|Activism: Civil Rights & Women's Liberation
||An Activist Writer
||San Francisco & Berkeley
|Recent Life & Work
Celeste is the daughter of Southern figurative painter, Norita Massicot Newbrough, known for her symbolic portraits.
Her mother, Norita (1910-1971), worked in a studio off Pirate?s Alley in the New Orleans Vieux Carré, exhibiting during the late 1920s and early 1930s. She raised five children: Norita (Robin), Andrew, Elaine, Celeste, and Diane.
Celeste?s father, Joseph S. Newbrough (1908-2003), was a ship journalist in early life, then served as a Marine Lieutenant during the Second World War. He worked as a ship radio and electronics officer for military, commercial, and scientific voyages. On her father's side, Celeste is a descendant of John Ballou Newbrough, author of Oahspse.
Celeste grew up in New Orleans on Ursuline and Pecan Streets. In Baton Rouge, she attended St. Joseph?s Academy and Louisiana State University (LSU).
She returned to attend the University of New Orleans (UNO) and LSU, graduating from LSU in English Literature in 1965. She undertook postgraduate studies in Anthropology at Tulane University. Celeste worked with an interracial group of friends to integrate public facilities in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. During 1966 and 1967, she provided key support to the campaign of Joe Delpit, who became the first African American elected to a City Council in Louisiana. She directed city-wide community centers for the Baton Rouge Office of Economic Opportunity, and later headed OEO planning for the City of New Orleans (1968-72).
In 1969, Celeste joined with Attorney Sylvia Roberts in the case of Lorena Weeks vs. Southern Bell. Lorena Weeks sued Southern Bell, which had prohibited her from applying for a technical job, based on Protective laws passed in the early 20th century. Weeks pointed out that in her secretarial position at Southern Bell, she on occasion moved her typewriter equipment, which was as heavy as or heavier than the 30 pounds prohibited by protective legislation. Providing citizen support to the legal battle, Celeste coordinated the Lorena Weeks Support Campaign, picketing Southern Bell and AT&T offices nationally. The case was eventually ruled in Weeks favor by the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by AT&T, resulting in a nationwide precedent striking down protective legislation and enabling U.S. women to work at "hard hat" jobs.
During that same year (1969), Celeste along with her friends in New York City, Ann Grifalconi and Fran Ross, demonstrated in front of St. Patrick?s cathedral with an original poster by Grifalconi (later internationally distributed) depicting a female God, whose face was Fran's. Fran (In 1969 and 1970, Celeste worked to organize the feminist movement in New Orleans and the South. In the summer of 1969, she led a summer seminar on feminism at Loyola University. A diverse group of creative and intellectual women attended the seminar, including Sheila Jurnak, Roxanne Dunbar (-Ortiz), and Karen van Beyer. Out of the Loyola seminar emerged the New Orleans Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Celeste served as founding president, and chaired the Southern Regional Conference held in New Orleans in 1971. Norita, who worked alongside Celeste in organizing New Orleans feminism, attended the conference several weeks before her death in November of 1971. Evi Seidman read at Norita?s memorial service. Anne Gallmeyer, Celeste?s early life partner, arranged an exhibit of Norita?s work at the New Orleans Public Library in the spring of 1972. In another sector of the feminist movement, Celeste worked with Mary Capps, Sandra Karp, Meredith McElroy and others to found the New Orleans Women?s Center.
Along with other women like Susan LosCalzo, Celeste organized the New Orleans International Women?s Festival, a large gathering outside of the City featuring art, music, health and other feminist performances and activities.
In 1973 a fire broke out in a French Quarter gay bar, The Upstairs Lounge, killing thirty-two people. A fire bomb had been thrown into the stairway by an anonymous assailant. Celeste, along with Suzanne Fosberg, Bill Rushton, editor of the Vieux Carré Courier, Troy Perry, and others, spoke out in outrage over the massacre. Celeste and Bill appealed before the New Orleans City Council for a resolution on non-discrimination against homosexuals. In her appeal, Celeste came out publicly as a lesbian, setting a precedent for that time and place.With Jo LeCoeur and Joan Kent, she co-wrote Eve?s Epilogue, performed before the Press Club of New Orleans and adapted for television by Betty Hugh.
In 1973 as a spokesperson for the New Orleans Rape Crisis Center, she engaged in a televised debate with the Chief of Police of the City regarding incendiary racial remarks endorsed by the Chief about African Americans and rape.
In 1974, Celeste read her poetry before the National Conference of NOW in Philadelphia. During this period, her poems and essays were published widely in feminist journals. During this period the Swedish author, Britta Stövling, featured Celeste in her book, Ätertagandet (Stockholm), which documented Stövling?s experiences of the North American women?s liberation movement, during her travels to the continent in 1972-1974. Stövling later met with Celeste in San Francisco and translated her more recent work in Swarm of Bees (Stockholm).
Celeste became active combating homophobia as part of the San Francisco Coalition for Human Rights, chairing the first meeting in 1977, which was attended by over a thousand activists. From 1977 through 1980, she worked alongside Harvey Milk, Sally Gearhart, Priscilla Alexander, Cleve Jones, Paula Lichtenberg, Anne Kronenberg, Glenne McIlhenney, Gilbert Baker, and many other activists in the exploding gay liberation movement. She served as Coordinator and Co-Chair of the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day March of 1978, a massive response to the Briggs Initiative, which would have prohibited lesbian and gay teachers from teaching in public schools. The Initiative was voted down by California citizens.
Celeste delivered the invocation before the 1979 Parade and Celebration. Immediately after the assassination of Harvey Milk (who was a political friend of feminists), Celeste and Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, Donna Hitchens, and many of the women cited in the prior paragraph (Sally, Priscilla, Paula, and others), organized the Bay Area Women?s Caucus, initiating a successful effort to transform San Francisco politics by infusing women?s leadership.
In 1979, Celeste learned of the cooption of the Iranian revolution by the Mullahs, who ordered all women to wear chadors. Along with Roma Guy and others, Celeste organized a demonstration on Market Street entitled "No More Masks, No More Veils." She and Ms. Guy entered the Iranian Consulate and debated with representatives of the Mullahs, who had taken over the Consulate.
In 1982, Celeste published Pagan Psalms (Onecraft). Over the next several years, the book was internationally reviewed and translated. In publishing a Swedish translation, Stövling remarked, ?In her need to say what has never before been said, the poet constructs a new symbolic world." Celeste worked to promote independent authors as part of the East Bay Chapter of the National Writers Union.
During that same year (1982), Celeste joined with Andrea Wachter and others at San Francisco N.O.W. in demonstrating to direct public focus to the moribund state of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The group chained itself to the gate of the Pacific Stock Exchange, preventing its opening for an hour. They performed another nonviolent action at the Oakland Mormon Temple protesting the church?s funding of opposition to the ERA. The group also formed a funeral procession with chains and flags, to mourn the death of the ERA.
In 1984 and 1985, Celeste produced several radio programs for KPFA and KALX stations, on woman-oriented topics including reproductive rights, women?s spirituality, and adoption, notably "Cry Not, My Baby. Cry," a program distributed by the Pacifica Radio Network). While working at the University of California at Berkeley, Celeste studied environmental philosophy under Carolyn Merchant. In 1990, Celeste co-organized with Professor Merchant a demonstration at the University of California Campus against Exxon, protesting the oil spill in Alaska. She participated in an ecofeminist study group; as a poet, she was featured in a forum at Berkeley on Ecofeminism.
During this time, Celeste formed Academic Indexing Service, and began producing scholarly indexes. In this capacity over twenty-plus years, she has contributed to over a hundred scholarly works published by major academic presses.
After the cloning of a mammal (the sheep, Dolly) in 1996, Celeste wrote an essay entitled, ?Bah, Bah, Black Sheep? discussing reproductive technologies and reproductive rights. The essay was featured on CNN and was used widely by high-schools and colleges in teaching bioethics. She subsequently wrote the article on cloning for the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women's Issues and Knowledge (2000).
In 1997, Celeste undertook an independent review of her activism and scholarship for San Francisco State University, and was awarded an MA in Women?s Studies based on eminence. She taught History of the Second Wave of Feminism at the Harvey Milk Institute and at City College of San Francisco (CCSF). She founded the International Archives of the Second Wave.
On the Berkeley campus, Celeste studied evolutionary psychology with Professor Frank Sulloway. Celeste retired from the Institute of Personality and Social Research at UC Berkeley in 2007.
In 2010, Celeste published a retrospective of her poetry entitled, The Archetype Strikes Back. The 128 page book includes illustrations photographs by Celeste with a brilliant graphic design by Santa Fe artist Maureen Burdock, winner of the 2008 Judy Chicago Award for New Mexico Feminist Artists Under Forty.
In 2013, Unspent Motion was published by Onecraft, Berkeley. This collection of literary fiction by Celeste placed at its centerpiece transformative experiences of stirring protagonists, many of whom are older women. Cynthia Kane, a contributor to the Huffington Post, described Unspent Motion as: ?An electrifying collection that condenses whole lives into short tales... Each story reveals the dance between age and emotion; between the past and the present; between what will pass away and what will pass on to new generations.? Kirkus Reviews noted tht in the stories, "life and death are both metaphor and fact... Newbrough?s narrative carries significant weight. She makes clear how intellectual and emotional lives can transcend generations and how losses can be both permanent and permeable."
The Angel of Polk Street, a new novel by Celeste, is in process of pubication and as of 2016 is being serialized in Nightwood Journal, and online LGBT literary magazine. Her article, "Feminism and Evolutionary Theory" was published in 2016 by The Journal of Evolutionary Feminism.
Celeste has battled cancer as of 2014 and in 2016 underwent treatment for advanced cancer.
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