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literature

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Dykewomon, Elana (b. 1949)  

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

Dykewomon was born Elana Nachman in New York City on October 11, 1949, to middle-class Jewish parents. Her father is a lawyer, her mother a librarian. The family moved to Puerto Rico when Elana was eight. She studied fine art at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and received a B.F.A. in creative writing from the California Institute of Art.

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At the age of twenty-one, she wrote her first novel, Riverfinger Women, published in 1974 by the pioneering women's press, Daughter's, Inc. One of her aims was to show the ordinary heroism of lesbian relations.

Though the novel deals with sexual violence, sadism, humiliation, and prostitution, with sometimes searing directness, these typify heterosexual relationships, a sordid background against which the lesbian heroine stands out as a troubled seeker with a warm and comprehending heart.

Written as an open text in which continual reference is made to the act of creation, and laced with documents of the 1970s--an army recruiting ad, letters from the "Women's Page" of a local newspaper--Riverfinger Women shows reality itself to be problematic and easily appropriated.

As one of the first wave of lesbian novels with happy endings, Riverfinger Women has been extremely popular. The combination of lesbian content and hippie setting have assured its success.

With the publication of They Will Know Me By My Teeth (1976), Elana changed her surname to "Dykewoman," at once an expression of her strong commitment to the lesbian community and a way to keep herself "honest," since anyone reading the book would know the author was a lesbian.

The stories and poems in the collection are written from within the lesbian community, addressing such issues as surgical breast reduction, masturbation, class, inventing creation myths, and mythic lesbian communities.

With her third book, Fragments From Lesbos (1981), published "for lesbians only," Elana began to spell her name "Dykewomon," to avoid etymological connection with men.

Many of the poems are love poems, poems of the aching contentment of sex, but also the pleasures of solitude. It is a visual, sensuous collection describing the thoughts of a traveler, a cross-country driver as she considers the meteorological, the geographical, the material.

Some of Elana Dykewomon's most influential writing has taken the form of articles and poems that were copied and recopied by hand and machine before being published in anthologies and journals. "The real fat womon poems" and "Traveling Fat" deal movingly with fat oppression, making the radical connection between social sanction of stomach stapling in twentieth-century America and Chinese foot binding. "The Fourth Daughter's 400 Questions" has been widely used in lesbian seders and study groups.

Throughout her work, poetry or prose, novel or essay, the same themes recur: the lesbian as active, dynamic hero on center stage, a counter to the supposed heterosexual universal; the need for honesty, however difficult or painful; and a belief that breaking silence will strike a common chord in other women. In each genre, there walks the figure of the outsider: the Jew, the fat woman, the woman moving between communities.

In 1987, Dykewomon became editor of Sinister Wisdom, a journal "for the Lesbian Imagination in the Arts and Politics." In her editorials and in her publishing decisions she continues to raise important issues and to let the voices of minority lesbians be heard.

[In 1997, Dykewomon received an M.F.A. in creative writing from San Francisco State University.

Her 1998 historical novel, Beyond the Pale, concerned with Jewish lesbians and women in Russia and New York during the period from 1860 to 1912, was honored with the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Novel and the Ferro-Grumley Award for Best Lesbian Fiction. In 2007 it was reissued by Raincoast Press in an edition geared to the young adult audience.

She has also published a book of poetry, Nothing Will Be As Sweet As the Taste (1995), and a book of short stories, Moon Creek Road (2003).]

Anna Livia

     

 
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Elana Dykewomon. Image courtesy dykewomon.org.
  
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    Bibliography
   

Dykewomon, Elana. "The Fourth Daughter's 400 Questions." Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology. Evelyn Torton Beck, ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1982.

_____. Fragments From Lesbos. Langlois, Oreg.: Diaspora Distribution, 1981.

_____. (as Elana Nachman) Riverfinger Women. Plainfield, Vt.: Daughters, Inc., 1974; Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad Press, 1992.

_____. (as Elana Dykewoman) They Will Know Me By My Teeth. Northampton, Mass.: Megaera Press, 1976.

_____. "Traveling Fat." Shadow On A Tightrope. Lisa Schoenfielder and Barb Weiser, eds. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1983.

Penelope, J. and Susan Wolfe. "Toward A Feminist Aesthetic." Feminist Frontiers: Rethinking Sex, Gender and Society. Laurel Richardson and Verta Taylor, eds. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1983.

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

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Livia, Anna  
    Entry Title: Dykewomon, Elana  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 15, 2007  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/dykewomon_e.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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