Dear Dawn – Aileen Wuornos in Her Own Words
Dear Dawn – Aileen Wuornos in Her Own Words is a book about one of the most famous female serial killers of our time. The book was edited by Daphne Gottlieb and Lisa Kester who were kind enough to give an exclusive interview for Twisted Minds’ readers. If you want to know more about Aileen – about her childhood, murders and the trial, read her biography here. I hope you’ll enjoy her life story as much as I did, and don’t forget to check the book out on amazon.com.
Dear Dawn is Aileen Wuornos’s autobiography culled from her ten-year death row correspondence with beloved childhood friend Dawn Botkins. Authorized for publication by Wuornos and edited under the guidance of Botkins, the letters not only offer Wuornos’s riveting reflections on the murders, legal battles, and media coverage, but go further, revealing her fears and obsessions, her rich humor and empathy, and her gradual disintegration as her execution approached. A candid life story told to a trusted friend, Dear Dawn is a compelling narrative, unwaveringly true to its source.
What made you interested in Aileen Wuornos case?
Daphne Gottlieb (DG): As a writer, my work has always centered around gender, sex, violence, and death. She was a story to me first, a woman later. I come out of the branch of feminist activism that came of age with the Lesbian Avengers advising us to “be the bomb you throw.” I ate fire in the streets. I was entranced with her because she was an outlaw (prostitute, homeless, briefly lesbian-identified), a victim (a rape survivor, an abuse survivor), an avenger, and the only female multiple murderess I’d heard of at the time. For myself, for my heart, I needed a woman with a gun.
Lisa Kester (LK): In the mid-90s, there was a lot of local excitement about Wuornos in the SF Bay Area. People were rallying around her right to be a sex-worker and still claim self-defense in the murder charges against her. My friend Jesse began writing to Wuornos while she was on Death Row, and became pen pals. Jesse and I would drive around taking pictures of places that were of interest to Wuornos and created photo- stories to send her with the letters. It only took one look at Wuornos’ letters, and I was pulled in to the story. She would draw pictures to animate her story, and her penmanship was amazing! Aileen was smart and funny and had a lot to say about a lot of things. Eventually, Jesse met Dawn through her relationship with Aileen, and in 2007 Dawn asked me to help in the publishing of the story through the letters.
What was your general opinion about her during the trial and did editing this book made you see her in a different light?
DG: I saw her testimony. I wanted to tear the walls of the prison down and feed her tea and candy. I wanted to wipe her tears. I wanted to kill the men who hurt her all over again. After editing this book, I am committed to trying to plug the cracks she slipped through. Well, at least one: my day job is with the homeless.
LK: At first, I had a strong belief that Aileen had acted in self-defense, as she claimed. She put forth a strong case that these men had raped her. After all, she had probably turned hundreds of tricks that year, and didn’t kill them all. As we got into the letters and began to read, it became less clear. Wuornos doesn’t speak directly of the murders much in the letters, so it becomes a matter of filling in the blanks and getting to know her through her words. I definitely see her in a different light now that we are at the other end of this project. She is not a one-dimensional person; she is a complex, multi-faceted character that had many influences and defining moments that made her who and what she was.
What would you ask her now, after publishing this book, if you had a chance to meet her?
DG: Can we crank the radio any louder? Will you dance with me?
LK: I would ask her if she ever felt happy and loved. That seems like such a basic human right, but Iâ?Tm not sure if she ever really felt loved. I would tell her that the world knows her story now, and her life was not meaningless. I believe her story was able to shed light on part of human experience that is usually held in disdain and kept in the dark. Sex work is big part of human interaction; the more it is talked about, the more it can be understood and accepted. I’d tell her that her story inspired many people and helped to give meaning and understanding to their lives.
Was it hard for you to go into the mind of a serial killer?
DG: I never got into her mind. I wish I could. I wish I could crawl in, sit still and listen. When we write, we have so much more control than when we speak, or over our thoughts. Our language is so much more organized, and we are able to manufacture a coherent self that might not really exist. What was hard was to not be able to interact with her. I couldn’t ask questions, or offer help, or scold. And I can’t stop the bad things from happening to her.
LK: Yes and no — it was not hard to read the letters and get to know her and feel connected to her story. Compassion for Aileen came very easy. She had a life that you wouldn’t want anyone to experience. It is challenging knowing that she had to die for it. It was not easy reading about her childhood, her sexual abuse and absolute lack of any adult standing for her, protecting her.
It is hard to understand her lack of concern and compassion after the murders; her ability to disconnect from her actions was probably acquired early in life, and is a known survival technique for abused children. Wuornos was a very complex individual, and as time went on in prison, her mental state began to disintegrate. This is probably the hardest part of the project for me, seeing her fall apart and begin to lose her grip on life, lose her sharp wit and lose the will to fight.
She was extremely intelligent and funny and full of love for her friend, Dawn, so that was a beautiful part of going into her mind. We should all be so lucky to have a friendship like Dawn and Aileen had.
Are you planning to write about serial killers more in the future?
DG: I’ll be writing around the intersections of class, gender, violence, death, and sex. So although I may not write directly about a raped woman with a gun, she’ll never be far from my keyboard.
LK: I have talked to Dawn about perhaps expanding the book, maybe another volume. But I have no plans to explore anything about other serial killers. Daphne may have plans…