The Readers’ Writers: Historian, author and journalist St. Sukie de la Croix
St. Sukie de la Croix is an internationally published journalist, columnist, fiction author, playwright and photographer. Besides having written dozens of short stories and poems for anthologies and magazines, Mr. de la Croix has seen his dance plays “A White Light in God’s Choir” and “Two Weeks in a Bus Shelter with an Iguana” take life on stage. Teaming up author Rick R. Reed, the prolific duo produced the novel “Ambrose and the Waif,” a compelling story of madness, greed, love and murder revealed through a series of letters.
Born in Britain, Sukie’s frank, outspoken viewpoint of the world around him, as well as his photographic skills, landed his work in numerous periodicals, including a ten-week historical series in the Chicago Tribune.
Sukie’s love and passion for history began his ten-year journey into Chicago’s past, culminating in the book “Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago before Stonewall.” Obviously, in order to track events, he spent hours on end researching archives, studying photographs and artwork, and piecing together long silenced voices to reestablish a forgotten and many times suppressed evolution of LGBT history in the Windy City. From civil war vice dens to Jane Addams (founder of Hull House) to artists and authors to playwright Lorraine Hansberry (“Raisin in the Sun”), Sukie examined every pebble he could find that might reveal a grain of fact.
Sukie has a very powerful and distinctive voice that lingers in our minds like a trusted friend sharing his time and experiences, encouraging us to ponder the past’s defeats and victories, and accept that history is a signpost to tomorrow.
Q. I am in awe at the diligence required to bring this story to life. What compelled you to begin your decade long journey that became “Chicago Whispers”?
A. When I visited a gay bookstore and was told there was no book about the history of the LGBT community in Chicago, I decided to write one myself. Having said that, it's easy to start writing a book, but finishing a book is something else entirely. The most common observation I've received from readers is about my attention to detail, and that came from a blind stubbornness to "get it right." I'm very aware that the lives of LGBT's who have gone before me should be treated with respect, and therefore I tried to keep my own analysis and opinions out of it and let the documents from the period speak for themselves. I've stayed very close to my sources.
Q. Chicago is notorious for its “that’s Chicago” attitude of social and political surrender. How did you manage to burrow through that barrier?
A. Corruption has been, and still is, rife in Chicago. It's a part of the city's make up and is what makes it so fascinating. I interviewed 70-year-old drag queens who talked about working for the mob with all the ease of a current 20-year-old saying they're a barista at Starbucks. I was also shocked by the extent of police corruption, and I tried to find something positive to write about them, but the truth is they were vile, as were the politicians, the lawyers, the judges, and organized crime. LGBTs were just a cash cow to them.
Q. You went beyond the obvious, digging deep into political figures, celebrities, and all races and genders. What was the greatest difficulty you had in piecing together Chicago’s LGBT past?
A. I tried to keep the chapters in some sort of timeline, but certain people and issues overlapped into different chapters and periods in time. After much gnashing of teeth and pulling my hair out, I decided to just keep writing and worry about chapters later. In the end it all fell into place on its own. I focused on one issue, one person, at a time, and researched until the well was dry. Uncovering gay history is more detective work than anything else, so I waxed my mustache and used my "little grey cells" like Hercule Poirot.
Q. “Chicago Whispers” doesn’t end on a contemporary note. How soon can we look forward to the next installment?
A. I've written the sequel, which is now with my publisher, the University of Wisconsin Press. It covers the period June 1969 until June 1975 and documents the radical Gay Liberation Front and the making of a gay community in Chicago. I've also just completed a memoir of growing up a little sissy boy in Post World War II England, and I'm currently writing a novel about lesbians in 1924. After that I'm writing a book of essays. I'm busy.
Q. Any parting comments for those who haven’t read your work yet?
A. My mission in writing “Chicago Whispers” was partly to reclaim the contributions made by LGBTs to the culture of a great American city. The words to "America the Beautiful" were written by a lesbian after she visited Chicago, Katherine Lee Bates. That song belongs to us, and it's a lesbian song. Let's take it back. I also wanted to document the lives of a wondrously diverse group of people whose only common bond was their sexuality, but who somehow carved a niche for themselves in a society that rejected them. And I also wanted to retrace the path of those who set out on the long road to our liberation.
DA Kentner is an author and journalist. www.kevad.net