ms.) ran regularly in over fifty LGBT publications in North America and the UK. Many award-winning collections of Dykes were published in book form by an independent feminist press, and were translated into several languages.
Bechdel gained wider recognition for her work with the publication in 2006 of her groundbreaking graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Fun Home was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, and in a great moment for graphic narrative, was named Best Book of 2006 by Time Magazine. Time called the tightly architected investigation into her closeted bisexual father's suicide "a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other."
After setting aside Dykes to Watch Out For in 2008, Bechdel began devoting herself full-time to autobiographical work. A second graphic memoir, Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in May 2012.
In her work, Bechdel is preoccupied with the overlap of the political and the personal spheres. Dykes to Watch Out For was an explicitly community-based and politically engaged project. But in her deeply intimate memoirs about her father's life before the gay-rights movement and her mother's life before the women's movement, she turns a microscopic lens on the internal mechanisms of oppression and liberation.
Bechdel edited Best American Comics 2011. She has drawn comics for Slate, McSweeney's, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, and Granta. Her work is widely anthologized and translated.
In the spring of 2012, Bechdel she was a Mellon Residential Fellow for Arts and Practice at the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center at the University of Chicago. She is also the recipient of a 2012-13 Guggenheim Fellowship.