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literature

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American Literature: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall  
 
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Works by Jewish-American Lesbians

In 1982, Evelyn Torton Beck edited Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology, the first collection of its kind. Sarah Schulman, Ruth Geller, Alice Bloch, and Lesléa Newman are novelists whose Jewish heritage is implicit in their characters and their points of view although often political and religious issues are not the primary focus of their works.

Schulman, who began with the street-smart Sophie Horowitz Story (1984), continued with the darker and more mature After Delores (1988) and Empathy (1992).

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Newman, who has the distinction of having published the first (and perhaps only) lesbian novel dealing with bulimia and coming out (Good Enough to Eat [1986]), also wrote the important Heather Has Two Mommies (1989), a children's book set in a lesbian household, which was controversial enough to land Newman on the "Phil Donahue Show" and on the front page of the New York Times. There is a strong Jewish sensibility in Newman's work, especially in her most recent novel, In Every Laugh a Tear (1992).

Alice Bloch in The Law of Return (1983) concerns herself with the search for home, a common theme among Jewish lesbian writers. Among Jewish lesbian poets, Polish-born Irena Klepfisz, author of Keeper of Accounts (1982) and Different Enclosures (1985), deals movingly with women and the Holocaust.

The Lesbian Detective Story

Other fiction published during the 1980s took some odd turns. The phenomenon of the lesbian detective story took hold and flourished, almost to the point of inundation. Although most of these works have conventional plots and formulaic story lines, some of them are fun to read, and the view might be taken that any work that furthers "popular lesbian fiction"--a term that once was an oxymoron--is valuable.

The detective novels of Mary Wings are particularly inventive (She Came Too Late [1987], She Came in a Flash [1988], and Divine Victim [1992]), and Katherine Forrest's Amateur City (1984) and Murder at the Nightwood Bar (1987) have become classics of the genre. Camarin Grae has also written a number of popular detective tales (Slick [1990]), and Shelley Smith added a lesbian spy novel (The Pearls [1987]).

The Lesbian Romance Novel

As if the 1980s were the 1940s, the romance novel followed the detective story onto the lesbian popularity charts of the decade. Katherine Forrest championed this genre as well, and her Curious Wine (1983) remains the classic contemporary tale of girl meets girl. The lesbian romantic novel, a child of the coming-out tales of the 1970s, has also settled into a somewhat formulaic groove, but is produced by a number of competent writers, including Paula Christian (The Cruise [1982] and other works), Sarah Aldrich (Flight of Angels [1992], Keep to Me, Stranger [1989]), and Lee Lynch (Toothpick House [1983]).

The lesbian detective story and the lesbian romance have been greatly aided by the Naiad Press, a stalwart publishing house that has, under the direction of pioneer lesbian publisher Barbara Grier, furthered the cause of reasonably priced, popular lesbian fiction.

Lesbian romantic novels of a more complex sort were produced by Kathleen Fleming, whose Lovers in the Present Afternoon (1984) is a well-crafted story that deals not only with lesbian love, but also with the sometimes unpleasant realities of living with that love in a contemporary world.

The characters in Nancy Toder's Choices (1980) wrestle with the issue of "what has made me a lesbian?" Noretta Koertge in Who Was That Masked Woman? (1981) struggles with her own lesbian identity and in Valley of the Amazons (1984) expands that struggle into a search for a true lesbian community.

Another 1980s lesbian love story (although it was published late in 1979) is Doris Grumbach's Chamber Music. The last third of this restrained and beautifully written novel, based loosely on the lives of composer Edward MacDowell and his wife Marian (who later founded the MacDowell Colony), describes the love affair that develops after the husband's death (from syphilis, which he contracted from another man) between the widow and his nurse.

Lesbian Erotica

Restrained is not the word for some of the fiction with sadomasochistic themes and some of the lesbian erotica (written by women for women) that emerged in the 1980s. Lesbian writers are still feeling their way when it comes to writing about sex, and in fact whether it is the "melting" kind (as in Forrest's Curious Wine) or the ropes and hot wax of Coming to Power: Writings and Graphics on Lesbian S/M (2d ed. published in 1982 by Samois, a lesbian S/M group), the writing is often unconvincing.

The subject is (not surprisingly) politically charged, and Pat Califia has been an articulate (and often lonely) voice arguing for complete sexual freedom. Her essays and short stories blatantly challenge the large numbers of lesbians clamoring for her head, but fortunately she has a sense of humor, as evidenced in her Macho Sluts (1988).

Among lesbians writing erotica for other lesbians, Robbi Sommers (Pleasures [1989], Kiss and Tell [1991]) seems to have no trouble finding unique ways for her heroines to get it on, and Tee Corinne (Dreams of the Woman Who Loved Sex [1987]) writes elegantly and explicitly of sexual encounters between women. Susie Bright has also written a number of books of erotica for lesbians.

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