Candy Royalle, a Palestinian-Lebanese queer woman poet and performance artist, died in Sydney, Australia, on June 23, of ovarian cancer. She was 37.
Candy’s grandfather fled Palestine to Lebanon during the Nakba. Her father emigrated through France to Australia. Candy chronicled some of her family history in her poem, Memories, which won the World Poetry Cup in 2012.
I am my grandfather’s memories
of sunshine streaming through olive trees.
Of women sitting around and clucking like hens as they crush garlic with spices to make
that night’s meal
whilst men tend gardens plough the fields
of their ‘baladi’ their homeland.
I am my grandfather’s memories remembering that he was raised as a Christian in a land of Muslims
with Jewish friends.
He played in the dirt with his future enemies shared meals
and didn’t yet know
that history was in the making somewhere in Europe…
Candy joined the Sydney spoken word community at Bardfly when she was 18. Over the years she performed at Woodford folk festival, the Sydney writers’ festival, the Adelaide fringe festival and the Tasmanian poetry festival. As a queer woman of color, she was also a strong advocate for Palestine, Aboriginal communities, and anti-capitalism.
Candy explained on her website, “I’ve always existed somewhere in between. Between cultures and colours, genders and sexuality. Between spiritual and atheist, creator and imitator. Belonging has always been a theoretical idea for me, not a sensation rooted firmly in any place or person, any community or group. Until the end of last year, that is.”
Candy was diagnosed with cancer diagnosis in 2014. In 2015, she and her partner went to Lebanon, where they witnessed both devastation and a thriving community life. They trekked across north Lebanon. They also visited with a Lebanese lesbian family. “It hit me then. It hit me so hard I experienced a beautiful tearing in my chest, an opening I didn’t even know existed. I listened to these fierce, intelligent, intellectual women each doing their own bit of existing, fighting, resisting from the edges and I felt it. I felt like I belonged. Like this was my tribe. I thought about how I am surrounded by bold queer Arabic women – in Sydney, online, around Australia and the world who have also expressed their feelings of not belonging. I thought about how lucky I was to have those connections, to be sisters with a global group who make the borderlands a place of belonging. It dawned on me that we occupy those fringes together. That we utilise things like art and activism to create a place of belonging within the margins and can revel in what it means to be an outsider who belongs.” (Read more by Candy in Overland.)
When Israel attacked Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza on May 26, Candy posted from Sydney, ““Family, I need you to explain something to me. I mean it in the realest sense — I’m not interested in blaming, nor am I angry, I’m truly just confused.
“Please tell me: what’s it going to take to engage you all in the ongoing brutal occupation and massacre of the Palestinian people? Last night, a rally was held to commemorate the Nakba and mourn the 60 murdered and 1200 injured innocent civilians who were shot by Israeli Occupying Forces for peacefully protesting, the day before yesterday. Only a few hundred turned up to protest.
“Why will so many of you take to the streets to change drinking laws? For gay marriage? And yet not for this awful thing that’s been happening for 70 years, and has continued to happen because of the lack of pressure people are putting on their governments? Can’t you see beyond your own comparatively mild oppression and get out for others too? If I come to those rallies, why can’t you come?…”
In 2015 she toured parts of the UK, Canada, and the u.s. as the Butch Priestess Tour. Recognition for her poetry, included a City of Sydney artist residency in 2017, and in April 2018 she was awarded the Red Room Poetry Fellowship. Her final performance on June 5 was with her band, the Freed Radicals, at the Red Rattler pub in Marrickville.
Most of us in QUIT! first learned of Candy from our friend, Lebanese lesbian and visual artist, Happy Hyder, and through Happy we were able to get permission to show Memories at Outside the Frame: Queers for Palestine Film Festival. It was a big hit. Candy was a unique, strong and creative force in this world. You can find many of her performances, including Killing Us Softly on the web. A collection of her poems, A Trillion Tiny Awakenings, is due out in November.