Lorainne Dusky (standing); Jean Strauss, Emily Hipchen, Carol Schaefer

The ASAIK conference (Association for the Study of Adoption, Kinship, and Identity) is Bastardette’s absolutely favorite adoption conference! The event 2 years ago in Tampa was fun (yes academics can be–and do–have fun!) and crucial to my understanding of the warp and woof of adoption politics beyond hum-drum “activism.” Literature, art, rhetorical constructions, history, cultural studies, and philosophy give an authentic voice to adoption’s actors. They expose the profound problems of identity loss, state-built identity, psychological repression, and otherness–illogics that go far beyond adoption industry manipulation and power politics, and into the very heart of what makes adoption absurd. Daniel Deronda is not far removed from sealed records. “How could you choose my birthright for me?”

Today’s first session, “Memoirs, Classic and New,” was a bang-up with authors Lorraine Dusky, Jean Strauss, Carol Schaefer and Emily Hipchen discussing their adoption experience, the process of memoir writing, and reading excerpts from their books. BJ Lifton, unfortunately could not make it due to illness.

All of the panelists pointed out that they were writing about a subject that until recently was supposed to be stuffed away in the back closet like an ugly cloth coat and not discussed in good company: the personal adoption experience. Especially if it doesn’t conform to the the standards of The Happy Family Child Redistribution Center

Birthmother Dusky remembered that the reaction to her 1979 memoir Birthmark was “how dare she?” Although she was an established journalist, and editor, MSM refused to publicize the book.

Adoptee Jean Strauss, also an established author and script writer, ended up self- publishing her memoir Beneath a Tall Tree after years of being told the topic was too controversial. “20 years ago you were not supposed to think about where you came from.” She reflects that adoption loss is a universal loss to which those who have lost loved ones in other ways can connect.

Birthmother Carol Schaefer, believes that books are a journey and “the way to heal is through memory.” She, too, was an established writer, but her journey into healing, The Other Mother, published in 2001 (later turned into a film) began as a handwritten journal of memory after being reunited with her son. During early literary networking efforts she was discouraged from finishing the project: the book would never be published, you’ll never hear back from an agent; the check will never arrive in the mail.

Adoptee Emily Hipchen also started her memoir, Coming Apart Together: Fragments from an Adoption, as a secret handwritten journal she kept hidden in her office. Like Schaefer, she believes that the handwritten word lets the writer “own” the story without interference from others.

After near proscription, the adoption memoir has boomed over the last few years. Unfortunately, a lot of them are bad. Bastardette has tried to read them so you don’t have to. But Dusky, Strauss, Schaefer, and Hipchen’s are some of the best adoption memoirists you will ever read. They combine riveting personal narrative with uncompromising arguments against itheft of identity via adoption. I also recommend highly Craig Hickman’s stunning memoir, Fumbling Towards Divinity: the Adoption Scriptures about growing up adopted, queer, and black…and so much more. Craig is here and will be on tomorrow’s “Men Write Adoption Memoir” panel.

I’ll try to write more about ASAIK presentations over the next few days.

NOTE: All of the books mentioned here are available on I attempted to link them and blogger threw a hissy.


  1. I meant what I said, your tireless efforts defending OUR rights makes you a hero in my eyes. Meeting you (and that entire blogging session) was one of the highlights of my weekend! Talking with Carol was incredible too.

    I am home and trying to process all that I took in before writing about it. I agree…one of the BEST conferences I have ever attended.

  2. Hi Bastardette! Yes, it was an inspiring conference and here is what I was inspired to write….

    Adoption and Culture, 2007
    Pittsburgh, PA

    Conference Retrospect

    Yesterday, before the flight
    we were all together
    Gathered in

    Cathedral of Learning
    Heritage Rooms
    Under, above
    Gothic arches
    Looking down
    On Chartres
    or Hogwarts,
    Stone real or imagined
    Industrial elevators going one way,
    grinding, grinding, wheels
    of Hell, or God, tin cans
    rooms with wrong numbers
    floors with no name
    ghosts in machines
    Scurrying to catch time

    We gathered, We of
    lost heritage, surrendered heritage, grafted heritage,
    The merely curious,studious,
    Floating above
    flagstone floor
    Intellectual haze
    where it hurts less
    where it’s not real
    Where we control the sun,
    stem tides of blood, water,
    pouring from sides
    where lance pierced

    Hotel showers, grand beds, bagels
    Walking streets paved in steel, sweat,memory, Legacy, rivers, bridges,breakfasts,
    Copies of medieval art,
    copies of lives
    Pinned to walls

    Here, we reach beyond, see through other’s eyes
    Speak another tongue,
    Say to each other
    in knowing and in fear

    “This is my body, this is my blood….
    Take and eat….”

    Mary Anne Cohen
    Oct. 2007

    Feel free to forward

  3. Hey Marley–it was totally great to meet you at last. I have long admired your own courage and attitude in speaking out.

    I was especially glad to be at the conference because the birth mother contingent was approximately four people—!!! Mary Anne, Carol, Shelia Ganz and me…can you think of anybody else? When Carol left, I figured we lost 25 percent of our representation.

    My overall impression was that the conference was highly loaded (overloaded?) with adoptive parents who have done research to prove the strength of the adoptive bond,and by implication, denigrate the biological bond. So many of the papers presented began with the note–I am the adopted mother of tk….

    At least some of the adoptees I spoke to said they felt during some talks as if they were the furniture in the room–being talked at and about but not quite included. I suppose that’s the nature of the beast–only when we do our own research and have academic papers will adoptees be on center stage.

    It was a pity that the emotional evening session of poetry, memoir and film was presented int he evening, and so poorly attended. It would have been good for at least some of the adoptive parents to hear from the other side more. That while adoptive bonds may be strong, adoption always entails pain.

    lorraine from sag

  4. Marley, it was GREAT meeting you! Keep up the awesome work you are doing – and thank you for it. Seeing you in action was one of the highlights of the conference for me. Boy do I wish I had your energy!!

  5. Gosh what an awesome conference to be at, I don’t use that word lightly or in the usual way.
    Great blog, tireless post-er, big fan.Like to post this on my blog, hope that’s ok it deserves a bigger audience.

  6. Sure, Von. Feel free. I’m presenting at the next conference at MIT in April. I should be working on it now, but I’m spending all my time on Haiti.

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