Path-breaking lesbian poet and scholar Judy Grahn returns to the stories of Inanna, the Mesopotamian goddess of erotic love and justice, to reimagine the contemporary world.
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Justice, Gender, and Erotic Power
WINNER of the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology’s Sarasvati Nonfiction Book Award!
WINNER of PEN Oakland’s Reginald C. Martin Award for Excellence in Criticism!
In her trademark lusciously erotic writing, Judy Grahn illuminates eight dramatic stories exploring the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna’s power and relevance for contemporary queer feminist audiences. Psychologically rich, morally and ethically exhilarating, passionate and full of life, these stories reimagine central western myths—including the Book of Job and Gilgamesh—with women and queer people as central actors. In every sentence, Grahn proves how revisiting origin stories is a vital world-making activity.
“This is a poet’s study of ancient poems, delightfully readable, exuberant, and filled with refreshing vitality. In Inanna Judy Grahn finds a mythography spacious enough to encompass lesbian, queer, and many-gendered & beyond-gendered forms of relationship, and a worldview that is undeniably erotic, that makes a virtue of pleasure, indivisible from consent—a welcome antitdote to the many rapes of Greek myth. Grahn’s reading and retelliing of Inanna’s stories and poems seems to me to be, above all, about relating—tales that tell of right relationship and wrong relationship, rather than some notion of right identity and wrong identity. Grahn shows us a structure of relations among divine, human, animal, and plant life that pulses with the rhythm of blood, reorienting the hyper-technologized contemporary reader into a more vivid experience of the true circumference of being, with all its problems, including the very sophisticated problems we contend with today, both socially and within ourselves. Sumerian society was, like ours, an urban culture dependent upon technology and highly specialized labor divisions to function, but its taverns and prostitutes, shepherds and irrigation planners, the forms of wonder toward which its temples were oriented, were not quite the money, factory farming, and individualism we worship today. And yet, we have many of the same problems Sumerians had. We now face ecological catastrophe not unlike what ultimately ravaged Sumer. What better time to practice structuring our thought and action around a set of archetypes that seems to see us so much better, as we really live, and really function, than some of the more familiar stories of old. I love this book.”
“Grahn’s close reading of Sumerian myths reveals the underlying dynamics of an ancient woman-centered tradition entangled with competing worldviews that continue in dialogue to this day. Written with clarity and precision, Eruptions is a true treasure.”
“In Eruptions of Inanna: Justice, Gender, and Erotic Power, Judy Grahn does what she has always done best: illuminate contemporary lives by conjuring myths and making them vividly alive in our contemporary consciousness and everyday lives. Eruptions of Inanna may be her most ambitious, groundbreaking work. At the heart of the work is the retelling of the myths surrounding Inanna and their startling afterlives in both high culture and rebel communities. Drawing from studies of Sumerian culture, religious scholarship, poetry, art, myth, and a wealth of shared imaginations, Grahn—poet, prophet, seer and soothsayer—draws forth Inanna from myth to majesty.”
“The poetry of Judy Grahn has always been suffused with ancient mythologies that many of us have forgotten or never knew. Here, Grahn excavates the life and lore of the Sumerian goddess, Inanna, revealing the deep roots of women’s power and sisterhood. In our time of insatiable fascination with superheroes, Grahn regales us with the dynamic adventures of Inanna, Goddess of Justice, as she seeks to heal those who have been wronged and bridge the places where ‘we fall in and out of connection,’ proclaiming, ‘With my vulva/I live right here/in this soft slit…’ Inanna valiantly insists on our right to desire without shame. No cape required.”
Using the ancient texts written by Enheduanna, a high priestess in prebiblical Sumerian times, Grahn poetically describes an ancient culture that included trans, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in spiritual leadership and its cosmology. She also draws connections between Sumerian texts and stories later adapted in the bible.
In this conversation, poet, activist, teacher and scholar Judy Grahn discusses her latest book Eruptions of Inanna: Justice, Gender, and Erotic Power, published by Nightboat Books. She and Rachel—who also has lifelong connection to the stories of Inanna through her mother, Diane Wolkstein—examine the importance of these origin stories to modern-day activism and identity politics.
In addition to her work in contemporary feminist movements, Grahn has conducted years of research on Mesopotamian literature and ancient storytelling about feminine power, focusing in particular on the ancient Sumerian goddess Inanna. Her latest book Eruptions of Inanna, published this month by Nightboat Books, is anchored in the interpretation and retelling of eight stories about Inanna, which were authored by Sumerian writers and in which, Grahn writes in the intro, she sees “pre-biblical roots of justice, gender, and erotic power.” I asked her about the stories’ connection to contemporary politics, her extensive work on mythology, and finding queerness in ancient stories.
Click here to read the interview!
Reading Eruptions of Inanna is to be immersed in a worldview and society that celebrates all Inanna’s qualities. Grahn writes with honesty and poignancy about how Inanna and women associated with her and the power of female beauty and eroticism, including Helen of Troy and Marilyn Monroe, transformed her over decades. By the end of the book, I, too, had a visceral sense of being embraced by the spirit of Inanna so completely was she revealed and enlivened by Grahn’s detailed and spirited retelling of the stories, her in-depth analysis, and her description of ancient Sumer. In many ways, Grahn is our generation’s Enheduanna, the world’s first named poet who wrote hymns celebrating Inanna, elucidating the goddess and her meaning for our own times.
I’m awed by the breadth of research that went into Eruptions of Inanna. The author draws links between the traditions of ancient Sumeria and its successive civilizations, down to those of the modern Abrahamic religions.
In Eruptions of Inanna: Justice, Gender and Erotic Power (Nightboat Books), Grahn takes us into a civilization where every city had a temple and a goddess, men and women were equal, nature was respected, and diverse couplings were encouraged and understood. Grahn retells many of the myths featuring the goddess Inanna who presided over the metropolis of Uruk, the center of Sumerian civilization and the largest settlement in the world until Rome.
Judy Grahn is an internationally known poet, author, mythographer, and cultural theorist. Her works include seven books of nonfiction, two book-length poems, five poetry collections, a reader, and a …