glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






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

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

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.

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


zoom in
Elana Dykewomon. Image courtesy
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature
Popular Topics:


Williams, Tennessee
Williams, Tennessee

Literary Theory: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer

The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance

Romantic Friendship: Female
Romantic Friendship: Female

Feminist Literary Theory

American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969
American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Erotica and Pornography
Erotica and Pornography

Mishima, Yukio
Mishima, Yukio

Sadomasochistic Literature

Beat Generation
Beat Generation


   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall

Since Stonewall various political agendas have dominated American lesbian literature.

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:  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.


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  
    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  


This Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.