The Runaway Story of Belle Starr
Margot Douaihy with illustrations by Bri Hermanson
Bandit/Queen: The Runaway Story of Belle Starr is a polyphonic, docupoetic project exploring Belle Starr, a notorious Wild West outlaw, and her unsolved murder in 1889. Belle Starr traded a privileged upbringing for a life on the lam—marrying outlaws, thieving, and providing shelter for criminal gangs, all with her signature brocade and purple hats. After the media locked into her story, Belle Starr rocketed to fame. She “became” a compelling anti-hero, icon, and criminal mastermind—The Female Jesse James. Newspapers and books fabricated details about Belle, and a mass delusion seemingly took hold. But who was Belle Starr? Where do fiction and fact overlap? Today’s evolving media ecosystem—fake news, deep fakes, carefully controlled social media profiles—underscore the enduring appeal of the person vs persona tension. A feminist analog to Michael Ondaatje’s Collected Works of Billy the Kid, this archive-driven book merges documentary poetry by Margot Douaihy with scratchboard illustrations by Bri Hermanson to examine identity, desire, rule breaking, and (in)authenticity.
“In Bandit/Queen, Margot Douaihy burnishes Belle Starr’s legacy until it gleams, buffing layers of misogyny and sensationalism until the power and possibility of a complicated woman show through. History alone isn’t capable of imagining interiority into grave dust and brittle newspaper: it takes a poet of Douaihy’s caliber to do it, with the potency of her verbal images and Bri Hermanson’s visual ones enfleshing a ghost enough to speak.”
—Zoe Tuck, author of Terror Matrix
“I don’t know why it is that our imaginations sometimes seize on one person, not known to us in real life, as an object of study and devotion. But it’s a fact that the genius and virtue (vertu, as Machiavelli used the word, to mean excellence, honor, and power) of such a person, even far away in space and time, can be life changing or even lifesaving. Margot Douaihy’s wonderful poems about Belle Starr give us an experience of the thrilling, radical freedom with which Belle lived her life (at great cost to herself), and I’m deeply grateful for the gift.”
—Patrick Donnelly, author of Little-Known Operas, Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin, and The Charge
“Bandit/Queen: The Runaway Story of Belle Starr is a marvel. Both well-researched and vividly imagined, Margot Douaihy and Bri Hermanson’s book seeks the truth of Belle Starr’s life, amidst all the myths that surround her, and through brilliant linguistic play, a range of poetic forms and gorgeous, unsettling images, this collection investigates our history and the ways we think about a woman who ‘simply wanted to live, to ride, to feel lightning inside.’”
—Nicole Cooley, author of Girl After Girl After Girl, Of Marriage, Breach, Judy Garland/Ginger Love, The Afflicted Girls, and Resurrection
“Bandit/Queen is a gunsight, no—a kaleidoscope, no — two rocks striking spark. “o how she plays”—not only our protagonist, Belle Starr, but also Douaihy and Hermanson, whose works hitch together to create a lyric, startlingly hybrid narrative. Fiercely independent yet saddled with longing, Bandit/Queen gallops across the dusty plain where fiction and fact overlap. These poems and illustrations will haunt me for a long time, like “smoke in my hair from a good fire.”
—Stacey Balkun, author of Sweetbitter
About the Authors
Margot Douaihy earned a BA in Writing from the University of Pittsburgh Writing Program, an MA in Creative & Life Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a PhD in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Bri Hermanson is a scratchboard illustrator. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Creative Quarterly, Luerzer's Archive, Applied Arts, the Altpick Awards, the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, and the 3x3 Directory.