About the Author:When I’m not writing, I train magenta lizards to walk on tightropes and I build miniature condominiums for ants. Scratch that. When I’m not writing, I lie, cheat and steal. I rob banks and tip over strollers with squalling twins.
Cris Beam is an author and professor in New York City. She is the author of Transparent, a nonfiction book that covers seven years in the lives of four transgender teenagers, which won the Lambda Literary Award for best transgender book in 2008, and was a Stonewall Honor book.
Her young adult novel, I am J, was released by Little, Brown in March 2011, and a nonfiction book about the state of foster care in the U.S. will be released by Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt in 2012. She teaches creative writing at Columbia University, New York University, The New School, and Bayview Women’s Correctional Facility. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Columbia University.
Okay, really. When I was asked to write this blog, I got nervous. Because when I’m not writing, I’m pretty boring. Or not to me; I just probably look that way on the outside. I teach at a few universities, which is really fun because I love my students, but I teach creative writing, and so even there, there’s writing. And I teach at a women’s prison. Writing again. That’s an exciting place to teach because my students are always really eager to come to class, and they come from such diverse educational backgrounds; I’m constantly having to tweak the lesson plans on the fly to meet the range of needs. And my inmate students know that their situation is unique: most of the educational programming has been cut from prisons and jails over the past several decades, so when they get to a prison like mine, they’re really hungry for the knowledge.
I live in New York City, which is the perfect city for producing neuroses about being boring. There are always other people filling their hours with more beauty and frenzy. Better not to compare. (Or just tip over a few strollers and go to jail.) It’s also an amazing city for bookstores and libraries, and I spend a lot of my extra time reading. Strangely, since I live in such an expansive place, I tend to like books about people boxed in (either by circumstance or by the confines of their internal worlds) and their means of escape or resilience. Ask me tomorrow and I’d say something different, but my recent faves have been David Grossman’s To The End of the Land and Agaat by Marlene Van Niekirk. I read a lot of nonfiction too and I know this book was released a while ago, but I just read King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, and it blew me away. The history, and the cruelty, were both so alive on the page. I’m working on a book right now about foster care in the U.S., and I’d love to be able to capture some of Hochschild’s skill with reviving historical figures.
But now I’ve looped back into my own writing. I didn’t mean to do that, but it’s where my head goes. My dog, Sami, distracts me from the madness. He reminds me to go outside and play, throw some balls in the park, bark at the squirrels. That’s the other thing I do when I’m not writing—I run around the city with Sam. Which is probably what I should do now, since he’s whining at the door. Maybe we’ll tip over some strollers.
About I Am J:
J spun. His stomach clenched hard, as though he'd been hit. It was just the neighbor lady, Mercedes. J couldn't muster a hello back, not now; he didn't care that she'd tell his mom he'd been rude. She should know better. Nobody calls me Jeni anymore.
J always felt different. He was certain that eventually everyone would understand who he really was: a boy mistakenly born as a girl. Yet as he grew up, his body began to betray him; eventually J stopped praying to wake up a "real boy" and started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible - from his family, from his friends...from the world. But after being deserted by the best friend he thought would always be by his side, J decides that he's done hiding - it's time to be who he really is. And this time he is determined not to give up, no matter the cost.
An inspiring story of self-discovery, of choosing to stand up for yourself, and of finding your own path - readers will recognize a part of themselves in J's struggle to love his true self.