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literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

     
American Literature: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall  
 
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Harris, who remains the most stylistically innovative writer to emerge after Stonewall--and who could be viewed as the spiritual heir of Jane Bowles--brought wit and a keen aesthetic sensibility to her fictional ruminations on the nature of love and the lover. Desire and separation are the concerns in Cherubino; transcendence and metamorphosis in Lover. (A 1993 reprint of Lover contains a lengthy introduction by the author describing the personal milieu in which the novel was created and also provides an insider's look at the Sturm und Drang of sexual politics in New York during the early 1970s.)

Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle, the quintessential coming-out story, widely--and usually unsuccessfully--imitated during the late 1970s and 1980s, tells of the emancipation of Molly Bolt, her funky, in-your-face protagonist. Molly's buoyant semi-autobiographical adventures as a dyke banished forever the "women in the shadows" lesbian heroines of the pre-Stonewall era. Brown, too, has continued with more mainstream writing such as Six of One (1978) and In Her Day (1976).

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Imagining a Matriarchal Society

In the early years after Stonewall, some lesbian writers also began to imagine a perfect matriarchal society in which women claimed the power that had always been denied them. June Arnold, founder of Daughters, Inc., one of the earliest lesbian-feminist presses, wrote The Cook and the Carpenter (1973) and Sister Gin (1975), both of which deal in different ways with issues relating to women living communally and with problems inherent in the conflict of the personal and the political. Sister Gin was unique at the time in its depiction of the older lesbian as independent, humorous, and as politically and sexually active as her younger sisters.

Inez, the protagonist of Elana Nachmann's Riverfinger Woman (1974), although she was born sooner, could be Molly Bolt's younger sister. Joanna Russ in The Female Man (1975) carries communality into utopia, and her On Strike Against God, which was issued at the end of the decade (1980), is an inventive coming-out story, foreshadowing her science-fiction and fantasy writings that were to come. Sally Gearhart's The Wanderground (1978) presents a powerful vision of a struggling society of women and is one of the earliest works to incorporate ecological themes with political ones.

The Establishment of Small Women's Presses

During the 1970s, it became clear that only a very small percentage of lesbian writing was found acceptable by mainstream publishing houses. In reaction to this situation, a number of small women's presses sprang up in an attempt to get more lesbian writing into print. A number of them, such as Daughters Inc., Diana, Persephone, Amazon, and the Women's Press Collective saw to it that writers such as Rita Mae Brown, Sharon Isabell (author of Yesterday's Lessons, 1974), and Sally Gearhart reached print.

Moreover, writers such as Bertha Harris and later Jane Rule often chose to have their works reprinted by these smaller women's presses. Harris in her introduction to the 1993 edition of Lover, recalls the harrowing rise and fall of June Arnold and Daughters Inc., a tale that clearly shows the enormous toll that was taken on all the women who were involved in these publishing ventures.

As presses such as Daughters and Diana fell, however, and factionalism within the lesbian and feminist community became more of an issue, new presses such as Seal, Crossing, Naiad, Firebrand, Spinsters, and others rose in the 1980s to carry on. In 1981, Audre Lorde, with Barbara Smith, Cherríe Moraga, and others, cofounded Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press.

The problem of why lesbian presses have been necessary, or felt to be necessary, is an interesting one since there is no exact counterpart for gay male writers. The answer is probably political; lesbian-feminist writers had their own agenda, which did not for a long while include the general public. Mainstream publishers did not believe the market would support the politically and sexually explicit work that was coming out of the lesbian-feminist community, and so presses were started up that did.

Women's presses also, at least in theory, gave writers more control over how their work was produced. During this period, some gay male writers slipped quietly into the mainstream, and many of their writings have come to be popular with both gay and straight audiences, a phenomenon that has occurred only on a small scale among lesbian writers.

Writers such as Great Britain's Jeanette Winterson, who has a general lesbian focus to her work but incorporates this focus into intriguing novels of ideas, have found larger audiences, but few American lesbian writers of fiction other than Bertha Harris, Audre Lorde, and perhaps the stylish Carole Maso (author of Ghost Dance [1986] and The American Woman in the Chinese Hat [1994]) have been able to escape the strictures of lesbian political and cultural expectancy and enlarge their vision.

Instead it has been left to authors such as Alice Walker, Lois Gould, and more recently Kathryn Davis (in The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf [1993]), who do not identify themselves primarily as lesbians, to include important lesbian characters and situations in work directed to a mainstream audience.

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