Carolyn Gammon

Carolyn GammonPhoto: K. Oguntoye; Canadian Writers Abroad
Carolyn Gammon
Photo: K. Oguntoye; Canadian Writers Abroad

Carolyn Gammon is an internationally acclaimed author who was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her parents, Frances (Firth) Gammon and Donald Gammon were co-founders of The Fiddlehead magazine at the University of New Brunswick, her father its first editor. Elizabeth Brewster, another founding member, was a life-long family friend and became a window on the world of poetry for young Carolyn.

In 1980 Carolyn took a UNB creative writing class with Robert Gibbs, as well as courses with Fred Cogswell, both New Brunswick poets of renown. A varsity athlete in field hockey and basketball, her first publications were sport-related articles for The Brunswickan, UNB’s student newspaper. She later attended Maritime Writers’ Workshops and had the benefit of meeting writers such as Alden Nowlan. At UNB she earned the Governor General’s Award for highest academic standing (BPE 1981). She went on to do a French immersion program at the Université Laval and took English and French literature at the University of Toronto.

At Concordia University, Gammon completed her MA in Literature and Creative Writing under the guidance of professor Bina Toledo Freiwald. In the course of her creative writing studies she was mentored by Jane Rule, Anne Cameron, and Marusya Bociurkiw, as well as the African-American poet Cheryl Clarke and the founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, Joan Nestle.

Upon graduating, Gammon challenged the nomenclature of degree titles, claiming a “Master” title was sexist and proving historically that the term had originally meant to apply only to male graduates. In response, Concordia, and eventually all universities in Quebec and Ontario, offered gender-neutral titles. This challenge delayed Gammon’s graduation by five years, and garnered national attention. She was interviewed on CBC radio, and her graduation in 1994 was covered by CBC TV when she received the “Guinea Pig Award” for the most innovative contribution to Concordia university life.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Gammon’s short stories appeared in numerous anthologies. “The Perfect Guest,” dedicated to the fourteen women killed in the Montreal Massacre, was aired on CHSR FM radio in Fredericton and was the subject of a censorship case involving the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission, which was eventually decided in favour of the broadcast.

Gammon’s first book of poetry, Lesbians Ignited (1992), “investigates sexuality and politics with explicit, uncompromising and often humorous language” (back cover). With poem titles like “Breaking the Rules,” “Dykeblood,” “Anger that Heals,” “Gynaevores,” and “At the Female Ejaculation Workshop” one understands immediately that Gammon’s poetry is not just about poetics but about politics, especially feminism.

In 1992 she was invited to Berlin as an author, and she has lived there since. Through her partner, the Afro-German historian/author Katharina Oguntoye, she met and was inspired by the self-proclaimed “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” Audre Lorde. Gammon’s identity, anti-racist politics, and poetics were clearly influenced by Lorde.

In 2002, in a labour of love, Gammon edited a collection of her mother’s poetry from the 1940s. Entitled There was the Lord Adjusting His Binoculars, the poems were written when Frances Firth was a member of the Bliss Carman Society, UNB’s poetry club.

In Germany, Gammon began working with Holocaust survivors on their life stories. The first major project resulted in Johanna Krause, Twice Persecuted, Surviving Nazi Germany and Communist East Germany (2007). The book tells the story of Johanna Krause who, years after being incarcerated in numerous concentration camps during the Holocaust, faced the very same Nazi SS officer who had persecuted her, now in the guise of a party secretary in the East German government. The book has had a wide reception, filling a research void on the topic of anti-Semitism in former East Germany.

Her second work in this area is The Unwritten Diary of Israel Unger (2013). It is the life story of child survivor Israel Unger who hid from Nazis for two years with his family in an attic in Tarnow, Poland. His incredible story of survival is paralleled by the equally incredible path his life took later: immigrating to Canada and becoming a chemistry professor and Dean Emeritus at UNB. Together with Mr. Unger, Gammon traveled to Poland, conducted eye-witness interviews, did archival and online research, and, over a five-year period, reconstructed Unger’s dramatic story of survival. This book brings Gammon’s work full circle in combining the topic of the Holocaust in Germany with her Fredericton roots.

Both books appear in English and German.

Carolyn Gammon’s poetry, prose, and essays have appeared in anthologies throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe. In many readings and performances on three continents over three decades, she has presented her work in her indomitable political, humorous, engaging style. With frequent trips back to Canada, she has also kept in touch with her roots and the one place she will always call home: The Poets’ Corner of Canada, Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Tristis Ward, Summer 2014
Fredericton, NB

Bibliography of Primary Sources


Gammon, Carolyn. Lesbians Ignited. Poems. Charlottetown: Gynergy/Ragweed, 1992.

Gammon, Carolyn, and Christiane Hemker. Johanna Krause, Twice Persecuted, Surviving in Nazi Germany and Communist East Germany. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2007.

Gammon, Carolyn, ed. There was the Lord Adjusting his Binoculars, Poems by Frances Firth 1945–1951. Berlin: Copytime, 2002.

Gammon, Carolyn, and Israel Unger. The Unwritten Diary of Israel Unger. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2013.

Selected Prose & Short Stories

Gammon, Carolyn. “Barley Soup and Other Battles.” Eating Our Hearts Out. Ed. Lesléa Newman. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1995. 224-226.

---. “Beyond Endurance / Jenseits des Erträglichen.” Namenlos 3 (1995): 23-35. [German]

---. “Brown Cows and Vapo Rub.” Getting Wet. Ed. Carol Allain and Rosamund Elwin. Toronto: Women’s Press, 1992. 83-96.

---. “Criticizing from Within / Kritisieren von Innen.” Hamburger Frauen Zeitung 41 (Juni/Sept. 1994): 52-53. [German]

---. “The Perfect Guest.” Tidelines: Stories of Change by Lesbians. Ed. Lee Flemming. Charlottetown: Gynergy/Ragweed, 1992. 154-170.

---. “Petra and Other Identities.” The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Erotica. Ed. Rose Collis. London: Robinson, 2000. 322-330.

---. “Tomboy Femme / Wildfang Femme.” Butch Femme, Eine erotische Kultur. Berlin: Querverlag, 1997. 48-57. [German]

Selected Poems

Carolyn Gammon’s poems have appeared in Common Lives, Lesbian Lives 48 (1993: 71-2); Conditions 17 (1990: 71); Dykewords, An Anthology of Lesbian Writings (1990); Flying Bookies (1994: 64); La Parole Métèque 17/18 (1991); Our Lives (1991); Outrage (1993: 85-6); Pottersfield Portfolio (1990); PRISM International, Sexuality Issue (1990); The Moosehead Anthology (1989: 77); Simone de Beauvoir Bulletin 9.2 (1989); We Shall Not be Silenced (1990).

Poems in German translation have appeared in In Bewegung bleiben (2007); Freischwimmerin (1999: 105, 167); Hamburger Frauen Zeitung 40 (March/June 1994); Koryphäe 11/12 (April/October 1992); Ihrsinn 7 (1993: 35, 41); Siegesäule (March 1997: 15); Ursprünglich war alles da (1993: 10-13, 106-7).

Selected Non-Fiction

Gammon, Carolyn. “…and the rest is left to our fantasies / …und der Rest bleibt unserer Fantasie überlassen, Samanta Maria Schmidt: Lesbenlust und Kinoliebe.” Virgina Frauenbuchkritik 39 (März 2006): 19. [German].

---. “Confronting Our Racism: Some Thoughts on Reading Sula.Canadian Journal of Feminist Ethics 2.1 (Spring 1987).

---. “Excursion to the Roots of Reform Judaism: Halberstadt and Seesen.” June 2010.

---. “Gender Exclusive Debate Not Goofy.” The Athenaeum 23 Nov. 1989: 4.

---. “Jewish Amsterdam, Explored by Carolyn and Noa.” Aug. 2010.

---. “The Layers of Prague’s Jewish History.” Aug. 2011.

---. “Lesbian Studies Emerging in Canada.” Gay and Lesbian Studies. Ed. Henry L. Minton. New York: Haworth Press, 1992.

---. “Letters From Montreal.” Conditions 17 (1990): 99-100.

---. “Obscuring Lesbian History – The Chinese Marriage Resisters, a Case Study.” Simone de Beauvoir Bulletin 9.1 (1988).

---. “A Place Where the Bellbird Sings – A Review of Cathie Koa Dunsford’s Kaitiakitanga Pasifika.” Apr. 2012.

---. “Unlearning Racism and Anti-Semitism: A Case Study.” Rites (Feb. 1991).

---. “Visions That Begin Today / Visionen, die heute beginnen. Cathie Dunsford: Das Lied der Selkies.” Virgina Frauenbuchkritik 36 (Oct. 2004): 33. [German]

Gammon, Carolyn, and Ina Rimpau. “Cira and Yolanda: An Interview.” The Persistent Desire. Ed. Joan Nestle. Boston: Alyson Publications, 1992. 147-168.

Gammon, Carolyn, et al. “Organizing Lesbian Studies at Concordia.” Lesbians in Canada. Ed. Sharon Dale Stone. Toronto: Between the Lines, 1990. 209-220.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Adolph, Carolyn. “Concordia to Grant Non-Sexist Degrees.” The Gazette 8 Feb. 1992: 1.

---. “Mistress of Arts? Taking Aim at Sexist Titles in College Degrees.” The Ottawa Citizen 18 Feb. 1992.

Blaquiere, Richard. “Book Review: The Unwritten Diary of Israel Unger.” Atlantic Canada Jewish Review 38.2 (Sept.-Oct. 2013): 17.

---. “The Extraordinary Life of an Extraordinary Human Being.” Woodstock Bugle-Observer 10 May 2013: B1.

Cambell, Clark. “Woman’s Defiance of Sexism Sparks New Name for Degree.” The Gazette 16 June 1994.

CRS. “Carolyn Gammon: Canadian, Lesbian Poetess & Feminist.” Erato, Journal of the International Lesbian and Gay Cultural Network 2.1 (Apr. 1994): 3.

Dunsford, Cathie. “My Bravery Was the Bravery of Many.” Rev. of The Unwritten Diary of Israel Unger. Asia Pacific Review (2013).

Garcia, Anuska. “United and Ignited, Lesbian Launches First Book.” The Link: Concordia’s Independent Newspaper 13.17 (Nov. 1992): 15.

Gzowski, Peter. CBC Radio, Morningside. “Carolyn Gammon Is a Poet, Feminist and Lesbian Activist who Refused Her Graduate Degree From Concordia University Because They Wouldn’t Issue Her a ‘Mistress of Arts’ in Creative Writing.” 1 Dec. 1989.

---. CBC Radio, Morningside. “Mistress of Arts: Carolyn Gammon, Poet and Feminist Finished Her Graduate Studies at Concordia University Two Years Ago but she Still Has No Degree Because she Wants a ‘Mistress of Arts’ Degree in Creative Writing.” 30 May 1991.

Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda. “Germany Afterwards, Johanna Krause, Twice Persecuted.” The Free Library.

Lo Dico, Francesca. “A Degree of Change.” The Link: Concordia’s Independent Newspaper 15 Sept. 1989.

Mair, Karen. CBC Radio, Mainstreet PEI. “The Unwritten Diary of Israel Unger.” 22 Apr. 2013.

Money, Janet. “Feminist Still Seeking Change.” The London Free Press 20 Nov. 1992: C12.

Norris, Laurie Glenn. “Local Writer Helps to Craft a Gripping Account of Woman’s Life in Holocaust.” The Daily Gleaner 21 July 2007: C3.

Saidel, Rochelle. “Book Rev.: Johanna Krause, Twice Persecuted, Surviving Nazi Germany and Communist East Germany.” Remember the Women Institute.

Stevens, Laurel. “Nomenclature Motion Passed to a Degree, Gender Neutral Titles Available Upon Request.” The Link: Concordia’s Independent Newspaper 11 Feb. 1992: 3.

Stewart, Maria. “Breaking Silences, Breaking Taboos.” Go Info: Ottawa Monthly Gay, Lesbian Newspaper Mar. 1993: 10.

Verrica, Donna. “Senate Approves Graduating Students’ Right to Choose Name of Degree.” Thursday Report 16.17 (13 Feb. 1992).