Anti-Ageism Activist Urges Everyone to Celebrate “Age Pride!”
by Nita Sweeney, author of the running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink.
I hope WNBA-SF members reading this interview hear the way Barbara Brooker’s energy and passion pulsed through our conversation. What a tremendous opportunity to learn from a woman determined to make her dreams come true!
Nita Sweeney (NS): You are an anti-ageism activist who founded the first “Age March.” What brought you to that role?
Barbara Brooker (BB): I am 83, and want to be a movie star. I am on the path of dreams. For decades I have experienced ageism. When I was thirty-five, single, divorced I went back to college. I wanted to be an author and teacher. I was forced to wear a nametag marked “Re-Entry Woman.” I earned my MFA/Teaching Credential and published my first novel at fifty. I was told I was too old to hold a tenure position. Each decade, I have written stories about my personal experiences about ageism. Like racism, ageism for all ages is worse than ever. We have gay pride globally so why not “Age Pride?”
So, I founded www.agemarch.org, and produced the first age march in history—a march to celebrate age pride for all ages, race, sexuality, genders, and to promote a generation where numbers don’t count. I have produced three marches and hope that some organization or foundation will take it over and like gay pride, and that “Age March” will go global and grow every year.
Please endorse and put your names on www.agemarch.org. You can see the former march videos on the press button. You can also see TV interviews and press about it on my website, www.barbararosebrooker.com.
NS: Do you have any thoughts about the “OK Boomer” meme?
BB: What is “OK Boomer?” But I will tell you that I detest labels—senior, elder, age appropriate, boomer—all of it. Labels segregate people. We’re people. Why do we need these labels which are only for product, profit and a billion-dollar business?
NS: How does your passion about this topic influence your writing?
BB: Writing is expressing your inner life as well as a story. My emotions and passion about any discrimination, especially ageism, which affects all communities from the LGBTQIA, to Hispanic, African American, Asian, causes isolation, low self-esteem, and marginalization.
NS: Your new novel, Love, Sometimes, is receiving early praise and your previous novel, The Viagra Diaries, also garnered tremendous reviews. What has been your most treasured writing-related accomplishment?
BB: I have published thirteen books. Each one is a different growth and part of me. Particularly, I honor God Doesn’t Make Trash, my memoir about the first women and men in San Francisco who had AIDS. Next, I am most proud of Love, Sometimes. For two years or more, I existed under the surface of the book, into the protagonist’s psyche, to show that at all ages we can find our true selves and authentic voices.
I’d so appreciate it for those of you who buy and read the book, if you’d post reviews on Amazon. As the publishers are watching and I want to show other women in their seventies, eighties, etc., that anything is possible at any age.
NS: Tell us something about your latest novel, Love, Sometimes, we would not know from reading the jacket copy?
BB: It is very much a coming of age story for a 68-year-old woman. It is about a woman’s inner struggle, her regrets, buried pain and denial, and how through her experiences with the ageist Hollywood networks, and falling in love, she sheds her quest for fame, Hollywood, and identifies and finds her own true values.
NS: You have taught writing for decades. How did you begin teaching and can you share some outstanding moments from that part of your life?
BB: Every moment I have and still am. Teaching writing classes is a highlight of my life. First, I consider it collaborating with men and women who have hidden voices, or stories that they want to tell. I first started teaching, in the early nineties at San Francisco State University extended learning and then continued until now teaching at SFSU/OLLI to men and women over sixty who have always wanted to write a book but think they’re too old. I see miracles. As a result of my work with them, several of my former and present students have and are publishing books. It’s a constant joy and birth and I believe that our stories document life and our true legacy.
NS: More recently you have begun working with writers who have stage four cancer. Will you share an important moment from that experience?
BB: For years I have trained and volunteered at SF SHANTI-a place that helps the marginalized, those with HIV, cancer and other illnesses. It is a glorious safe haven and all the moments our support group is together are very important.
What’s really important is that we bond and share trust and friendships and support. It was very moving when the women wrote letters to cancer and trust me to put them into a book. I too am a cancer survivor and I want to inspire those women who have stage four cancers and we inspire each other.
NS: If you could give the WNBA-SF members your best piece of advice (writing or otherwise) what would it be?
BB: Be true to yourself. Accept yourself, who you are. Celebrate your authentic voices. As far as writing, I say just write whatever you feel and don’t think about workshop rules, grammar and all that. Break the rules. It’s the emotions that drive the writing.
NS: The media loves you. Do you have any tips on how to garner the kind of tremendous media appearances you have achieved?
BB: You know it’s been a long journey and I don’t have a publicist—can’t afford one—but I have been very persistent, collecting names, e-mails pitching, etc. If you believe in yourself and keep doing it, someone will respond. Then you build on it. Also, you have the internet and there are many ways to post your platform on social networking.
NS: You are a busy woman! Is there anything else on the horizon?
BB: I have a podcast in process called “RANT” about ageism in our anti-age culture. I plan on speaking around the country. A TV series is in the works on my novel, The Viagra Diaries and Love, Sometimes is also being considered.
NS: Is there anything I did not ask that you would like to share with the WNBA-SF members?
BB: I am glad I’m a member. I hope I will meet the people in the San Francisco branch where I live.
Barbara Rose Brooker, MA, is an age activist, teacher, painter, poet, and author. She has published 13 books, won a National Library Award for her poetry, and has appeared often on “The Today Show,” “The Talk,” “ET” and Andy Cohen’s, “Watch What Happens Live.” Also a columnist, she has published “Boomer in the City” for the JWeekly and the Huffington Post. Currently she teaches writing at San Francisco State/OLLI, and holds private writing workshops for clients and students over 50. She believes, anyone at any age can write and publish a book. She is the founder of agemarch.org, the first march in history to celebrate age pride! Barbara lives in San Francisco, has two daughters, and loves dogs. She is at work on a book of short stories about aging with glamour and never giving up on dreams. She also volunteers and teaches writing at San Francisco SHANTI, an organization helping women with stage 4 cancer.