A transformative memoir by a queer disabled person of colour and abuse survivor.
Lambda Literary Award and Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction finalist
In 1996, poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, carrying only two backpacks, caught a Greyhound bus in America and ran away to Canada. They ended up in Toronto, where they were welcomed by a community of queer punks of colour offering promises of love and revolution, yet they 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 their way home."
"The LGBTIQ community should lift its ears to receive Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Their vision stands to rearrange the ways we approach community, creating art, and loving. Every time I've heard them read, I've come away new."
About the author
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (she/they) is a mixed-blood, middle-aged nonbinary femme disabled and autistic writer, disability and transformative justice cultural and movement worker of Burgher and Tamil Sri Lankan, Irish and Galician ascent. A crip web weaver, couch and porch witch, they are the author and/or co-editor of nine books, including Beyond Survival ((with Ejeris Dixon), Tonguebreaker, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Dirty River, and Bodymap. A Lambda Literary Award winner who has been shortlisted for the Publishing Triangle five times, they are the winner of Lambda's 2020 Jean Cordova Award "honoring a lifetime of work documenting the complexities of queer of color/femme/disabled experience" and are a 2020 Disability Futures Fellow. Raised in rustbelt central Massachusetts and shaped by T'karonto and Oakland, they currently make home in South Seattle, Duwamish territories. They are an adaptive trike rider and a triple grand water trine. Their newest book, The Future Is Disabled: Prophecies, Love Notes and Mourning Songs, will be published in fall 2022.
- Short-listed, Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
- Short-listed, Lambda Literary Award
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
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
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 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
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
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 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
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
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
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