Maggie Estep moved to New York in the 1980s to live the downtown life. Her calling appeared in a writing class she took for drug rehab. By the decade’s end, she was performing slam poetry regularly at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. A tiny girl with greasy hair and attitude for miles, Estep was instrumental in popularizing this urban, multiethnic oral form. She has more profound verses, but the line from a clip MTV used to show will always warm my heart: “I’m not a normal girl/I’m an angry, sweaty girl/so BITE ME.”



Giuliani became mayor, and gentrification displaced downtown’s artists and energy to Brooklyn and other parts. I lost touch with Estep’s career. Then I saw her this past February in an upstate New York bookstore, at a reading for a new anthology about leaving New York. Turns out she was living and writing productively in Hudson, a deindustrialized town that’s been drawing bohemians priced out and demoralized by The City they lost. It was a delightful, brief reunion with a writer who gave voice to the anarchic spirit of a bygone New York. Five days later, Estep died of a heart attack.



[This essay is forthcoming in the feminist journal make/shift. Editor Daria Yudacufski asked me to write something because she knew I had just seen Maggie Estep in upstate New York the week before; the request was for a 50-100 word essay, but we only got it down to around 200 words. Fortunately, there are better, lengthier elegies to read from people who knew Estep upstate.  Her partner Seth Rogovoy wrote one but seems to have taken it down from his blog.  (The image at top, originally from that blogpost, was archived by Google.)  I’d also recommend this one, by the editor of Goodbye to All That, the volume Estep was reading from when I saw her.]