Celebrating Pride

In celebration of Pride 2018, the PSU Alumni Association is proud to be joined in conversation with a Portland State alum whose award-winning creative writing illuminates and explores the experiences of LGBTQ youth. 

Sassafras Lowrey (ze/hir) is a teenage runaway who grew up to became the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. Hir books – Lost Boi, A Little Queermas Carol, Roving Pack, Kicked Out and Leather Ever After – have been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Sassafras’ next book, Left Out: How Marriage Equality Abandoned Homeless LGBTQ Youth is forthcoming from The New Press.

How did you end up at Portland State after you finished high school? 

I grew up in Clackamas County (when it was less suburban than it is now). Early in my senior year of high school had been accepted to Oregon State to major in Agriculture as part of the pre-vet track, and then I came out as queer, and got kicked out and spent the rest of my senior year couch surfing. At the same time I started building community with other queer youth, and specifically homeless queer youth in Portland.  I realized I couldn't emotionally handle leaving Portland and moving back to a conservative/rural area, and didn't feel like being an Agriculture major was going to be safe for me after the violent and negative response to my coming out, so I applied to Portland State in the spring. I saw the word "queer" in the printed course catalogue in some class descriptions in the Women's Studies department so I declared myself a Women's Studies major on the spot and never looked back! 

How did your time at PSU influence your writing life?

My first term at PSU I took classes from Linda Hummer (who passed away about a year after I graduated right before my first book released) taught creativity and healing courses in the Women's Studies Department (Now Gender & Sexuality Studies). She was incredibly influential to me as a writer, helping me to develop my voice as a writer and a tremendous support for me. She was really the first person to encourage me to write creatively. Linda helped me develop a language of survival and desire, handing me books by authors who would go on to greatly inspire my work. Linda was the first person to tell me I had a story worth telling and that I would/could/should become an author. 

Did you face any obstacles during your time at PSU? What helped you keep going?

I had a really challenging time adjusting to being a student at PSU, in large part because it felt like the students had such different lived experiences from me. I struggled to find community on campus, and actually almost flunked out (but by the time I graduated I was on Dean's List for multiple terms). What really kept me going was the support I received from professors, two in particular Linda Hummer and Ann Mussey both in the Women's Studies Department. Without them I would have dropped out or flunked out of college. Later in my time at PSU I became very involved in the Chiron Studies Program and taught a course, "Gender Revolution: Explorations in Gender Transgressions" for a few terms, I also as part of an independent study led a gender neutral bathroom mapping project on campus (I attended PSU 2002-2007 so this was in the early days of gender neutral bathroom conversations.) 

What advice do you have for PSU students today who might see you as an inspiration or a role model?

Oh goodness! I guess my biggest advice for students at PSU who might identify with me in some way would be to find the places on campus be that classes, or student groups, or with professors where your voice is heard and valued. And most of all work hard and dream big as you vision what comes next for your life, your time at PSU is only the beginning.  

What's next for you? 

I live and write in Brooklyn, New York where I live with my partner and our menagerie of dogs and cats (3 of each!). I actually went back to school this year and am working on an MFA in creative writing at Goddard College. I'm teaching a writing class at LitReactor this summer and am a full time author and freelance writer. My next book is a nonfiction project that will be released from The New Press entitled "Left Out: How Marriage Equality Abandoned Homeless LGBTQ Youth."  I also do a lot of queer fiction writing, my novel Lost Boi which was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist is a queer/punk retelling of Peter Pan released from Arsenal Pulp Press a couple of years ago.