Welcome, Bob Ostertag!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. Some of them, like the one we’re pleased to present today, came to us by way of Nomadic Press. Read more about our plans to welcome Nomadic Press titles to Black Lawrence Press here. Today we bring you Bob Ostertag, whose forthcoming book Encounters With Men will be published next spring. 

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 


The Author

Bob Ostertag’s work cannot be easily summarized or pigeon-holed. His numerous books cover topics ranging from artificial intelligence to garbage, dancing to migration, labor unions to pornography. His writing has won the “Most Censored Story of the Year” award from Project Censored and the “Most Important Book of the Year” designation from The Nation magazine. 

He covered the civil war in El Salvador as a journalist, and his writing from that time has been published on every continent and translated into many languages.

His first book, The Yes Men: The True Story of the End of the World Trade Organization (2004) drew the attention of Naomi Klein (“The next breakthrough book on globalization”) and US President George W. Bush (“There ought to be limits to, uh, to freedom. I don’t appreciate it, and you wouldn’t either.”).

Frances Fox Piven called his 2009 essay collection, Creative Life: Music, Politics, People, and Machines, “a brilliant contemplation of the discontent and yearning that motivates our better natures.” The Wire, today’s most prominent journal of contemporary music, called the book “the most lucid philosophical work on music, cultures, and politics since Steve Reich’s On Music. What Ostertag has to say about contemporary music’s lazy relationship with technology is no less radical than what Walter Benjamin had to say in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction… Ostertag joins the unlikely but estimable company of Emerson and Thoreau.”

His social history of estrogen and testosterone has become a touchstone in the current debate about transgender medicine.

Ostertag is also an internationally celebrated composer and musician, with more than twenty albums of music to his credit. He performs at music, film, and multimedia festivals around the globe, and collaborating with musicians from the Kronos Quartet, to heavy metal star Mike Patton, to transgender cabaret icon Justin Vivian Bond. He has made one feature film and two podcasts, one on gay history and the other on poverty in America. He currently works with Manos Amigues, an LGBT-run soup kitchen in Mexico City, and Kebaya, a shelter for victims of sexual violence in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.



On Writing Encounters With Men

This book, even the idea of this book, took shape slowly over many years. I initially wrote down the details of the encounter with the mass murderer the night that it happened as a way to cope, to take it all in and situate the encounter as something I had actually lived and not a macabre dream. Similarly, I wrote the journal of the kinky summer camp soon after it happened, more as a way to get clear in my head about what had happened than as a literary endeavor. It was only after writing the story of the – what shall we call it? Rape? Something more prosaic? –  that it occurred to me that I might be writing a book, which was about men, and more specifically, not the men themselves but my own encounters with them. Writing the first stories of sexual encounters and intimacies came next, and that was just fun. When I began to write about encounters with men I had had as a child, I realized that if this was a book it would have to include my encounter with my own father, and that I could not write that story while he was still alive. So the project was put on the shelf for many years until he died, and then many years after. The encounters with men who inspired me, and the final story of my online encounter, came last, when I was consciously trying the shape the entire collection into a book. But even when I had something I thought made sense as a book, I had no idea if anyone would want to read it. Yes, men have vexed me all my life, but isn’t that true for everyone? Doesn’t everyone have their own collection of their encounters with men? Why would they want to read mine? It was only when I began sharing the manuscript with friends, and receiving their encouragement, that I decided to look for a publisher, and put these stories before the public.  


Selection from Encounters With Men


The Artist


We meet in a dive bar full of bikers with long-beards and big bellies, aging leather daddies, drag queens out of drag, and hustlers waiting for their beepers to go off. (Yeah, back in the age of beepers. Remember that?) But he is none of that, this small, wiry guy in overalls. He has just dropped half a tab of acid, which makes me curious as it has been decades since I have done LSD. We engage in a lovely, airy conversation about I-don’t-know-what that is quite out of place in this room full of men looking hard to get laid. 

We opt for a change of scene, and go out for a walk. The evening air is cool and fresh. We walk and walk and walk and walk. It is so easy to talk to him, this charming half Irish and half Pueblo Indian man. He tells me about his art. I’m intrigued and ask if I can see it. Eventually we end up in front of his place and he agrees to invite me in to show me his art. I have a certain amount of dread, because this is San Francisco, and if you meet a guy in a bar who claims to make art, the chances are good that the art will be so bad that you would prefer he had worked in real estate. But his art is wonderful. He makes Kachina dolls that are beautifully situated halfway between the desert Indian culture he is from and the urban gay culture to which he has come. A lovely man who makes lovely art. 

We lie on the bed and talk, our bodies touching in a relaxed, un-needy way. It is a beautiful time, and I feel very alive. After a while I am toying with the buttons of his shirt and kissing him gently on the lips. Sweet. And then his shirt is open and I look down to take in his fine torso and am confronted with a ghastly mass of lesions. Neither of us can move or speak. The lesions are horrendous, festering things. Kaposi’s Sarcoma. We stay frozen in place as the angry rush of the AIDS epidemic comes pouring into a room that just a moment ago was light and airy. After a while he slowly begins to button up his shirt, and I lie back down next to him. We hold hands. We stare at the ceiling. After a while he softly speaks.

“I’m sorry. I really didn’t go out looking for sex tonight. I just went out with friends and dropped a half a tab of acid, and it was nice meeting you and talking with you and showing you my art. I really didn’t mean for this to happen.”

He was right, it was I who wanted to see the art, I who ever so gently nudged things to the point that his torso was bare.

I am so so sorry my beautiful friend. Truly I am. I wish there was something I could do. But at that time, there was nothing anyone could do.

I feel I could have loved you. It is so easy to go down a rabbit hole of “what if’s.” But there is nothing down there. Not for you, not for me, not for anybody.