Okie rainbows: Alumna's first novel a lesbian love story set in Tulsa
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Okie rainbows: Alumna’s first novel a lesbian love story set in Tulsa

headshot of a young woman with curly shoulder-length hair
Susie Dumond (BA ’12) (Credit: Mary Jessup)

On May 5, alumna Susie Dumond (BA ’12) will celebrate the launch of her novel, Queerly Beloved, at Tulsa’s Dennis R. Neill Equality Center.

In this heartwarming rom-com, the protagonist, Amy, navigates the shoals of LGBTQ+ life in early 2010s Tulsa — the “Buckle of the Bible Belt.” Fired from a bakery for being a lesbian, in love with “charming newcomer” Charley, playing the role of a straight-girl bridesmaid at strangers’ weddings, will Amy have the courage to be true to her own desires?

The launch of Queerly Beloved is a homecoming of sorts. It’s been a decade since Dumond graduated from The University of Tulsa with a degree in organizational studies, but something about this city’s magic remained sparkling within her during those intervening years.

Originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, Dumond initially was skeptical about even applying to TU. But that hesitation was quickly overcome: “I fell in love with Tulsa the moment I arrived. I remember a bus tour I took as a prospective student that introduced me to downtown Tulsa, the art deco architecture and some of the city’s history and character. I knew from that visit that I’d end up at TU!”

One thing Dumond couldn’t have known, however, is that, moving to Tulsa would also result in meeting and falling in love with her future wife, Mary Jessup (BA ’12), who grew up in the Tulsa area and graduated from TU’s Women’s and Gender Studies program. While Dumond and Jessup now live in Washington, DC, they return to Oklahoma on visits frequently.

In anticipation of Dumond’s upcoming trip to Tulsa and launch of Queerly Beloved, we connected with her for a wide-ranging, lively conversation about life, literature and queer culture.

illustrated book cover with the words Queerly Beloved, a drawing of a large white wedding cake, and the name Susie Dumond

Would you chart for us your growing involvement in the literary world and tell us how you came to decide to write a novel of your own?

Looking back, it’s hilarious to me that I didn’t seriously pursue writing earlier in my life. It’s clear in retrospect that the parts of studying theatre at TU I loved most was storytelling, exploring new perspectives and stretching my imagination. Despite being a lifelong book lover, I simply didn’t believe that I was capable of bringing a story to life through writing until I tried.

I stumbled into the literary world a year after I finished my master’s in public policy and women’s and gender studies at George Washington University. I realized I suddenly had no one to talk to about books anymore outside of classes!

I’d followed an independent book blog called Book Riot for years, and I saw that they were hiring. I thought it was a great way to make a little extra cash, get to read books before they were published (still one of my favorite perks), and find more bookish friends. I still write for Book Riot and I love it immensely. I’d never really known any published authors or writers hoping to be published until I started at Book Riot, and getting to know other writers gave me a lot more confidence in trying my hand at writing a novel.

But what really pushed me over the edge was a good friend from TU, Catherine Roberts (BS/BA ’12), who encouraged me to participate in National Novel Writing Month with her. I wrote a first draft of Queerly Beloved, not expecting to do anything with it. Not long after, I broke my leg and was stuck on the couch for months, so I figured, why not edit that manuscript and see if it’s any good? It was a combination of my connections through Book Riot and sheer luck of timing that brought Queerly Beloved to shelves, and it’s helped me rediscover my love of storytelling.

Everyone is invited to attend the launch Queerly Beloved and to meet the author.

Date: Thursday, May 5, 2022

Time: 7-8 p.m.

Location: Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, 621 E 4th Street, Tulsa

You are from Arkansas and live in Washington, DC; however, Queerly Beloved is set 10 years ago in Tulsa. Why did you choose to set your story in that time and place?

After graduating in 2012, I stayed in Tulsa for a few years, working as a TU admission counsellor. Those were a fascinating few years in queer history. I remember having a lot of conversations with my LGBTQ+ friends and acquaintances in the mid-2010s about queer rights and activism, and what it meant to see a cultural shift toward acceptance of different sexualities and gender identities. There was immense tension particularly around legalizing same-sex marriage at the time. It felt at once like it would never happen and like it could happen at any moment.

In Queerly Beloved, I wanted to show some of those complex emotions and nuanced conversations, particularly from our vantage point in Oklahoma. So many queer stories in popular media are in big cities and the coasts, and I wanted to show the vibrant, resilient queer community that made Tulsa feel like home to me.

two women standing in an alleyway, the one on the left wearing a white dress and the one on the right wearing a black jacket and trousers
Susie Dumond (BA ’12) and Mary Jessup (BA ’12) (Credit: Exclamation Imagery)

What are some of the developments in LGBTQ+ culture and literature that you find most exciting and how does Queerly Beloved fit within that scene?

One of the biggest shifts I’ve seen in portrayals of LGBTQ+ life in popular media in recent years is the diversity of stories and voices being celebrated. Our representation in media used to be so rare, and it almost always came with a tragic ending.

Part of why I wrote Queerly Beloved is because I wanted to see a thriving queer community in the middle of the country, and I wanted to give those characters a happy ending. I think that publishers, TV and film producers, and other decision-makers are starting to realize that the public wants to see more LGBTQ+ stories — happy and sad, funny and serious, starring characters from across the gender and sexuality spectrums. They’re realizing that people enjoy reading about characters that don’t necessarily look like them, or love like them.

Are there any authors/books that have been particularly inspiring for your own work?

Authors like Casey McQuiston, Talia Hibbert and Alexis Hall have helped crack open the rom-com space, in particular for queer stories. Reading their work inspired me to believe that people might be interested in reading about a chaotic, wedding-loving, flour-covered lesbian in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Thinking back on your TU years, in what ways did your education here shape and prepare you for your emergence as an author?

Even though I didn’t end up graduating with a theatre degree as I had initially planned, the courses I took in my first two years at TU taught me so much about storytelling, stepping into a different character’s shoes, human emotions and public speaking. Those skills have served me well at every step in my journey, and I’m still grateful to the professors and staff in the Theatre and Musical Theatre program who pushed me out of my comfort zone, including Machele Dill, Crista Patrick and Jim Gregory.

The combination of communications, psychology and business courses that formed the bulk of my organizational studies program prepared me for a career with many twists and turns, and plenty of surprises inevitably still down the road. Jan Wilson, one of the co-directors of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, and Susan Chase in the Department of Sociology made lasting impacts on me. That’s particularly so with regard to my perspective on LGBTQ+ history and advocacy, things that were crucial in leading me to writing Queerly Beloved and finding my voice as an author.

Now that Queerly Beloved is about to see the light of day, what’s your next project?

I’m currently hard at work on my next novel, also an LGBTQ+ rom-com. The protagonist is a very minor character in Queerly Beloved; so, while it isn’t really a sequel and can be read as a standalone novel, there are some fun Easter eggs for fans of Queerly Beloved. This one is set in New Orleans, and astrology plays a big role. It’s a lot of fun and I can’t wait to share it with the world!

Is there a story you’re passionate to tell but would like guidance in developing, shaping and publishing your work? Then look no further than TU’s Department of English and Creative Writing for instruction, mentorship and inspiration.