Donna Ostrowsky (1986-2013) reading “The Queer Experiment” at Barnard College on October 18, 2012.
“The Queer Experiment” is Donna Ostrowsky’s short story from The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard. It is in epistolary form, from the point of view of a woman who has been institutionalized after a mysterious disaster. H.P. Lovecraft fans will recognize the general style, and it’s a comedic-horror story about early 20th century lesbians. It’s also, in my reading, a very “trans” story. I hope you enjoy it.
Download a PDF of “The Queer Experiment: here if you prefer to read it instead of watching Donna read.
You can also see Donna participate in the panel related to that reading: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dj4SFWZqqZQ
We’re spreading this story far and wide today because last week we lost our dear friend Donna.
Early Monday morning on June 10th, Donna Ostrowsky made the decision to take her own life. Donna was a filmmaker, a stand-up comedian, and an author. She was 27 years old.
Donna was originally from the Boston area and moved to New York City to attend NYU’s Department of Dramatic Writing in 2004. She performed regularly at comedy events around New York City. In 2011, Donna produced a celebrated short film called Bodega Cats with the Internet Celebrities. Just two weeks ago, she was celebrated as one of 28 authors in The Collection: Short Fiction of the Transgender Vanguard when the book won the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction.
Donna is survived by: her beloved partner and best friend Johanna Schaufeld; her mother Celeste, father Jonathan, and her older sister, Tess; hundreds of friends and family members who adored her; audiences and fans who laughed, giggled, and chortled through her performances.
Perhaps what Donna will be best remembered for her sense of humor. She had the unique ability to make everyone in the audience delighted and uncomfortable all at the same time. Perhaps my favorite memory of her sense of humor is from last fall at Barnard College. “Staking Our Claim: Trans Women’s Literature in the 21st Century” was a panel that was one of those moments where everyone in the room was a little on edge—excited, but also nervous. It was the first time that a women’s college in the US had put together a program about trans women’s literature, and Donna was one of the authors who came to read and participate in the panel.
When she stood up to speak, Donna said, “Thank you for having me, and for letting me use your bathroom,” and then she continued to compliment the Barnard community on their artfully designed tampon packaging. Not enough to be in this contested space, at this women’s college, Donna had to remind everyone what it meant—that today, there were trans women everywhere, including in the bathroom, where they are buying your tampons. All at once, Donna was bold, and intelligent, and kind, and hysterical.
We’re so proud that we had the opportunity to publish her and work with her over the last year. Her story was the last one to be added to The Collection, and it only happened because we saw her read it just before we closed the files for the printer. After she read, we begged her for two weeks to let us publish it, and she finally relented and sent over the document. Consequently, I saw Donna most often at book events—she came with us to the College of Staten Island to speak to Matt Brim’s queer short story class about The Collection, and she was part of the release events in October. The last time we saw her was at a reading for this year’s Lambda Literary Finalists at Bluestockings Bookstore, where, as usual, she stole the show. When I saw her, I greeted her as I always did, by saying, “Donna, when is your book going to be done?” She confessed she had started working on a novel, but she was worried her idea wasn’t good enough. She told me, “Tom, give me something to write about,” and I told her, honestly, “Donna, anything you write will be brilliant. Just write.” It breaks my heart that we won’t get to have more of her work in the world.
Memorials for Donna will be held in both New York City and in Boston, where her family still resides. The New York City memorial will be on Sunday, June 23rd at 4pm at the LGBT Center at 208 west 13th Street. If Donna or her work touched your life, please join us to celebrate her life, love, and laughter.
RSVP on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/186506201510744/
Plans are underway to remember her with a grant given in her name to other trans women artists and authors. We’ll have more info about that as we work out the details.