The Rural We: Sarah Kilborne
Photo by Jane O’Connor.
Sarah S. Kilborne is an author, performer and activist residing in Germantown, N.Y. She has written fiction and non-fiction for both children and adults. Her most recent book, American Phoenix, is the biography of industrialist William Skinner, her great-great grandfather. She is founder of the equal rights campaign Kiss for Equality, which advocates for LGBT rights worldwide; writes about LGBT issues for Salon, the Huffington Post, the Advocate and other outlets; and is the lead singer of two bands. She has recently created “The Lavender Blues: A Showcase of Queer Music Before World War II,” a one-woman show which will come to Club Helsinki on Friday, Jan. 22 at 8 p.m. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Hudson Pride Foundation’s Scholarship Fund.
I was born in Michigan, but raised along the coasts in both Florida and Massachusetts. After graduating from Yale with a degree in Philosophy, I moved to New York City where I began working in children’s publishing at Alfred A. Knopf. I wrote my first book there and soon became a freelance writer/editor. Apart from various fellowships, I lived in the city for the next 18 years until I (inadvertently) moved to the Hudson River Valley.
I came here initially on a self-imposed writer’s retreat to finish the manuscript of American Phoenix. I’d never been to the Hudson Valley before. I knew no one. I didn’t even know where to buy milk! But I knew that I wanted to be near water to finish this book and, miraculously, a place along the river near Hudson became available for rent. I intended to stay six months. That was six years ago and I haven’t left yet.
Photo by David Lee.
The community here is incredibly welcoming. That’s one of the area’s many wonders. People genuinely love living here and they like sharing it with others. I once wrote down, “there is magic in these mountains” because it feels that way to me. The landscape is so gorgeous and everywhere people are doing the most inspiring things. Since moving upstate, my life has expanded exponentially.
During my first year, an unexpected thought popped into my head: “I want to learn to play the banjo.” My dad, who died a long time ago, had played the banjo and I had his banjo in storage. Next I had to find someone to teach me. That brought me to Musica in Hudson where I met Rob Caldwell, the musician who owns it and who is a terrific and generous friend. Thus began an entirely new chapter in my life, one filled with musicians and the joy of collaboration.
This past year I wrote my first one-woman show, “The Lavender Blues: A Showcase of Queer Music Before World War II.” After producing a video for marriage equality using the song “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”, I wondered what other classic songs could be adapted for today’s LGBT community. What resulted was nothing that I expected: the discovery of queer-themed music written almost a century ago. Very few people are aware that this music exists and, as a storyteller, I saw that these songs and the stories behind them have a great deal to tell us.