Cleveland Activist Lou Barrett Started Purpled Palm Press to Bring Stories from the Margins to the Masses

click to enlarge Cleveland Activist Lou Barrett Started Purpled Palm Press to Bring Stories from the Margins to the Masses
Photo Courtesy of Lou Barrett | Facebook

At 27, Lou Barrett (they/them) has begun to make a name for themself in the Cleveland activism community. Not just by attending political rallies or posting impassioned rants on social media, but by providing actual outlets for the LGBTQ+ community the ability to be heard and seen.

Advertised as bringing "stories from the margins to the masses," Barrett's indepdenting publishing company, Purpled Palm Press, focuses on sharing writing from LGBTQ+ voices and collaborates with the community to publish books, poems, essays and anthologies.

"I started Purpled Palm Press, because I wanted to take action and Purpled Palm was something that I could do," Barrett tells Scene. "When I think about 'resisting' or activism, I think about people separately and collectively doing whatever is in their skill set with as much velocity as they can handle. I want to elevate as many LGBTQ+ people as I can by sharing their stories and helping them to stop feeling shame about who they are, because LGBTQ+ is not shameful."

Barrett was given the opportunity to talk about Purpled Palm Press during this year's IngenuityFest, in which they talked about the importance of independent publication, and read a passage from Pen Dive.

"So much of the LGBTQ+ rights movement is focused on assimilation and I think it’s been a detriment to us," they say. "Constantly trying to conform to something we are not has kept people ashamed of what they are when they cannot become what they are not. I’m not interested in assimilating or pandering to straight audiences."

One of the major goals of Purpled Palm Press is for Barrett to help bridging the divide between the gay community and the trans community. Barrett recently came out publicly as non-binary, meaning they identify outside the gender binary and cisnormativity of woman/man. "It’s also important to me to publish content that I think has the power to affect the culture in a positive or meaningful way," they say.

But Barrett believes that anyone can find strength from the stories told in Purpled Palm Press.

"I have always been able to like a really rich and dramatic straight love story, because if the writing is good and feels real then the bodies don’t matter," they say. "I strongly believe that straight cis folx have the mental capacity to really dig authentic trans, gay and queer media made for trans, gay and queer people."

Pen Dive, the first installment of Purpled Palm Press', works as a bimonthly fiction series that centers around a lesbian living in the Midwest. The series follows her and her friends as they navigate love, loss and life. "It’s everything you could wish for in a dramedy, but with queer people," says Barrett.

If you've stopped into any of the local book stores in Cleveland, you'd be hard pressed to miss Pen Dive sitting on the shelf. With its minimalist lavender cover,the begun has begun showing up all over the city, as well as making appearances in local pop-up events.

There's a massive divide in representation of LGBTQ+ people in media and entertainment, many times erasing those identities completely or treating them as side characters and token archetypes. Even in films with LGBTQ+ protagonists like Love, Simon, the character is still surrounded by predominately straight, cis people. Pen Dive tries to combat that by telling a story that more accurately reflects the life of most queer people.

Barrett isn't only using Purpled Palm Press as a means to give LGBTQ+ people a chance to be heard, they also founded and host a monthly storytelling show called "Let It Out," alongside Coly Puzzuoli. Each month has a different theme, and storytellers are invited to tell a 10-minute or so non-fiction story about a life experience that relates to the theme.

"Over 60 percent of our storytellers identify as LGBTQ+, and I’m really proud of that," Barrett Says. Let It Out has allowed Barrett to test out practices they want to do with larger scale productions while they were getting Purpled Palm Press up and running. "I used to think that you could only do things like Let It Out or Purpled Palm in big cities in blue states," they say.

"That's what we’re told; if we want to be loud and proud we have to go to San Francisco or New York or LA. Now I’m like, 'Oh I really want to see how much I can get people in Cleveland really into queer publications and productions.' So far it’s been working well."

There's a sense of pride and ownership for LGBTQ+ folx who are given the opportunity to tell their own stories. "Humans are messy, gray and ambiguous no matter what their identity is, and writing gives me the chance to show that," says Barrett.

Currently, Purpled Palm Press is taking submissions for their first anthology, which will be a collection of non-fiction personal essays about breakups.

"I think just like the happy parts of a relationship, there can be a lot of variety in the ideas discussed around breakups and that they aren’t all negative," Barrett says. "I think queer people feel a need to always look good to other people and only focus on the good parts of our love lives, but everybody goes through breakups. I want this to be a cathartic read and a resource. Representation literally saves lives, and there isn’t time to waste."

Copies of Pen Dive are available at Mac’s Backs-Books on Coventry, Loganberry Books, Visible Voice Books, Guide to Kulchur and The Bookshop in Lakewood.

For more information on how to submit to Purpled Palm Press, visit the social media sites or visit the website.

Let It Out storytelling happens monthly. For upcoming dates and submission information, click here
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