As we announced in mid-March, Eileen Myles is the 2020 recipient of the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, named in honor of the legendary editor of the 1970s and 1980s. Eileen Myles is the author of twenty-one books, including, most recently, evolution, a collection of poems, and Afterglow / a dog memoir, which was a finalist for the Publishing Triangle’s Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction in 2018. Four of their other books have also been finalists for Publishing Triangle awards: Inferno and Cool for You in fiction, and Sorry, Tree and Skies in poetry. Eileen is an art journalist as well as a poet, novelist, and nonfiction writer, and they have also written plays, libretti, and screenplays. Myles’s books have been translated into ten languages. They will publish For Now, a book-length essay on writing, later this year.
Eileen’s many honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, four Lambda Literary Awards, the Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing, and a recent grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Myles has also exhibited their photographs at the Bridget Donahue Gallery in New York, and they have written and directed The Trip, a seventeen-minute film currently on the festival circuit. Eileen divides their time between Marfa, Texas, and New York.
In accepting the award, Myles said, “My appreciation for getting this award has only gotten deeper since it was announced last month. The world has changed since getting this good news; and in the most practical sense, the award is more appreciated, because I’m not going on a book tour and to a festival and doing gigs and things that bring both attention and money. So literally—really and truly— I need the money, so thanks.
“But it’s LGBT money, so it also means something different. I received writing money for the first time when I was twenty-five. I got twenty-five dollars for doing a reading at the Poetry Project and I bought foam mattress on Houston Street and I began to sleep different.
“I remember years ago seeing dollar bills being stamped in purple ‘lesbian dollars’ and I saw them several times. Someone’s project was to inject a sense that there was indeed a lesbian economy, so those occasional bills were a wakeup call that we existed and had some things in motion. It was like a prayer and it was less for strangers and more for us.”
Myles also observed, “I’ve always enjoyed the surprise in the faces of my straight writer friends that—despite our aesthetic and class differences—LGBT writers tend to know each other. It’s home. There is nowhere else in the literary world where, despite any acclaim I’ve gotten and how many books I’ve published, that I have experienced a lifetime. It occurs in this LGBT community and then in the world because you see me and you know what I do and you need it just like I need you. I’d love to get hundreds of thousands of dollars and be everywhere and left alone as a writer, but the acknowledgment that my writing means something to a world that made me, that that world is in motion still and takes care of its own as well as everyone else, is precious to me. That’s because LGBT writing is most definitely the weird soul of literature, and our queerness and our gayness and our transness make room for everyone who makes books and poems and songs and plays and movies and operas that everybody is in. By putting the world into our art, we hold it and it holds us—and so, Publishing Triangle, thanks today for the hug and the money. Love Eileen.”
Myles will receive a prize of $3000 with this award. Their complete remarks can be viewed below, or on the new Publishing Triangle YouTube channel.