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April 11, 2005

Who's That Girl?:
Midwest Mademoiselle

BY
CINDY BRONSKI

Meet writer Kathie Bergquist.

You may already know this thirtysomething bohemian yet stylish lesbian from her long-running Nightlines column, “The Kathie Klub”. You may have met her during her many years working at Women & Children First, or her subsequent years at Unabridged. Or seen her appearances at Homolatte. Most likely you DON’T know her from her first book, “Ricky Martin: The Unauthorized Book”. Or even from her Restaurant Reviews for the Chicago Reader. You might not have noticed her byline in The Advocate or Out. But Bergquist is one writer worth watching out for.

Midwest Mademoiselle
Bergquist started writing early in life – first for herself, and then for others when the opportunity presented itself. In this way, she slowly but surely built up her portfolio and prepared herself for future opportunities. She became a writer because she wrote – much like another writer of her acquaintance, David Sedaris, who in December 1992 got his big break because someone at NPR needed something "Christmas-y" to fill an open slot. The search eventually led to Sedaris, who, in obscurity, had written his “Santaland Diaries”, for nobody. Until “somebody” called.

Though she has yet to achieve her defining “NPR Moment”, Bergquist is working toward it. She is currently hunkered down on her first novel entitled Beautiful Radiant Things, a young adult novel called Candy, and is putting the finishing touches on a Gay Guide to Chicago (written with friend and fellow Chicagoan Robert McDonald) due out in January. She describes the guide as a “chatty, opinionated, serious-yet-silly guide to Chicago”.

So, how does a high school dropout from an original-thought-quashing neighborhood in northeast Minneapolis become a Chicago columnist/writer/hip chick lesbian?

While still in her teens, Kathie landed a retail job in the progressive (based on her experience) haven of downtown Minneapolis. Once exposed, she decided that her high school, as well as her neighborhood, could no longer sustain her widening views. So she quit them both. After a short relocation to Eau Claire Wisconsin, which didn’t succeed, Bergquist returned to Minnesota un-triumphant, but undaunted. In the early ‘90’s, when two of her friends moved to Chicago, she tagged along, and this move stuck.

As a 20-year old “baby ‘bi’ with strong feminist values”, she landed a full time job with NOW, but found time to volunteer at Women & Children First. When a fellow bookseller left, Kathy took her job (and her leftover girlfriend), and worked there happily for five years. In 1995, she moved to Unabridged Bookstore, adding Publicist duties. There she was able to meet a range of celebrities, from Patti LaBelle to Gloria Naylor to the aforementioned David Sedaris.

During her years at Unabridged, Kathie continued to hone her craft. She wrote “The Kathy Klub”. A Women & Children First contact, the Book Editor for Curves Magazine, asked Kathie to write some book reviews for them. This led to a long-term assignment doing the same for Publishers Weekly. There she reviewed gay and lesbian books, including many first novels, or, as she describes it, “the whole ‘stinky gamut’”.

A regular customer (and publishing big wig) told Bergquist about a publisher who wanted to do a quickie book on overnight sensation Ricky Martin. She applied, and was given the job along with a four-week deadline. After painfully immersing herself in a kazillion teen fan magazines, she penned the bio in a breathless teenage style, i.e. “what DOES Ricky look for in a dream girl?” interspersed with loads of exclamation points. Then, as now, Kathie harbored serious doubts about Ricky’s REAL “dream date”, as in, is it Ann or really Dan.

At about this time, she had turned 30, her lease was running out, and fifteen years of retail were starting to wear on her. She had discontinued her column, deciding that her life was too boring to chronicle any further. Her memorable column photo featured Bergquist waist-up with two strategically placed hands. Her older self remembers sadly, “I could no longer live up to that photo.” One morning she asked herself, “What could I do to shake up my life a little?” Bergquist made a big decision – to do something she had always dreamed of –live in Paris.

She sold all her belongings. Friends (and owner Michelle Fire) threw a fundraiser at Big Chicks, complete with gratis entertainment by the band Three Dollar Bill. In Spring 2000, Bergquist headed to Paris. There, her dismal Internet-found apartment economically offered a shared kitchenette/toilette. Although she “was able to shower and make scrambled eggs at the same time”, she found NOTHING romantic about it. She quickly found an ideal apartment share with a French lesbian sociologist in a nearby neighborhood, and happily said adieu to her Parisian flophouse. Bergquist resumed writing The Kathie Klub, figuring that a life in Paris HAD to be print- worthy. When she found out that David Sedaris lived right around the corner, she resourcefully sold an interview article to Publishers Weekly, yet her savings continued to dwindle.

One day, out of boredom and not much else, she checked her near-defunct hotmail account. That very day she had received an email from her Ricky Martin Book Publisher. It had been almost two years since she had heard a word from him. His question: Are you interested in doing three more books for us? In six weeks, the time it took her to write the books, she earned enough money to live in Paris the rest of the year. But by 2001, the very understanding girlfriend she left behind, Nikki Rinkus, lured her back.

After a short segue back at Unabridged, Bergquist took a bartending job, and along with Nikki’s support, and the need to live life progressively, she eventually started the BA program in Fiction Writing at Columbia. That’s where we find her today, with one more semester to go. Kathie mixes her studies with a whole lot of writing, and a fair amount of socializing, and is working toward her defining “NPR Moment”.

I leave you with the author’s own words, in the form of some Pride Day Haiku.

The County Board (by Kathie Bergquist)

They smile as they pass
Strangers waving from a car
Who the hell are they?

Kathie in 10 words or less: Hipchick, focused, daring, positive, open, spirited, fun, genuine, expressive, generous.

 
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