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literature

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American Literature: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  

The Butch-Femme Issue

The butch-femme issue lay dormant at the feet of feminism for many years, but in the 1980s and early 1990s, it resurfaced as writers began to reexplore the various ways of "being" lesbian. Much of this interest was stimulated by a curiosity about segments of a lesbian past that writers such as Joan Nestle, one of the founders of the Lesbian Herstory Archives and editor of The Persistent Desire: A Butch/Femme Reader (1992), were beginning to discuss.

Novelists such as Lee Lynch (The Swashbuckler [1985]) and Leslie Feinberg (Stone Butch Blues [1993]) incorporate butches and femmes naturally into their work, and social historians Elizabeth Kennedy and Madeline Davis devote an entire book to the butch-femme community of Buffalo, New York, in Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold (1993).

Sponsor Message.

The 1990s: Towards Conciliation

As the 1990s began, it seemed that some of the lines that had divided the lesbian literary community during the 1980s were beginning to soften. Although problems remained, there was at least a conciliatory feeling among those lesbians who were committed to fully integrating their sexual orientation into their larger work.

Fiction

Among novelists of the 1990s, Jenifer Levin (The Sea of Light [1993]) and Lisa Alther (Bedrock [1990]) both continue to create lesbian characters whose sexual orientation, although an integral component of their personalities, is not particularly an issue. Helen Elaine Lee's recent multi-generational saga of an African-American family, The Serpent's Gift (1994), deftly incorporates a lesbian story within the African-American experience.

On the other hand, the novels of Blanche McCrary Boyd (Revolution of Little Girls [1991]) and Dorothy Allison (Trash [1989], Bastard Out of Carolina [1993]) are sometimes chastised for "not being lesbian enough." This criticism, however, might be viewed as a positive symptom of the shifting, broadening focus of lesbian fiction in general. The novels of Jane DeLynn, such as Don Juan in the Village (1980), are sometimes difficult to characterize but are always entertaining.

Poetry

Of lesbian poets, the most outstanding are Marilyn Hacker and Mary Oliver. Hacker's Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1986; her Going Back to the River appeared in 1990. Oliver, whose American Primitive won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984, quietly added the National Book Award for Poetry to her shelf in 1992 for New and Selected Poems. Both of these poets continue to produce work of expanding vision.

Lesbian Writers and AIDS

Although women in the lesbian community have not been struck nearly as severely as their gay brothers by the AIDS pandemic, they have suffered their share of devastating losses. And although lesbians have also experienced some of the social backlash from the epidemic and many are vitally involved in AIDS-related causes, they have, oddly, written very little about it.

Bonnie Zimmerman suggests that this has much to say about the general mood of the community today; lesbians--in this case, at least--are accommodating themselves to loss and compromise and are more inclined to act than to write about it. In many ways, the struggle against AIDS has brought gay men and lesbians alike back to 1969, where the fight began. Now, however, through our writing, we have come to know the depth of our strength, and this battle too is one we are now prepared to win.

Ann Wadsworth

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   Related Entries
  
literature >> Overview:  African-American Literature: Lesbian

Most African-American lesbian literature is as concerned with racism as it is with sexuality, causing many writers to construct Afrocentric sexual identities that affirm the power of black women.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Lesbian, 1900-1969

American lesbian literature prior to Stonewall exploited the "outlaw" status of the lesbian as it moved from encrypted strategies of expression to overt political celebrations of woman-for-woman passion.

literature >> Overview:  American Writers on the Left

Most gay, lesbian, and bisexual American writers who adhered to Marxist-oriented parties and social movements between 1917 and the 1960s strove to hide their sexual orientation, and some even depicted homosexuals negatively in their fiction and drama.

literature >> Overview:  Asian American Literature

Asian American gays and lesbians voice richly multiple and diverse identities as they assert sexual autonomy in the face of stereotyping, homophobia, and racism.

literature >> Overview:  Butch-Femme Relations

It is impossible to understand twentieth-century lesbian literature without recognizing the significance of butch-femme relationships.

social sciences >> Overview:  Butch-Femme

Butch-femme identities are controversial and difficult to define with precision, but both roles subvert prescribed gender and sexual expectations; ultimately, the butch-femme dynamic is a unique way of living and loving.

literature >> Overview:  Erotica and Pornography

Erotic and pornographic works have been written in many cultures since ancient times and recently have flourished with the relaxation of censorship.

literature >> Overview:  Jewish-American Literature

Jewish-American gay and lesbian literature is marked by its rich heritage, diverse subject matter, and thriving vitality.

literature >> Overview:  Journalism and Publishing

The gay and lesbian press is of prime importance in sustaining a frequently embattled minority and has been crucial in the development of a national mass movement for gay rights.

literature >> Overview:  Latina Literature

Latina lesbian literature is a fast-growing, vibrant, and diverse literary tradition that offers readers innovative models for creating alliances among diverse peoples.

literature >> Overview:  Mystery Fiction: Lesbian

Although most lesbian mystery fiction reflects a political stance, the most effective lesbian crime novels have been those that have most enthusiastically embraced the need to entertain the reader.

literature >> Overview:  Native North American Literature

From the two-spirits of traditional culture to contemporary writers, Native North Americans have produced a considerable body of gay and lesbian literature.

literature >> Overview:  Novel: Lesbian

From the great modernist writers of the 1920s and 1930s to the pulp writers of the 1950s to the lesbian writers of today, lesbian novelists have had a powerful impact on the lesbian community.

literature >> Overview:  Poetry: Lesbian

Since the 1960s, the general trend in lesbian poetry has been collective and political rather than purely aesthetic.

literature >> Overview:  Sadomasochistic Literature

Sadomasochistic literature, one of the most controversial forms of lesbian and gay writing, confronts such issues as domination, submission, uniformity, and humiliation and poses a constant challenge to them.

literature >> Overview:  Science Fiction and Fantasy

Beginning with the "new wave" in the 1960s, science fiction and fantasy writers have explored openly and seriously issues of gender and sexual orientation.

literature >> Allen, Paula Gunn

Of mixed Native American, Scottish, and Lebanese heritage, American poet and literary scholar Paula Gunn Allen reinterprets the historic and mythic beliefs of Native Americans from a twentieth-century lesbian-feminist perspective.

literature >> Allison, Dorothy E.

South Carolina native Dorothy Allison refuses to write didactic or romantic illustrations of the lesbian experience, focusing instead on the sheer survival of her lesbian characters in the hostile environment of Southern working-class families.

literature >> Alther, Lisa

American novelist Lisa Alther creates fictional worlds in which lesbianism is a fluctuating force as tenuous as all other forms of relationships in a frequently absurd universe.

literature >> Anzaldúa, Gloria

American Latina lesbian editor and writer Gloria Anzaldúa connected racism and homophobia to posit a political queerness that interconnects with all struggles against oppression.

literature >> Bannon, Ann

In a series of five interlinked pulp novels set in Greenwich Village and its homosexual bars in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Bannon provides an important record of lesbian life in a period when few women dared speak openly about homosexuality.

literature >> Bishop, Elizabeth

Widely acknowledged as one of the finest twentieth-century American poets, Elizabeth Bishop encoded a lesbian identity in her poems.

literature >> Bowles, Jane Auer

American novelist, playwright, and short story writer Jane Bowles spent her life examining lesbian identity with an honest and sardonic wit.

literature >> Bradley, Marion Zimmer

A matriarch of fantasy and science fiction literature, Marion Zimmer Bradley also authored lesbian paperback pulps and articles for The Ladder and Mattachine Review.

literature >> Broumas, Olga

Greek-born lesbian poet and translator Olga Broumas writes openly erotic poems that combine ancient Greek echoes and late twentieth-century idiom.

literature >> Brown, Rita Mae

Lesbian poet and novelist Rita Mae Brown, best known for the highly successful Rubyfruit Jungle, resists neat categorization.

social sciences >> Bunch, Charlotte

American activist and academic Charlotte Bunch is a key player in the movement for international human rights for women.

literature >> Califia, Patrick

Controversial for defending sadomasochism and pornography, gender outlaw and sexual anarchist Patrick Califia, who recently underwent gender reassignment, is widely admired as a defender of individual freedom.

literature >> Cliff, Michelle

Jamaican-born writer Michelle Cliff explores issues of race, class, and sexuality in her prose and poetry.

arts >> Corinne, Tee

The shy superstar of lesbian erotica, American artist Tee Corinne is especially known for her frank and sensuous depictions of lesbian sex.

literature >> Dykewomon, Elana

In both her poetry and prose, Elana Dykewomon presents the lesbian as an active, dynamic hero on center stage.

literature >> Feinberg, Leslie

Political organizer, grassroots historian, and accomplished writer, Leslie Feinberg is a pioneer of transgender activism and culture.

literature >> Forrest, Katherine V.

Writer and editor Katherine V. Forrest has played a major role in bringing lesbian fiction to the forefront of the mystery and science fiction genres.

literature >> Overview:  Gay and Lesbian Bookstores

The network of independent gay and lesbian bookstores that arose in the 1970s served as incubators for the literary and cultural development of the modern gay rights movement in the United States and abroad.

literature >> Grahn, Judy

Judy Grahn has been an effective leader the gay rights movement, and her identity as a lesbian and a feminist has infused all of her works, in both prose and poetry.

literature >> Grier, Barbara

As bibliographer, reviewer, collector, editor, and co-founder of Naiad Press, Barbara Grier was an important nurturer of lesbian literature.

literature >> Grumbach, Doris

In her novels, especially those based on the lives of actual people, Doris Grumbach treats homosexual relationships matter-of-factly as an integral part of the human landscape.

literature >> Hall, Radclyffe

Radclyffe Hall, who lived her lesbianism openly and proudly, is best known for The Well of Loneliness, arguably the most important lesbian novel ever written.

literature >> Harris, Bertha

The novelist Bertha Harris has been credited with creating what was called a "new lesbian fiction."

literature >> Jordan, June

In both her poetry and her essays, June Jordan called for the rejection of stereotypical views of bisexuality, and she associated sexual independence with political commitment.

social sciences >> Lesbian Nation

Inspired by Jill Johnston's collection of essays of the same name, the term "lesbian nation" became a rallying cry for political lesbians of the 1970s.

literature >> Lorde, Audre

The work of African-American activist and writer Audre Lord was greatly influenced by her lesbianism.

social sciences >> Lyon, Phyllis, (b. 1924) and Del Martin (1921-2008)

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were among the founders of a lesbian liberation movement that developed and enlarged the very definition of lesbianism.

literature >> Maney, Mabel

San Francisco artist and satirist Mabel Maney spins lesbian adventure tales out of perky feminine archetypes from the 1950s and 1960s.

literature >> Marchant, Anyda [Sarah Aldridge] (1911-2006) and Muriel Inez Crawford (1914-2006)

Anyda Marchant and Muriel Crawford were pioneering lesbian-feminist publishers who co-founded Naiad Press; under the pen-name Sarah Aldridge, Marchant wrote best-selling romance novels.

literature >> Martinac, Paula

Writer Paula Martinac's career has been devoted to exploring and documenting the place that lesbians occupy in society, history, and the family.

literature >> Miller, Isabel

The fiction of Isabel Miller explores and celebrates relationships between women, often across class lines.

literature >> Moraga, Cherríe

In her own works, CherrĂ­e Moraga defines her experience as a Chicana lesbian; and in her capacity as editor/publisher, she provides a forum for traditionally silenced lesbians of color.

literature >> Nestle, Joan

Through her writing, teaching, editing, and activism, Joan Nestle has devoted her life to promoting awareness of glbtq culture and advancing glbtq equality.

literature >> Newman, Lesléa

Prolific Jewish femme lesbian-feminist writer of poetry, fiction, and children's books, Leslèa Newman draws on her own multiple identities to describe the complex tapestry that results when a variety of identities are woven together.

literature >> Oliver, Mary

Although Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver has not been an outspoken lesbian activist, her poetry is deeply resonant with contemporary lesbian consciousness, and many lesbians claimed her as one of their own before she publicly came out.

literature >> Ortiz-Taylor, Sheila

A prolific writer and respected teacher, Sheila Ortiz-Taylor has bracketed her career with groundbreaking achievements.

literature >> Rich, Adrienne

Adrienne Rich, who aestheticized politics and politicized aesthetics, is America's most widely read lesbian poet.

literature >> Rule, Jane

Though dealing forthrightly with lesbian and gay subjects, the novels and criticism of Jane Rule are deliberately nonpolitical in their commitment to diverse communities and a range of experiences.

literature >> Russ, Joanna

In both her science fiction and her criticism, Joanna Russ is outspokenly lesbian and feminist.

literature >> Sapphire (Ramona Lofton)

Bisexual African-American novelist, poet, and performance artist Sapphire came to public attention with works that focus on the harrowing realities of inner city existence.

literature >> Sarton, May

May Sarton, who gradually revealed her lesbianism in her writing, worked successfully in poetry, the novel, essays, and the journal.

literature >> Shockley, Ann Allen

Popular short story writer and novelist Ann Allen Shockley treats both interracial and lesbian experiences.

literature >> Swenson, May

One of America's most inventive and incisive poets, May Swenson wrote many love poems celebrating lesbian sexuality.

literature >> Walker, Alice

In her explorations of the damage done to the individual self by racism and sexism, Alice Walker views lesbianism as natural and freeing, an aid to self-knowledge and self-love.

literature >> Winterson, Jeanette

Jeanette Winterson's prize-winning novels exploring lesbian and gender issues have quickly gained a following not only among lesbian and gay readers but also among mainstream readers as well.

literature >> Wolverton, Terry

Throughout her varied career as a writer, editor, teacher, and performance artist, Terry Wolverton has consistently worked to document glbtq history and increase the visibility of the community.


    Bibliography
   

Castle, Terry. The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Grahn, Judy. Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.

_____. The Highest Apple: Sappho and the Lesbian Poetic Tradition. San Francisco, Calif.: Spinsters, Ink., 1985.

Grier, Barbara, ed. The Lesbian in Literature. 3d ed. Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad Press, 1981.

Harris, Bertha. "What We Mean To Say: Notes Toward Defining the Nature of Lesbian Literature." Heresies 3 (1977): 5-8.

Jay, Karla and Joanne Glasgow, eds. Lesbian Texts and Contexts: Radical Revisions. New York: New York University Press, 1990.

Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Trumansburg, N.Y.: Crossing Press, 1984.

Munt, Sally, ed. New Lesbian Criticism: Literary and Cultural Readings. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Potter, Clare, ed. The Lesbian Periodicals Index. Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad Press, 1986.

Rich, Adrienne. Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979-1985. New York: W.W. Norton, 1986.

Zimmerman, Bonnie. The Safe Sea of Women: Lesbian Fiction, 1969-1989. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Wadsworth, Ann  
    Entry Title: American Literature: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 7, 2007  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/am_lit5_lesbian_post_stonewall.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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