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literature

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Chambers, Jane (1937-1983)  

Jane Chambers was one of the first American playwrights to create openly lesbian characters who were comfortable with their own homosexuality.

Chambers was born Carolyn Jane Chambers in Columbia, South Carolina, on March 27, 1937. She spent her early years in Orlando, Florida, where she began her writing career with scripts for local public radio stations. In 1954, Chambers entered Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, intent on becoming a playwright.

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This was a very frustrating time for her, however. As she told the New York Times in a 1981 interview, "When I went to college women were not allowed in the playwriting or directing courses unless there were seats left over after the men signed up." The frustration caused Chambers to leave Rollins in 1956 in order to study acting at California's Pasadena Playhouse for a season. The following year she moved to New York City.

Chambers stayed in New York for a brief time and then moved to Poland Spring, Maine, to work for TV station WMTW. In 1968, she returned to New York. Soon thereafter, Chambers, interested in completing her undergraduate degree, enrolled in Goddard College, Vermont. While at Goddard, she met Beth Allen, who was to become her lover, manager, and devoted lifelong companion.

Chambers completed her degree at Goddard in 1971. During this period, she also began to gain acceptance as a professional writer and to solidify her reputation as a playwright. In 1971, she received the Rosenthal Award for Poetry and a Connecticut Educational Television Award for her play, Christ in a Treehouse. In 1972, she was the recipient of a Eugene O'Neill Fellowship for her play Tales of the Revolution and Other American Fables, which was produced at the Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theatre in Connecticut.

It was also during this time that Chambers began to work with the Women's Interart Center in New York City. She was instrumental in establishing the theater program at Interart, and the first piece produced at the Center was her Random Violence (1972). In the early 1970s, Chambers also wrote for the CBS-TV soap opera "Search for Tomorrow," for which she received a Writer's Guild of America Award in 1973.

In 1974 Playwrights Horizons in New York produced A Late Snow. The play, which portrays openly lesbian characters who spend two eventful days while stranded together during a snowfall, was to become one of Chambers's best known. It was one of the first plays to depict lesbians in a positive light and gained Chambers a reputation for being an important lesbian playwright.

In 1980, Chambers began working with The Glines, a New York company that focused on plays representing gay and lesbian experience. Chambers wrote Last Summer at Bluefish Cove for their First Gay American Arts Festival. The play centers on a character who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and the impact this has on her and her lesbian friends who vacation together every summer. Chambers wrote Bluefish Cove after one of her own friends had died from cancer; it was to take on a very ironic tone, however, when Chambers herself was diagnosed with the disease in 1981.

Throughout the next two years, Chambers continued to write and went on to produce My Blue Heaven for the Glines Second Gay American Arts Festival and The Quintessential Image for the Women's Theatre Conference in Minneapolis. In 1982, Chambers was a recipient of the Fund for Human Dignity award.

Chambers died on February 15, 1983, in her Greenport, Long Island, home. Beth Allen subsequently published a collection of her poetry as a memorial to her courage and spirit. The Women in Theatre Program of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education honored Chambers by creating the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award to encourage the writing of plays that reflect women's experience.

Chambers was one of the first playwrights to create openly lesbian characters who were comfortable with their own homosexuality. She believed that this would help eliminate . As Chambers told the New York Times, "As we become more comfortable with ourselves, the rest of the world will become comfortable with us." She opened the door for other playwrights who wished to write affirming plays about lesbians.

Beth A. Kattelman

     

 
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    Bibliography
   

Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present. Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements, Isobel Grundy, eds. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990. 192-193.

Gavin, Christy. American Women Playwrights 1964-1989: A Research Guide and Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993.

Holden, Stephen. "Comedy of Self-Acceptance and a Portrait of Its Writer." New York Times (August 17, 1989): C18.

Klein, Alvin. "Play's Theme: Lesbians Without Apology." New York Times (February 8, 1981): 21:15.

Landau, Penny M. "Jane Chambers: In Memoriam." Women and Performance. 1.2 (1984): 55-56.

_____. "Jane Chambers." Notable Women in the American Theatre: A Biographical Dictionary. Alice M. Robinson, Vera Mowry, and Milly S. Barranger, eds. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989. 117.

Note: Chambers left the rights to her work to Beth Allen, who may be contacted at Beth Allen Management, 402 Fifth Street, Greenport, NY 11944, or via e-mail at ba402@optonline.net, regarding permission to produce or reprint Chambers' works.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Kattelman, Beth A.  
    Entry Title: Chambers, Jane  
    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 15, 2004  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/chambers_j.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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