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Local Lit: no kids and no regrets

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By the time she was ten years old, Gloria Bowman knew she wasn't interested in having children. "It's not a decision I made as I got older, and said 'I don't want to use up more resources' or something like that," she says. "It's just something you know, like if you like to sit on the beach for a vacation as opposed to climbing mountains. It's a personal preference, really."

She's taken a lot of flak for her decision over the years--especially from people with children of their own. "When the subject comes up, people get really uncomfortable," says the Gary native. "People would say, 'You're being selfish' and 'How could you do that?' I'd say, 'I don't know who I'm punishing by not having a child.' The other thing I got was, 'Poor thing, you'll never get to have that fabulous experience,' which it probably is. But there are other fabulous experiences you can choose."

The comment she heard the most was, of course, "You'll change your mind." But Bowman, who's 47, didn't--even when romantic relationships went south because of her decision. Ten years ago she was enrolled in Columbia College's graduate fiction writing program and fishing around for a thesis topic when she decided to write about a woman who was childless (a term Bowman hates, because it implies that something is missing) and loving it. "I was going through this breakup as a result, again, of having elected not to have children," she says. "In all the fiction I'd read, there had never been a female character who doesn't want or need to have children that isn't depicted as being barren or evil or bitter or frigid or whatever. I thought there have to be other females who've made this decision and feel isolated and somewhat shunned. So I ended up making that the focus of the story--about different ways that women make the choice."

Since then she's rewritten her thesis--a love story about a Chicago medical illustrator named Salm and her three friends--and sent it to scores of agents and publishers. "I have two drawers full of letters saying there's no need for a book like this--that this is not an issue that women care about," she says. Earlier this year she shelled out $500 and published Human Slices through Random House's Xlibris, a books-on-demand service that allows the author to retain all rights. The novel's title refers to Bowman's favorite exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry: cross-sections of two cadavers preserved in Plexiglas. The book's cover is dominated by a large, pink graphic of the female reproductive organs. "I wanted to make the cover very much in-your-face, so that women will pick it up and know that it's about reproductive issues," she says.

So far, she's sold a dozen on Amazon, without advertising. "After it was out for a couple of weeks, I got an E-mail from a woman in Ontario. She said it made her so happy to find a character who's living what we're all kind of living through," Bowman says. "It's funny, because around the same time a friend of mine with kids who read the book said, 'I don't get why it's an issue.' It's a little frustrating."

Still, despite her friend's reaction, she says she's getting less criticism these days. "It doesn't come up that much anymore because I'm older and past the breeding age. Also I notice that the younger women I work with are a lot more verbal about their personal life choices. Now one or two say, 'I'm not having kids' and there's not as much of a freak-out. But there still is this sort of shuffling of the feet and furtive looks because people don't know how to respond."

Bowman expects to raise more eyebrows with her follow-up novel, about a romance between a younger man and an older woman. "It still has a stigma attached to it," she says. "Like 'He has to be up to something, you have to be stupid,' when again it's being true to yourself.

"As enlightened as society is, we still hold grudges against people who are not particularly doing the status quo. It's kind of funny--it's pretty basic straight-world stuff and it's as suspect as other life choices."

Bowman will sign copies of Human Slices at a release party on Saturday, November 17, at 6 at JettSett Gallery, 3350 N. Paulina. It's free; call 773-477-7251.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dorothy Perry.

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