I freaking love books that are helmed by female spies, and this brilliant historical about a queer woman working as one during the Cold War was everything I’d wanted it to be when I read it in one sitting on a flight. Who is Vera Kelly? is fun and surprising and clever and a good glimpse into a fraught era from both a political and queer perspective, so do yourself a favor and check it out!
New York City, 1962. Vera Kelly is struggling to make rent and blend into the underground gay scene in Greenwich Village. She’s working night shifts at a radio station when her quick wits, sharp tongue, and technical skills get her noticed by a recruiter for the CIA.
Next thing she knows she’s in Argentina, tasked with wiretapping a congressman and infiltrating a group of student activists in Buenos Aires. As Vera becomes more and more enmeshed with the young radicals, the fragile local government begins to split at the seams. When a betrayal leaves her stranded in the wake of a coup, Vera learns the Cold War makes for strange and unexpected bedfellows, and she’s forced to take extreme measures to save herself.
Today on the site I’m excited to welcome poet Lenee Hendricks, author of Radiant Souls, to discuss how she found her identity through poetry! Check out the Sapphic book here and then read on for more Lenee words!
Radiant Souls is a collection of poetry which speaks of healing, identity, self-love, and relationships. It contains pieces inclusive of gender neutral language and tells of sapphic experiences. In this collection, Lenee H. explores finding the strength and beauty within oneself, and celebrating the people in our lives.
When I began writing poetry, I never expected it to become so important to me. I knew next to nothing about the publishing world and was coming straight from having dropped my college classes, ready to delve into writing. During my middle and high school years I had planned to become a nurse. My own interest in medicine and science was real, but the direction of my life was often dictated by my desire to please my parents. Conscious or not, I let who I was and who I would become be controlled by everything but what I truly felt and wanted.
I was freshly entered into the exciting new age of twelve when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. This was nearly two months following the sudden and traumatic loss of my older brother in a car accident. I don’t think I ever really had the chance to grow into myself. Just as I was about to enter those teen years of becoming your own person and beginning to rebel a little, hungering for that taste of adulthood, I was faced with an onslaught of stresses and harsh reality. The weight of issues belonging to adulthood were tossed into my lap. I suppose I got that taste most kids yearn for, just not the flavor they usually imagine.
Having family death and sickness enter my sphere at such a young age caused me to want to be mature. I felt the need to be grown up and so, I parroted adults around me. I adopted the beliefs I thought seemed solid and trustworthy, I tried to act older than I was. In many ways, I naturally was more mature than I should have been, but I was still mimicking. And it only worsened as my stresses increased. My mother continued to battle cancer, she had a mastectomy but then it showed up in her sternum and, despite undergoing radiation, it would only continue to spread. My dad had a brain injury which caused severe amnesia and a permanent personality shift. My sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. One thing stacked on top of another, and all I wanted was to make everyone else happy.
I erased myself and turned into a mirror of expectations, both what was placed upon me by others, and a lot of which I was reflecting onto myself. I spent my life like this until I graduated high school in 2017. This was a time I should have been coming into my own, deciding what I wanted to do with my life and exploring who I was. But, instead, I was soon preparing for my mom’s death. I was homeschooled and somehow, this brave, stubborn woman managed to continue teaching me even through the ups and downs of her health. She was certainly pushing me to plan my future, to think ahead. But I was already steeped so deeply into wrapping up my identity into what I thought would please her.
I didn’t really stop until months after she passed that October. I spent so long caring for her, nursing her, wanting to make her happy. It was strange for it all to be gone so quickly. All at once I had no excuse to not examine myself, to not be who and what I wanted. I think it took about a month longer before I began figuring out who I was. The following Thanksgiving, I let myself say the word “fuck” and appalled my siblings who viewed me as “the good kid.” As funny as that is and sounds, looking back it really was so telling of how much I hid myself away and suppressed my growth.
It was some time into the first months of 2018 when I began to think about sexuality. I was raised in an extremely conservative, Christian household. Certainly, I had long been feeling differently about the LGBTQ+ community than everyone around me. I felt so uncomfortable with the knee jerk reactions and derogatory language tossed their way. But there was a curiosity in me which I tried to ignore, a need to say, “gay is okay.” It took me several months before I finally realized, if I was telling everyone else they could have faith and be LGBTQ+ then, why couldn’t I say that about myself?
This was the first step in a long journey of self-discovery.
It wasn’t much later until I figured out rather than my fingers cramping from sticking people with needles, I wanted them to ache from typing. I wanted to be an author. So much of my desire to become a nurse was tied to my mom’s health and feeling like I had to stick to this plan I made when I was thirteen. Yet, during all of those years I was constantly pursuing creative writing in my free time. And even through those years of casual writing, I often found myself pushing the limits of my upbringing, bit by bit, through fiction. It took even longer to let go of the voices telling me I had to go to college to please everyone else, but I finally dropped my classes (a week before they began, might I add). Then, I dove straight into figuring out what I wanted to write.
I settled with poetry; I had written a few things here and there. I thought it would be a simple way to dip my toe into the writing world and get my name out there. What I thought was going to be a quick little project, turned into a journey of finding my voice and beliefs. Cosmic Phases was my debut collection and as I wrote it, I found myself able to freely express the parts of me I had kept hidden. I put my political views in words, I wrote about equality, healing from sexual abuse, speaking up about anxiety and depression…I figured out me. While I was still closeted and had to carefully craft my words about love or attraction, I was still able to express myself more than I ever had before.
After months of marketing and selling that book, and accidentally coming out to my dad as bisexual (thanks dental anesthesia!!), I began Radiant Souls. I had over a year of growth, learning I am a feminist, I really do know I have white privilege, and yes, I am a queer mess. As I wrote this collection, I was able to freely speak of my sapphic experiences, and I began using gender neutral language for many pieces. Perhaps, it was fitting not long after wrapping up this project I realized I was gender fluid.
This time, when I listed my book into Amazon categories, I put Radiant Souls in the LGBT Poetry section. In and of itself that was an incredible step. But during the course of my pre-order campaign and following the release, I saw my title go to the top of the LGBT Poetry releases. Some days, I still can’t believe that’s something which actually happened. To think just earlier this year, I would have been mortified to even clearly write about being attracted to women.
Looking back, there was so much I never had the courage to say out loud but was able to put into Cosmic Phases. Since publishing it, I have been able to speak out more boldly on LGBTQ+ issues, feminism, racial equality, and everything else that would make my conservative uncle shake his head in disapproval. Radiant Souls is only another step in my process of growth. Everyone says writing is a form of self-expression, and it is, but I think it is also a tool of discovering the parts of us we never realized we ever needed to express. Writing freed me. Poetry has been a method of healing and liberation I can only hope reflects back to those who read it. I can look at my poetry and finally see a mirror I have crafted to show nothing but myself, what I believe, and who I am.
Lenee H. is the author of Cosmic Phases and Radiant Souls. Drawing upon her experiences and observations of the world, she seeks to inspire others in their journeys of healing and growth. When she isn’t writing, she’s failing to keep her cats out of trouble.