Meet Gail Hovey

Gail Hovey’s biography—birth place, home town, education—tells a story that appears to be straight forward: Born in Chicago, raised in a middle-class, white, mostly Protestant suburb, educated at the University of Colorado, Beirut College for Women, Lebanon, and Union Theological Seminary in New York. It is true that her parents moved out of Chicago when she was a baby because, they said, the city is no place to raise children. Yes, Gail met a student at seminary who she married. They lived in South Africa for two years after graduation, and in East Harlem for eight years after that, before they moved to Brooklyn and divorced. She raised her son in Brooklyn, worked as a writer and for the American Committee on Africa/The Africa Fund, for Christianity and Crisis, and then as executive director of Grassroots International. All this is true.

M. Stan Reaves

Except for the assumption that the suburb her family moved to would be safe. It was in that small, sheltered suburb that Gail, sixteen-years-old, was seduced by a seminary-educated woman who was the director of Christian education in her local church. This woman—both mentor and lover—influenced the trajectory of Gail’s life, forcefully, and for years. The story told in She Said God Blessed Us is the story of how Gail’s understanding of what happened changed over time. Seduction and secrecy wrapped her in guilt and self-loathing. She engaged in work related to equal justice and human rights. She did such work to make herself a good person. This work taught her new ways to understand how she’d been controlled and manipulated. For her, the political became personal.

Gail wrote her story first as a novel, worked with three different agents over more than a decade, but was unable to find a publisher. Decades later and living in Hawai‘i, Gail realized that her story needed to be written as memoir. Returning to the East Coast, she received an MFA in Creative Writing from Stonecoast, at the University of Southern Maine, gaining skills to write in a new way. She Said God Blessed Us: A Life Marked by Childhood Sexual Abuse in the Church is the result.

Gail already had long experience as a writer. For six years, she was managing editor of the journal Christianity & Crisis. Before that, she had been one of the founders of the journal Southern Africa. Her political writing culminated in the publication, with William Minter and Charles Cobb, Jr., of No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists Over a Half Century, 1950-2000, Africa World Press, 2007.

Gail’s memoir ends in Brooklyn, in 1990, with an epilogue bringing the story into the twenty-first century. In 1991, she left her job on the East Coast and moved to Hawai‘i to be with artist and educator Pat Hickman, with whom she had fallen in love. For fifteen years they lived on O‘ahu, Pat as a professor of art at the University of Hawai‘i and Gail as a resource developer with Native Hawaiian organizations on the Wai‘anae Coast. In 2006, Gail and Pat moved to the Lower Hudson Valley in New York where they continue to live. When the law finally changed, they gathered family and friends together and celebrated their marriage in 2013.

Beginning with an American Legion award for an essay on democracy when she was fifteen, Gail has won awards for her writing. Most recently, she placed as a finalist in the Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival Non-Fiction Contest in 2018 and the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards Contest in 2019. The Hudson River flows past Gail and Pat’s home. A ferry boat takes them across to catch the train to New York City. They are in the same time zone with all of their children. If someone had told Gail, when she was fifteen, that this is how her life would have played out, she would have roared with laughter and said, “Impossible!”