Author, historian and activist Jonathan Ned Katz will come out with a new book, The Daring Life and Dangerous Times of Eve Adams, on May 18. The biography is centered on the life of Adams, a Jewish lesbian immigrant, and also includes her long-lost book, Lesbian Love.
"I started this book-writing journey right after Donald Trump was elected," said Katz. "At the same time, I was reading about Eve in a New York Times book review. I asked myself, why was I unaware of this fascinating woman. That was part of the reasons why I wrote this book.
"Also, she was a rebel and resister, and it seemed to be the perfect time to know more about people like her. My own lack of knowledge about any Jewish history also spurred this on because I grew up in a secular, atheist home where this information was not passed down to me."
In terms of Katz's research process, he started looking into what was already known about Adams because he "did not want to reinvent the wheel."
Katz discovered that lesbian playwright Barbara Kahn had already done a lot of research on Adams to produce three off-off-Broadway plays about her. This prompted Katz to reach out to Kahn.
"Barbara ended up putting me in touch with Eve's relative Eran Zahavy who lives in Israel," said Katz. "Eran's grandfather, Eve's brother who was able to escape to Israel and survive World War II, had tasked him with finding out what happened to Eve during the war. My correspondence with Eran produced a treasure trove of information for the book. There was also a thesis by Martha Rice that was really helpful to all of us. Everyone was so cooperative throughout my whole research process."
What surprised Katz about Adams' life were the FBI reports that were filled with anti-Semitic and homophobic language. Katz added that the FBI was surveilling Adams for selling radical literature and "palling around with famous notorious anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman who were expelled from the United States in Dec. 1919."
Katz said the FBI was looking for reasons to expel Adams. He added that in the past he was also surveilled by the federal government and also has an FBI file for going to some socialist discussion clubs while he was attending Antioch College in the late 1950s. This made Katz feel a kinship with Adams because both of them were unfairly targeted by the government.
Additionally, Katz said it was illuminating knowing Adams was the oldest child in her family and that this might be why she felt the need to take care of the women she met and became romantically involved with.
Adams also had a Chicago connection that Katz highlighted in the book. She lived here for a couple of years in the early 1920s and ran a queer, bohemian friendly café called The Grey Cottage, at 10 E. Chestnut St., in what was then called the Towertown (now the Gold Coast) neighborhood.
"I was fascinated that Eve and her woman friend Ruth Norlander opened The Grey Cottage and advertised it as Chicago's Greenwich Village Café," said Katz. "It surprised me that Greenwich Village already had this reputation in the early 1920s. It would have been fun to go there."
Not long after Adam's left Chicago, she was deported from the United States to Europe where she lived for the rest of her life until she died in a Nazi concentration camp.
Katz said that while he was writing the book he was aware of the parallels between the Nazi's and the rise of fascism/white nationalism within today's GOP.
Specifically that the federal government spread lies about Adams just like the GOP has done to an increasing degree in recent years against the political left. The FBI, at the direction of a young J. Edgar Hoover, also used Adams lesbian identity and the fact that she wrote Lesbian Love against her during her deportation hearings. Katz said that as far as he can tell the FBI did not have a warrant when they raided Adams' room and seized her writings and that this should concern everyone who values free speech.
"It was very spooky," said Katz. "Studying the rise of fascism in Europe and how recently there have been more and more reports of anti-Semitism, shootings at synagogues and killing of Black people by white supremacists and the police in the United States. It was on my mind all the time while working on this book."
In one harrowing chapter, Katz wrote about Adam's desire to escape from the Nazi's.
"I felt an increasing desperation with Eve and her companion Hella Oldstein," said Katz. "Eran was very helpful to me as I constructed this chapter. He contacted Oldstein's family who found the file of letters in Switzerland from Eve to Hella's family that included Eve and Hella's pictures and Eve's expired passport that she had given to an Oldstein family member as a memento.
"The letters allowed me to convey the menace that was in the air and getting worse and worse as the Nazi's got increasingly tense. Adding the timeline of all the atrocities the Nazi's were doing in Europe as these letters were being written was also important to show how dangerous it was at the time. It was important to show the larger picture of what was going on and how it deeply affected her life."
Katz said reading these letter helped him understand the Holocaust better because before this it was abstract concept. This was despite Katz knowing a Holocaust survivor who talked about his escape from Germany.
When asked how Katz got access to Adams' Lesbian Love book, he said a woman named Eve Alvarez found a copy of the book in the lobby of her building in Albany, New York and took possession of it. After a number of emails between Katz and Alvarez, he was able to convince her that he "was a serious, responsible historian who would not sensationalize this and that I was going to treat Eve and her book with the respect they deserved. That promise prompted Alvarez to send the book to Katz. It is the only known copy of the book in existence."
Katz's favorite essays in Lesbian Love are "How I Found Myself" which is Adams' memoir of her first sexual experience with a woman in Poland and "An Adventure" because "I strongly suspect that Little Jimmie, a working-class woman, is actually Eve in the story. She talks about going to work in the garment industry and a place in the country that the union had so the workers could take a vacation."
He is also the author of Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality, The Invention of Heterosexuality, Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary and Gay American History: Lesbian and Gay Men in the U.S.A.
Among Katz's other endeavors is as OutHistory's director. The website, launched in October 2008, features LGBTQ US history.
"OutHistory presents careful, original research on the subject," said Katz. "I have managed to have a scholarly career without any degrees. It has been very hard for me to get access to the best research, libraries and more recently databases. As a lefty, I want to make sure there is good quality information available free of charge. I am very proud of the original discoveries we have published on the site."
As for the future of this country, Katz said he is really worried because of the attempted coup/insurrection on Jan. 6 by Trump and his supporters that resulted in people's deaths, other violence and preventing the peaceful transfer of power
"There have always been anti-democratic forces, lynch mobs, murderous police and people who do not get mental health services who shoot people in this country," said Katz. "There are also a lot of angry white people that is partly a class issue and is tied in with racism and prejudice. This is a real problem that we cannot ignore going forward. Our democracy depends on us keeping our eyes open and staying vigilant."
See jnkart.com/ and outhistory.org/ .
To view Katz's Eve Adams Alterpiece, visit jnkart.com/portfolio/2020/ .