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

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American Literature: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall  
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The lesbian community has never lacked first-class poets, and their output during the 1970s was astonishingly rich. In this one decade Olga Broumas won the Yale Younger Poets Award for Beginning With O (1977); Judy Grahn published Edward the Dyke (1971), the ground-breaking A Woman Is Talking to Death (1974), and The Work of a Common Woman (1978); Susan Griffin's Like the Iris of an Eye (1976) appeared; Joan Larkin published Housework (1975); Audre Lorde issued her third book, From a Land Where Other People Live (1973), which was nominated for a National Book Award, and her fourth, Our Dead Behind Us (1976); Pat Parker's Child of Myself (1972), Pit Stop (1973), and Womanslaughter (1978) were released; June Jordan published Things That I Do in the Dark (1977) and other works; Robin Becker added Personal Effects (1976); and Adrienne Rich published The Dream of a Common Language (1978), which included "Twenty-One Love Poems," and On Lies, Secrets and Silence (essays, 1979)--among many other works.

This list is one to reckon with, and it is only a partial one. Of older lesbian poets, May Swenson, Elizabeth Bishop, and May Sarton were still actively writing, but not generally about overtly lesbian subjects, though Brett Millier's Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It (1992) prints a wonderful, previously unpublished love poem by Bishop. Entitled "It is marvelous to wake up together," the poem was found among Bishop's papers after her death, and written while she was living with a female lover in Key West.

Much lesbian poetry first saw the light of day in the pages of the many women's journals that proliferated during the late 1970s and through the 1980s. Heresies, Conditions, Sinister Wisdom, Amazon Quarterly, off our backs, Dark Horse, and Focus make up only a short list of some of the publications that were absolutely vital to the process of "getting the words out" to lesbians, not only in urban centers, but in parts of the country that offered little, if any, community support for the lesbian trying to make sense of her life and the different types of personal struggle that at once bound the lesbian community together and were beginning to cause growing disquiet in the ranks.

Conditions was of consistently high quality, due largely to its multicultural editorial policies; Conditions Five: The Black Women's Issue (1980) remains a high water mark of women's journalism.

Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde emerged as the most articulate voices of radical change during the late 1970s and the 1980s. Although poetry was their central discipline, they were formidable verbal opponents of oppression in all its forms and embraced the common battles of all women.

Rich's books of poetry in the 1980s include A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981) and Your Native Land, Your Life (1986); she also published Blood, Bread, and Poetry, a collection of essays, in 1986. Rich, whose poetry at the beginning of her career was intensely lyrical, took on a harder edge as her political involvements began to inhabit her work with more fury, but her essays grew increasingly more profound, with a lyrical quality of their own.

Lorde's work is full of anger tempered by compassion and good humor; it embraces all and transcends all, with dignity and forthrightness. Her books published during the 1980s include The Cancer Journals (1980), Sister Outsider (essays and speeches, 1984), and Our Dead Behind Us (poetry, 1986).

Perhaps her most intriguing work, however, is her autobiographical novel Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1984), which she called a "bio-mythography." Here, in a "fever of wanting to be whole," she recreates the mythic world of her African and West Indian ancestry, and in recreating herself, moves toward an authentic mythology for all black women.

African-American Lesbian Writers

Black lesbian writers produced a rich and varied body of work in the 1980s. Ann Allen Shockley, for example, in Loving Her (1987), contributed one of the first successful novels with an interracial lesbian relationship as its central focus. Say Jesus and Come to Me, also published in 1987, draws a strong picture of a vital and cohesive black lesbian community. Becky Birtha's For Nights Like This One came out in 1983 and Lover's Choice in 1987.

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