The librarian approving and disapproving web stories as I found them joked to me, “If
you want a secondary source, just write one yourself.”
It was a joke, meant to soothe me. But instead, I realized it was an invitation, a challenge
even, to do better.
I got to work. Google is a nifty thing, and I found the paper that published her column,
Transmissions. I emailed an interview request to members of the editorial at the Bay Area
Reporter. Within 24-hours of creating the Wikipedia page, I had her email address in my inbox.
Shit just got real. What was I doing? Going on 23 years old, working two jobs, getting
ready for graduate school on another continent. Right. I was meeting Gwen.
I stuck with honesty:
Dear Ms. Smith,
I recently researched and wrote a Wikipedia article about you as a part of a
Wikipedia edit-a-thon hosted by Wake Forest University, found here. It was
challenging to find secondary sources about you since you are still working
and write a lot yourself.
I would like to create a secondary source about you in the form of a book to
be used for future researchers/ students.
I would really like to interview you about your life and work to put more
information out into the world about a community that is often ignored. I
understand you may not want to participate, but I wanted to ask because I
would always regret not seeing this through.
Thank you for your consideration.
Warmly,
Sophie
I prepared to never hear back. I felt silly. Who writes an email to a stranger asking for
personal and intimate information?
Ten minutes later, a return email.
Sure, I'm game.
Cheers,
Gwen Smith
Astonishment is not an adequate term. I stared, again, at a screen with only a few words.
But, this time, those few words were imbued with possibility. It was time to get to know her, if
only to be able to write more on the Wikipedia page. In the next email, we decided to do phone
calls on Sundays. Within a week of the night I first read her name, I was sitting with her phone
number in my hand.
I admit it: I was nervous, and making the first call was surreal. I waited for the clock to
strike 5:00 wondering, What kind of person would want to memorialize people who so many
others simply don’t care about, year in year out? Who could constantly wade through the
heaviness of death and injustice? I wondered if she would think less of me if I called a few
minutes early. I had a notebook lying out with a pen; I felt like the nerdy kid on the first day of
school, armed with my notetaking weapons. My stomach felt like it did when I was on swim
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