Thursday, July 31, 2008


In 1978-79, I often visited a lesbian household in Castro Street which included Hillary Carlip. She was mostly unknown at that time, though I did see her perform several times in a local theater troupe of four Jewish lesbians who were all around 5 feet tall -- I can't remember the name of the troupe, just that it had "short" in the title. I do remember vividly, however, that intermittently Hillary would appear on a bare stage with a shopping cart, dressed as a variety of characters, reading aloud from a shopping list as she mimed buying the items.

Turns out, the shopping lists were real, ones she picked up at check-out stands, in grocery store parking lots, left behind in carts -- something she'd been doing for years. She created the "characters" based on the list, what it contained, how it was written, on what kind of paper, etc. These were absolutely brilliant snapshots of personality, and her vignettes were by far the most popular part of the troupe's bill of fare.

Hillary and her anthropological talent have stayed strong in my memory. I've written about her twice, once fleetingly in Ginny Bates (where Myra meets Kat Whitaker while living in San Fran the summer of 1979) and once in my short story "The Red Queen". She's gone on to do a wide range of creative endeavors, such as teaching Ellen Degeneres how to be a fire-eater, winning a prize on the Gong Show, writing books like Girl Power: Young Women Speak Out and Queen of the Oddballs: And Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan, and a bit part in Xanadu.

But she's continued her shopping list characterizations, and I was thrilled to find out yesterday, via an NPR story, that she has now written a book about her lists and their creators. It's called A La Cart: The Secret Lives of Grocery Shoppers, and you can go here to watch a funny promotional video about it (with a bonus cameo by Amy Sedaris). You can also check out her website at Hillary Carlip.

It's funny that in our wet-behind-the-ear twenties we knew each other and have each gone on to become memoirists in very different ways. I'm glad to share her with you. You go, girl.

1 comment:

Hillary said...

Hey Maggie! Hillary here! Came across your blog -- thanks so much for the shout-out! I LOVE that you remember my shopppers from so long ago and that they made an impression! Hope you dig my book, and thanks again for your kind words!

XO Hillary