For the next few weeks, as we approach the April 8th release of A Family by Any Other Name, I’d like to introduce you to some of the book’s contributors.
Ellen Russell is a colleague of mine in the digital media and journalism program at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus. Her essay in the book is called “What She Taught Me,” and it’s a beautiful, touching reflection on the life of her partner, Kate.
How did you find out about this project?
Bruce approached me about it. (Ed.: One of the best parts of working on this collection was that I had many writers in mind from the outset, based on the stories I’d heard them tell over the years.)
Why did you decide to contribute? How did you decide what to write about?
My first conversation with Bruce was about the experience of death and dying in our communities. I think we mused aloud about how our LGBTQ experiences often encourage us to create community outside of the cookie-cutter versions of “family” that I grew up knowing about. A testament to the resilience of these deliberately created families is the ways they are strengthened and transformed by adversity. My partner Kate’s death truly provoked me to ponder all of this. She was such a passionate community-builder, and it really showed as her community rallied round her as she died.
Tell us a bit about yourself, both your life and your writing experience: have you written a lot before?
I sure have written a fair bit, but I have never written on such a personal issue. I kept a blog during Kate’s illness and after her death, and that got me started on writing to communicate about a very intimate experience to those who cared about us. But I’m typically writing about very public issues. I’m an economist by training, and I have written a lot of more technical stuff. I used to be a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and there I started writing op eds where I could be a little more human and a little less wonk-ish. I still do an occasional column on economic issues at Rabble.ca. Although I write all the time — and now I’m a journalism professor — writing from my own intimate experience was a new adventure for me.
Did writing about your own experiences prove challenging in any way?
Oddly, it was a breeze. Even though the topic is painful, its also a great joy for me to share my stories of my partner, Kate. It feels like a great opportunity to honour Kate by painting a picture of her very keen commitment to creating connection with those she loved. If her story helps nudge someone out there to connect with others, I’m pretty sure she would be jazzed.
What did you get out of/take away from writing an essay for this collection?
It feels to me that this project is very community-affirming. It helped me articulate ideas that I have not yet had a chance to put into words. It was also a gift for me: it is a great pleasure for me to imagine that Kate’s insight and courage about connection and community might encourage and provoke others to deepen their connections. And of course, writing this is part of an ongoing challenge for me to put this wisdom into practice.