Kelly Cogswell
University of Minnesota Press, March 2014

Book trailer

Spanning the twenty years from the Culture Wars through the War on Terror, EATING FIRE begins in 1992 with the author’s transformation from ex-Southern Baptist hickster poet into fire-eating Lesbian Avenger. She haunts the streets of New York, battles cops on Fifth Avenue, eats fire in front of the White House, and mobilizes 20,000 lesbians for the International Dyke March. She also squirms through excruciating meetings and finds true love. Several times.

Her avenging doesn’t end when the group implodes. She morphs instead into a pioneering citizen journalist, coding the pages of her own online magazine, The Gully, and looking everywhere for truth and justice, from Havana cafes to the Laundromats of Paris and New York. She mostly doesn’t find any, and the book deepens into a meditation on citizenship and social change in the post-9/11 world.


To have a volume about lesbian activism that focuses on the most effective, most publicized and controversial group, the Lesbian Avengers, is almost too good to be true. Eating Fire is an intimate activist handbook that offers a generous ‘us’ and we can happily enter the space of it from so many angles.

-Eileen Myles, author of Inferno (A Poet’s Novel)

“Activist histories of social movements are rare yet essential to understanding how social change actually happens. Stories of lesbian activism are even harder to find. This unique, evocative, and fascinating memoir tells both a personal and a community story of creativity, political commitment, grief, and the love that motivates it all.”

-Urvashi Vaid, author of irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics

“This free wheeling memoir of lesbian activism -alternately funny and raucous, meditative and reflective-is a document of a specific time and place. But it is also a marvelous, timeless tale of wit, survival, determination, and ultimately facing history. Veering between Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dyke and Rebel Without a Pause, Cogswell’s memoir of the Lesbian Avengers is incisive, politically astute, and a much needed addition to LGBT history.”

-Michael Bronski, Harvard University

Although the Lesbian Avengers have been defunct since 1995, Cogswell’s idealistic objective in the fight for civil rights is still relevant: to make lesbians visible, change society, and most importantly, change lesbians, who will come to see the public space as theirs.

-Kirkus Reviews

Gay City News columnist Cogswell’s memoir (as much a cultural as personal history) is a needed addition to this focus [on queer activism from the early 1990s], highlighting the understudied path of the international force, the Lesbian Avengers. Fast-paced and reminiscent of New Narrative, there’s a lot of instructive joy to be found with a mixture of performance and protest fueling the prose…this memoir shines as surely as its history needs telling.

-Publishers Weekly