Elisa Rolle is an historian who has done her homework. The openly lesbian writer and editor is authoring a series of books which document the history of Queer culture and the people who made that culture happen.
Her 2014 book “Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story At A Time,” chronicles the lives and loves of those who came before us. With that book, Rolle took us on a journey back in time, across the 20th, 19th and 18th centuries – and much further back – to revisit the lives of people who were known or believed to have been LGBT.
That book was a fascinating read which offered a few startling surprises, such as the inclusion of blind/deaf author/educator Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, the woman who taught Keller how to read braille and to communicate. Other than Sullivan's short lived, failed marriage in 1905, she and Keller lived together exclusively for 49 years. Is it really a stretch to believe that they may have loved each other?
In Rolle's latest book “Queer Places: Retracing the Steps of LGBTQ People Around the World,” Volume 1, Rolle serves as our travel agent, taking us on a trip to all fifty states. Rolle is our tour guide as we visit the homes, birthplaces and gravesites of many of the historical figures we learned about in her earlier book. Volume 1 covers the U.S. The yet to be published Volume II will trace the steps of LGBT people in the United Kingdom, while Volume III will journey across the rest of the world.
Queer Places begins with Keller and Sullivan. Rolle takes us to Ivy Green, the Alabama estate where Keller was born in 1880. As we see the house where Keller lost her sight and hearing, and where she first met Sullivan, the author once again recounts the story of their relationship. Rolle then continues onward, letting us know where other Queer Alabamians lived, and where LGBT people can go to find other Queers when visiting the state.
Later on in the book, in the section devoted to Washington DC, Rolle shows us where Keller and her "lifelong companion Annie Sullivan" rest together at the National Cathedral.
Rolle divides the book state by state. Countless LGBT lives are remembered as we visit the places where each of them lived, worked and died. Hundreds of historical photographs are included.
But Rolle goes much further. She also lets the current LGBT generations know where they can go to find others like themselves while travelling--yes Virginia, there really are gay bars and bookstores in Alaska.
Rolle walks through the streets of various neighborhoods in numerous cities, such as New York. Iconic buildings like the Dakota, among others, are photographed by the author in all their glory as she lists the names of famous historical LGBT figures who once occupied those elegant homes--many were forced to live closeted lives during their earthly sojourns.
Rolle doesn't forget the sunshine state either. She opens the Florida section of Queer Places by naming the state's gay villages: Key West, South Beach, and even Wilton Manors, home of SFGN. Readers will be taken to the various Key West Homes of Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) the acclaimed playwright who wrote Southern Gothic tales of madness, which were often infused with less than subtle references to homosexuality. Williams' success was all the more impressive when we realize that he lived an openly gay life as early as the 1940s.
Rolle then takes us on a street by street tour of the Island city, showing us where other famous Queer writers penned their works. As she continues her journey across SoFla, readers will learn that the state was in fact a haven for LGBT people for nearly a century.
At 600 pages, Queer Places is an exhaustive and brilliant work. Readers might wonder if there's a single street in the country that Rolle didn't visit. Is there an historical archive whose records she failed to study?
Rolle is without a doubt our most important historian.