Prism Book Alliance would like to thank Ross Eliot for taking the time to talk with us today.
Author: Ross Eliot
Publisher: Self Published
Genre/Sub-Genre: Non-Fiction, Trans*
This narrative begins in 1998 when, in his early twenties, Ross Eliot relocates to Portland, Oregon and eventually the basement pantry of a grand house owned by Dr. Babette Ellsworth, an arcane history professor.
Her past unfolds in stories, from the 1928 kidnapping in central Washington carried out by a mysterious wealthy French woman, to life in occupied Europe during World War II with the Czarist assassin of Rasputin a frequent houseguest. The professor’s later life experiences in America only create more intrigue, from teenage prostitution to her late-life sex reassignment, involvement with the Catholic Church and connections to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, whose cult perpetrated a notorious 1984 bio-terror attack in Oregon.
Eliot cares for Dr. Ellsworth until her death in 2002 before an entire class of students, however, the shroud covering her story has only partially raised and murkier secrets than ever suspected emerge. Part memoir, part mystery, part history lesson– this true tale binds drama from classic Greek tragedy together with revelations worthy of the most bizarre fiction. From gender and sexuality to religious theory and existential philosophy, it’s an unorthodox love saga between pupil and mentor, yet also for the city of Portland where they live.
We are here today to talk about a memoir, “Babette: The Many Lives, Two Deaths and Double Kidnapping of Dr. Ellsworth.” What can you tell us about it?
This book begins with a motorcycle journey I took in 1998 from Seattle to Portland. With few other social contacts, I soon befriended an elderly college professor and moved into the basement pantry of her grand house that was really more of a museum. We lived and traveled together over the next three years and I learned many parts of her unusual past.
Tell us more about Babette herself.
Even yet she remains an enigma. Babette was born as Albert in 1928 in Yakima, Washington to a 16 year old girl, but almost immediately taken away by a wealthy French woman who raised this child in Europe during WWII. Her family were mostly German sympathizers and murdered as the war ended, but Babette survived and was sent back to America. She became a prominent Portland academic, even the mayor’s office used to call our house frequently. This career was publically male, thought she lived as a woman privately. I have many fascinating photos of her in drag from the 1950s and 60s. Finally she transitioned in 1994 and openly presented as female full time.
What about this book makes you the most proud?
That it’s my way of thanking Babette for being such a dear friend during those years. I was never able to offer more than friendship in return then, but now this book is my monument to her life, since this was someone who loved literature more than anything. Her personal library was immense!
How did you decide to write this compelling memoir?
I always knew it would happen eventually. Even while living in Babette’s pantry, I would take notes on conversations or write down especially detailed stories so that when the time came, I could be prepared. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started getting serious about the project and consolidating all the information I would need.
What do you hope readers take away from reading Babette?
I feel her main valuable lesson is that we can’t judge people so easily. Babette was a complicated person whose story doesn’t fit comfortably into stereotypical trans narratives. It bothers some people that such a foundational figure in the NW queer community was an early Nazi sympathizer or that she lived much of her life as a devout Catholic, all while being a complete atheist. She was contrary and difficult, but that’s how people are. She was fully human, with the failings and glories we all share in common, whether trans, queer or not.
If you could give one piece of advise to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Take the time to fit writing in, no matter what. Nobody is born a literary genius, just being decent takes a ton of work. When working on commercial fishing boats, I would commit to writing every day, even if it was just brief diary entries while curled up in my bunk at the end of an 18 hour day.
This is the first time you have appeared on Prism Book Alliance. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a native Cascadian who is probably stuck on the west coast for life, but have lived internationally and always lust to travel. I’m best known as editor of a counterculture gun politics ‘zine called “American Gun Culture Report,” that I published for about 5 years. My occupations have stretched from auto repair to fisherman to plumber to driving forklifts in a coffin warehouse. I wish I got out dancing more lately.
What are you reading?
I just finished Tom Spanbauer’s “I Loved You More.” That was pretty good, though I don’t usually enjoy depressing relationship novels. Recently I started on “The Journals of John Evelyn.” He was a minor British political figure during the 1600s who wrote down a lot of observations back then. I have a history degree, so that’s the kind of book I love best.
Rapid fire time:
- Morning or night? Night.
- Train or plane? Train, but when do I have enough time?
- Red or white? Red. Dark maroon doesn’t completely clash with my wardrobe.
- World of Warcraft or Everquest? Neither. I’ve nurtured a special resentment against video games since they made my friends boring in gradeschool.
- Vodka or tequila? Usually vodka, but I’d love some nice 1800, thanks.
- Sausage or hamburger? As a former resident of Berlin, I’d prefer a good Wurst!
- Underwear and socks: Folded in the drawer or tossed? Crumpled and stuffed.
- Coke or Pepsi? Surprisingly enough I have an opinion, since they taste and cost the same. As a kid, I felt put off by the way Pepsi ads tried to act like their brand was all about celebrating youth. I thought youth was dumb and old people were cool. My grandparents drank Coke so the choice was simple.
What are you working on? What is next?
I’m pretty occupied with promoting Babette right now, but still keep up on gun politics with my weblog “Occupy the 2nd Amendment.” There are also a lot of Babette stories that didn’t fit into the book so finding a suitable place for them is one scheme. I’ve also had other adventures that I’ll probably write about someday, from European escapades breaking into old Soviet bunkers to various unusual work experiences and even one time I got involved with a weird religious cult. I see many possibilities!
About the Author:
Ross Eliot is a writer, roofer, auto mechanic, DJ and commercial fisherman based in Portland, Oregon and Sitka, Alaska. He is best known as publisher and editor of the critically acclaimed counterculture gun politics magazine American Gun Culture Report from 2006-2011 and the current internet journal Occupy the 2nd Amendment.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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