Gramercy@Home: Zoë Bossiere to share striking literary memoir of genderfluidity, class, masculinity, and the American Southwest, in conversation with Otterbein’s Tammy Birk!

Thursday, June 27, 2024 - 7:00pm

Join writer, editor, and teacher Zoë Bossiere (they/she), who will discuss Cactus Country, a striking literary memoir of genderfluidity, class, masculinity, and the American Southwest, that captures the author’s experience coming of age in a Tucson, Arizona, trailer park. Bossiere will be in conversation with Tammy Birk, Associate Professor of English at Otterbein University and director of its Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program as part of the bookstore’s Gramercy@Home series.

Registration is on Eventbrite for this live streamed event. The purchase of Cactus Country waives the $5 registration fee.

OTTERBEIN UNIVERSITY’S DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH and its program for WOMEN’S, GENDER AND SEXUALITY STUDIES, along with STONEWALL COLUMBUS, are Gramercy’s Community Partners for this exclusive Gramercy@Home program.

Newly arrived in the Sonoran Desert, eleven-year-old Zoë’s world is one of giant beetles, thundering javelinas, and gnarled paloverde trees. With the family’s move to Cactus Country RV Park, Zoë has been given a fresh start and a new, shorter haircut. Although Zoë doesn’t have the words to express it, he experiences life as a trans boy—and in Cactus Country, others begin to see him as a boy, too. Here, Zoë spends hot days chasing shade and freight trains with an ever-rotating pack of sunburned desert kids, and nights fending off his own questions about the body underneath his baggy clothes.

As Zoë enters adolescence, he must reckon with the sexism, racism, substance abuse, and violence endemic to the working class Cactus Country men he’s grown close to, whose hard masculinity seems as embedded in the desert landscape as the cacti sprouting from parched earth. In response, Zoë adopts an androgynous style and new pronouns, but still cannot escape what it means to live in a gendered body, particularly when a fraught first love destabilizes their sense of self. But beauty flowers in this desert, too. Zoë persists in searching for answers that can’t be found in Cactus Country, dreaming of a day they might leave the park behind to embrace whatever awaits beyond.

Equal parts harsh and tender, Cactus Country is an invitation for readers to consider how we find our place in a world that insists on stark binaries, and a precisely rendered journey of self-determination that will resonate with anyone who’s ever had to fight to be themself. 

Chosen as a June Indie Next pick by independent booksellers nationwide, here’s what Frances Metzger of Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Montana had to say: “Cactus Country is all about landscape: of Arizona and the hot desert, of childhood and its constant developments, of gender and its fluidity," said Metzger. "Zoë Bossiere is sharing a much-needed story of a childhood outside of the gender binary in a world built to misunderstand. Bossiere astutely and tenderly dives into hard to talk about topics — masculinity, assault, mental health, poverty, transphobia, and so much more. You'll fall so easily into Bossiere’s writing and you won't turn away when things get hard — Zoë is there to gently guide you through the path forward.”

Zoë Bossiere (they/she) is a writer, editor, and teacher from Tucson, Arizona. They are the managing editor of Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction and co-editor of the anthologies The Best of Brevity and The Lyric Essay as Resistance: Truth from the Margins. Bossiere currently lives in Oregon with her partner and child. 

Tammy Birk is an Associate Professor of English at Otterbein University and has been director of its Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program since 2009. She regularly teaches in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies foundational core as well as courses in experimental women’s writing, contemporary graphic narrative, gender and madness, and seminars in topics as varied as Disability Cultures and Human/Animal: Seminar in Critical Animal Studies. She is the mother of one daughter.