American Library Association Over the Rainbow List 2016
Finalist, Lambda Literary Award 2016
Finalist, Judy Grahn Award , Publishing Triangle 2016
In 1996, poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, carrying only two backpacks, caught a Greyhound bus in America and ran away to Canada. She ended up in Toronto, where she was welcomed by a community of queer punks of colour offering promises of love and revolution, yet she remained haunted by the reasons she left home in the first place. This passionate, riveting memoir is a mixtape of dreams and nightmares, of immigration court lineups and queer South Asian dance nights; it is an intensely personal road map and an intersectional, tragicomic tale that reveals how a disabled queer woman of colour and abuse survivor navigates the dirty river of the not-so-distant past and, as the subtitle suggests, “dreams her way home.”
Available on Powells
Praise for Dirty River
Fierce and seductive. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is the kind of writer who reminds us with every turn of phrase and every turn of the page that art exorcises trauma, running can be good medicine, and the freedom to be our very own freaks is the happiest ending we might ever hope for.
— Ariel Gore, author of The End of Eve and Atlas of the Human Heart
“Dirty River will give you back the life you stole and saved: your own. In the tradition of June Jordan’s Soldier, Audre Lorde’s Zami, Asha Bandele’s Something Like Beautiful, and Staceyann Chin’s The Other Side of Paradise, Dirty River is a memoir that will make you itch all over while you read it and emerge having shed another layer of internalized doubt. You are brave enough to face this honest, transformative work, because you are brave enough to be who you are.”
— Alexis Pauline Gumbs, co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering
“Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s newest book is the powerful, badass, and important story of a young queer femme of color’s coming of age on her own terms. Intersectional and glittering and raw, this book has bite—it’s a kind of primal yell for all us survivors of abuse, as we pull together and howl and love and live.”
— Randa Jarrar, author of A Map of Home
Dirty River is a candid and comic view from the tattooed underbelly of contemporary life. There is no syrup in this survivor’s tale, yet the sun does shine through these shadows, making you cheer for the hero(ine) in her odyssey to know her true self.
—Jewelle Gomez, author of The Gilda Stories
In rapid fire, intensely felt and perfectly controlled prose, the activist/poet/survivor evokes the terrors and pleasures of life in the pockets of counter culture, gender rebellion and anti-racist groups she found in Toronto and details her painful process of reflection and eventual self acceptance. The authorial voice is propulsive, eloquent and absolutely persuasive. Piepzna-Samarasinha is particularly good at conveying what it is like to live in poverty and political enthusiasm in a marginalized subculture and generously invites the reader to participate in that experience.
— Vancouver Sun
Dirty River goes above and beyond being a story of survival; it is a manifesto for those of us who have also been walking, scantily clad, down dark alleys for most of our lives.
— Lambda Literary
Dirty River is a biracial-abuse-survivor-queer-femme-working-class-immigrant-anarchist-punk bomb that explodes the myth of LGBT sameness.
— The Globe and Mail
If you’ve been looking for more stories about badass queer women of color, get this book yesterday. No really — go back in time and get it so you can already be reading it right now. (Okay, maybe just pick it up ASAP.) Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha tells the tale of running away to Canada with what she could stuff into two backpacks and discovering queer anarchopunk while grappling with her past. She’s relatable, funny, and brave; we need more of these stories.
— Book Riot
A brilliant book … Piepzna-Samarasinha challenges traditional narratives around gender, domesticity, and motherhood with a more specific focus on her journey to separate from her abusive mother and give birth to herself as a mixed brown, working class, disabled femme.
— Bitch Media
In this transformative memoir, Piepzna-Samarasinha details being a queer, disabled woman of color coming of age among young queer punks in Toronto, running from the abuse of her past. This tragicomic tale is filled with what activists now call intersectionality, but in terms of literature, it’s raw and passionate and wrenching — and it belongs on shelves next to Audre Lorde’s Zami or the pioneering This Bridge Called My Back.
— The Advocate
Dirty River is absolutely wonderful, full of intersectional excellence, difficult terrain, and non-stop action.
— Broken Pencil
Dirty River tackles a lot, but it’s accessible and engrossing. I don’t have the words to contain Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s writing. Pick it up. These are the stories that nourish.
— The Lesbrary
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha: Queer. Crip. Working-class. Femme. Of Color. She is all of these things at once. And it’s the non-linear, non-chronological telling of Dirty River that best conveys this message, a genius strategy that beautifully reflects the messiness, anguish, and possibliity of a life lived at intersections.
A powerful reminder of what people with brown bodies, those who do not fit mainstream norms and ideals, have to do to belong, and of the ways in which they find home in the beautiful people and places along the way.