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Professor’s New Book Caught in a “Social Media Tsunami”

Feminist writer Audre Lorde, on the left, and her partner Frances Clayton.

Feminist writer Audre Lorde, on the left, and her partner Frances Clayton.

Rodger Streitmatter’s new book is his eighth, so he’s no novice when it comes to the publishing world. Even so, he’s still reeling from the attention the book is getting thanks to what he calls a “social media tsunami”—including more than 1,500 comments on a popular website.

“It started when my publisher e-mailed me that Huffington Post wanted to run a slide show about my book,” says Streitmatter, a professor in the School of Communication. “That was the good news. Then came the bad news: They wanted the material in two hours.”

Streitmatter immediately recruited his husband, Tom Grooms, to help him. “The folks at HuffPost sent me four samples to show me the kind of introduction they wanted me to write,” Streitmatter says. “But I didn’t have time to read them because I had to pick the eight photos to send them for the slide show, plus write the captions. So Tom read the sample intros for me.”

The book is Outlaw Marriages ~ The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples, and each chapter tells the story of a different couple from the past. Many of the couples are made up of one famous person and a partner who previously hasn’t gotten much public attention.

Among the high-profile couples are poet Walt Whitman and his partner Peter Doyle, actress Greta Garbo and her partner Mercedes de Acosta, and author James Baldwin and his partner Lucien Happersberger.

Streitmatter met the HuffPost deadline, and then the tsunami began. As a journalism professor, he knew that one of the keys to getting noticed on a site like HuffPost is having an attention-grabbing headline, and the one above his slide show clearly did the trick: “8 Legendary Same-Sex Couples.”

Many of the comments were complimentary of the book, such as, “Very cool! We need more of this kind of American history!”

Other readers used the slide show as a jumping off point to speak in support of same-sex marriage. Streitmatter’s favorite: “All great and legendary people who—shock—did not destroy the fabric of America, but helped build it. Thanks for the tribute.”

It isn’t just the 1,500 plus comments that are giving Outlaw Marriages its buzz.

Streitmatter isn’t sure exactly how many other websites re-posted either the entire slide show or parts of it. He lost count after 230. Also, he started getting lots of requests for interviews.

The biggest publication to run a story about the book is the Daily Mail. With a daily circulation of 2 million, that paper is the second largest one in the United Kingdom.

“They put the story on the front page and ran a bunch of photos with it,” Streitmatter says. “So my publisher was pretty much doing cartwheels after that.”

Streitmatter’s biggest thrill about his recent experience with social media isn’t with the publicity this book has gotten but with the crowdsourcing aspect of the phenomenon.

That is, a number of the comments on the slide show suggested other pairs of same-sex couples that readers thought Streitmatter should research. Among them: novelist Willa Cather and her partner Edith Lewis, anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, and counterculture poet Allen Ginsberg and his partner Peter Orlovsky.

“By the end of the summer,” Streitmatter says, “I’m hoping to get started on Outlaw Marriages Two.”