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Shelley Ettinger was born in 1954 in Detroit and grew up in Oak Park, Michigan. She moved to Ann Arbor in 1972. There she attended the University of Michigan and later worked for four years as a city bus driver at the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Shelley began her decades of political activism in Ann Arbor, and took part in two AATA strikes, the second one, in 1980, as union vice president and chief negotiator. She moved back to Detroit in 1981 where she worked waiting tables for almost two years. In late 1982 she moved to New York City where she has lived ever since, finally receiving her B.A. from U of M in 1999.
For most of her years in New York Shelley has worked as a secretary at a university. She was long active in the clerical workers' union, helping to lead a 1988 strike. She co-founded the Lesbian & Gay Labor Network, led the labor contingent at the October 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian & Gay Rights & Action on AIDS, and spoke representing labor at the opening rally. The day before that march, she co-chaired the first-ever national gay/labor solidarity rally which was held in the lobby of the national AFL-CIO headquarters, a groundbreaking historic event.
Shelley has taken part in many other struggles, from the fight against police brutality and mass incarceration to anti-war protests to solidarity with Palestine. As an activist-writer she traveled to New Orleans in 1991 to defeat the KKK gubernatorial campaign of David Duke; Peoria and Decatur, Illinois, to stand with striking workers at Caterpillar and Bridgestone/Firestone; and Havana to attend the national congress of the Federation of Cuban Workers. She was a writer and editor for Workers World newspaper for over 20 years. She co-authored the book We Won't Be Slaves: Workfare Workers Organize—Workfairness & the Struggle for Jobs, Justice & Equality, published by International Action Center in 1997.
She began writing fiction and poetry in 1999. Since then her work has been published in dozens of literary journals including Mississippi Review, Nimrod, Cream City Review, Stone Canoe and Blithe House Quarterly. She has won a number of awards and fellowships including a full scholarship to the first annual Lambda Literary Foundation Writers' Retreat; residencies at the Saltonstall Foundation Arts Colony, Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, and Norcroft Writing Retreat for Women; and a grant from the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Foundation.
Shelley is married to longtime activist and organizer Teresa Gutierrez, who was named one of Velvetpark's top 25 significant queer women of 2014 for her work in the immigrant rights movement. Teresa and Shelley have been together since 1988.
Now Shelley Ettinger brings all this to the page with Vera's Will. The experience of a lifetime fighting for rights and liberation. The joy, passion and pain of lesbian life in heterosexist society. The emotional truth and literary depth that are the mark of a mature artist. Sweeping across the miles and over the years—from czarist Russia to sweatshop New Jersey, from the 1960s Motor City to the Manhattan of gay power protests--Vera's Will is a novel of the 20th century. It is a family saga. Mostly, though, it is a story about the human heart and the unbreakable human will to love.