From Tiny T-Shirts to Bookstore Shelves: Kate Flannery to Read from Strip Tees at Wilkes University on April 30

by Kelly Clisham
Kate Flannery

Join Wilkes University for an appearance by NEPA native Kate Flannery, the author of the memoir Strip Tees, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 30, in the Sordoni Art Gallery.

Kate Flannery’s first word as a baby was “book.” She spent her teen years creating a ’zine and earned a paycheck from her part-time job at Hoyt Library in Kingston, Pennsylvania. “I’ve been a book lover since day one thanks to my wonderful parents who always read to me,” says Flannery. “I was built by books.”

Now Flannery has turned a new page in her book life with the publication of her memoir, Strip Tees. Though seeing her work covered in The New York Times and placed on the shelf of her hometown Barnes & Noble serves as powerful dream fulfillment, she had to battle through the nightmare corporate culture of American Apparel to bring the story to life.

The book details Flannery’s early days in Los Angeles and her job at upstart fashion retailer American Apparel. From the register at the company’s flagship store to her road trips to recruit other young female staffers who fit the brand, the sordid side of fashion challenges her feminist education and ideals. She begins to lose herself in a landscape of rowdy sex-positivity, racy photo shoots and a cultlike devotion to the unorthodox CEO and founder of the brand. As the line between sexual liberation and exploitation grows hazy, Flannery questions the company’s ethics and wrestles with her own.

Strip Tees book cover featuring the legs of a young woman in red athetic shorts and white tube socks with red stripes

Flannery knew she wanted to write about her time at American Apparel from her first week on the job when the Sunset Boulevard storefront was covered in printed flyers to protest the unscrupulous behavior of the company’s owner. “As I was taking flyers off, I saved one,” she says. “I thought, ‘I am going to write about this. There’s something crazy going on here. This is a story.’”

The author’s interest in the strange stories of the real world started in her high school years at Wyoming Valley West High School where she created a ’zine, Sneer, to cover anything that caught her attention. “My incredible teachers at Valley West made me think of myself as a writer before I even thought of myself as a writer.” Flannery then went on to earn a bachelor of arts degree in creative writing from Bryn Mawr College, a women’s college outside of Philadelphia.

After graduation, Flannery put her skills as a wordsmith to work for Urban Outfitters but found the corporate copywriting gig uninspiring. When a friend proposed a move to Los Angeles, she took a chance. “As a writer, you crave different experiences. It was sort of a spur of the moment decision,” says Flannery. In spite of some challenging days on the West Coast, Flannery toughed it out. “Only the strong survive,” she says. “I’ve made it 20 years. I’m proud of myself. And I wrote a book about it.”

The book, released in July 2023, has garnered rave reviews from outlets including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Good Morning America. Plus, Amazon optioned the screen rights before Strip Tees even hit the shelves. “It’s notoriously hard to get something made, but we have all the pieces in place. We have a young actress attached,” says Flannery. “We’ll see what happens, fingers crossed.”

Writing serves as just one part of the creative career Flannery has built on her own terms since the American Apparel days. As the company started to decline and she was laid off, a friend called to offer a behind-the-scenes gig on the CBS reality show Big Brother. She became active with her union, the Motion Picture Editors Guild, and that activism led to her current 10-year tenure with RuPaul’s Drag Race. “It’s an inspiring place and I feel like we are doing important work. Most importantly, it’s fun,” Flannery says. She’s also a singer and a frontwoman for LA’s premier Little Richard tribute band, Big Dick, recently taking to the stage again after a pandemic break.

Still, northeastern Pennsylvania holds a special place in Flannery’s heart. Her work schedule provides the freedom to spend summers with her parents, Karen and Daniel Flannery, in Pringle, Pennsylvania. Her childhood home also offers a writing retreat. “Pringle is where I do my best writing,” Flannery says. “It’s where I started writing. I have a little spot in the backyard. It’s a precious writing place to me and Los Angeles is where I do writing business. They’re the perfect pair.”

The dual-coast life clearly helps the author summon some creative magic. Flannery is at work on her next book, also based on real-world experiences. “I have always been a memoirist,” says Flannery. “I think real life is weird enough. You don’t have to make stuff up.” While she remains tight-lipped about the subject matter, Flannery reveals that much of it takes place in the Wyoming Valley and focuses on a formative event in her teen years.

Flannery may disclose a bit about the upcoming book to the audience at her Wilkes University appearance, though the event will focus on Strip Tees. As she shares these experiences in hopes of making the red flags easier to spot, Flannery wants readers to see a little of themselves in the pages. “This isn’t a crazy, wild, one-time story that happened to this girl. This is a universal story that can happen to anyone.”

Kate Flannery’s reading on April 30 is free and open to the public. Seating is limited and registration is strongly encouraged. For more information or registration, visit

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