By Rachel Aydt
Last Friday night, at the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the book GirlBomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir, by Janice Erlbaum, was being celebrated on its 5th Anniversary by roughly fifty people who appeared to have been deeply touched in different ways by the memoir.
At its root, Girlbomb (published by Villard in 2006) is a story of survival; a teenage girl, Janice, flees her abusive home to find herself bounced around from shelter to squat to park to shelter again. The friends she makes are dear, though at times optimism is about as far away as the land of Oz.
The Bowery Poetry Club can be a pretty raucous place with a wide variety of writers who lay claim on the little stage in the back room. At any given moment you might find A-listers like poets of the Anne Waldman ilk or a “Sex Literati” night hosted by writer Zoe Hansen.
On weekend mornings, kids rush the stage to hear musical acts that are otherwise heard only on Nickelodeon cartoons. All are fun, but I was especially glad to find myself ensconced among Erlbaum’s Girlbomb tribe.
I went with my dear friend Silvia, who’d trekked down from Albany, and who is also a Girlbomb in her own right. We were two moms out on the town, feeling like we were 17 again. But this time around, it was in a good way. Erlbaum read from the first draft of her first memoir (she’s working on #3 now), which she says she actually began writing 25 years ago. Small sections of diary-style high school writing — arrestingly innocent despite her street smarts — interspersed with readings from other guests who echoed her survival themes in words and in music.
Rachel Lloyd, founder of the organization GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services), read from her memoir about working on the frontlines of rescuing girls from sex trade trafficking, and Koren Zailckas, author of two books, including Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, read a hilarious piece from her latest book Fury about attending a retreat where you she was supposed to therapeutically heal her inner child. This manifested in a group of 10 or so adults, clutching stuffed animals, going out to a Cracker Barrel or some such where they were told they could finally order “whatever they wanted on the menu.”
As hilarious as this was, it made me want to actually cry, considering a few memories of my own moving through a Furrs Cafeteria line, where the fried chicken was a buck cheaper than the fried fish, and where I perhaps wanted a Coke but opted for water. My awareness of such things made me feel at least on par with the survival themes of these powerful women, who I’m thrilled to report find themselves now in positions where they’re lifting other girls out of dire circumstances.
Erlbaum, in the end, was very pleased with how the night turned out. “When you throw your own birthday party it feels a little self-serving, but I don’t care. There was a tremendous amount of warmth in the room and I felt great about it.”