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

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Novel: Lesbian  
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Ann Allen Shockley is the only novelist who focused on black lesbian lives and reached a broad audience before the 1980s. In Loving Her (1974), an account of an interracial love affair, and her other novels, Shockley explores with sensitivity the difficulties facing African-American lesbians.

A few other writers, the most notable being Audre Lorde, also explored the situation of African-American lesbians. In her "biomythography" Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), Lorde wrote one of the most memorable accounts of what it means to be black and lesbian in the United States.

Lesbian writers with a Native-American background are even less common than African-American writers. An important exception is Paula Gunn Allen. In her novel The Woman Who Owned the Shadows (1983), Gunn describes the experience of a Native-American lesbian. Her myth-laden, symbolic writing places Gunn among the many contemporary lesbian novelists who are trying to stretch language's meaning.

Exploring Alternative Lesbian Realities

While some authors have explored the present or past in order to discuss lesbians' experiences, other novelists have looked into the mythical future in order to understand lesbian lives. Since some writers would argue that lesbian experience can never be portrayed in the context of a patriarchal society, they have tried in their fiction to redesign the world.

Certainly the best-known novels to reenvision a different lesbian future are Monique Wittig's. In The Lesbian Body (1975), the author explores how a phallocentric society has limited the ways in which we view lesbianism. Using experimental prose that works to redefine the way we perceive the lesbian subject, Wittig creates a lesbian world in which the conventions of a patriarchal society no longer apply.

Other novels depicting alternative lesbian realities followed Wittig's work, most notably Joanna Russ's The Female Man (1975) and Sally Gearhart's The Wanderground (1978). These texts help reenvision how lesbian (and heterosexual) society should be constructed. By showing communities where lesbianism is central rather than marginal, these novels suggest that society need not be based on heterosexuality.

The Lesbian Romance Novel and Mystery Novel

Contemporary lesbian writers frequently explore more conventional genres than the utopian novel, revitalizing formula fiction like the romance, mystery, and detective novel to make it reflect the realities of lesbian life.

In the 1980s and 1990s, one of the most popular genres of the lesbian novel has been the detective story. Authors as diverse as Katherine Forrest, Camarin Grae, Vicki McConnell, Claire McNab, Diana McRae, Jaye Maiman, Mary Morell, Sarah Schulman, Pat Welch, Barbara Wilson, and Mary Wings, as well as many others, have written detective stories that focus on lesbians and lesbian culture.

The detective genre has obtained wide popularity in the lesbian community because it explores notions, such as passing for heterosexual, that are essential features of the lesbian world. The lesbian detectives in these novels, whether they are as official as Kate Delafield, a member of the LAPD homicide squad or as unofficial as Emma Victor, who works for a women's hotline, explore what it means to negotiate the division between heterosexual and homosexual.

The novels themselves often explore the meaning of lesbian experience as much as they dwell on the mystery that needs to be solved. Delafield, for instance, in Murder at the Nightwood Bar, must deal with how she is perceived as heterosexual at her job, but as homosexual when she enters a lesbian bar: "She felt stripped of her gray gabardine pants and jacket, her conservative cloak of invisibility in the conventional world. In here she was fully exposed against her natural background."

As well as being an arena to explore lesbian identity, the detective novel has also been a space to explore variations in style. Mary Wings, for instance, in She Came Too Late (1987) uses the hard-boiled style made famous by Raymond Chandler.

Expanding the Limits of the Traditional Lesbian Novel

Sarah Schulman, influenced by post-modern theories, is only one of many contemporary lesbian writers who attempted to create a more experimental lesbian prose in the 1980s. On the surface, many of Schulman's novels, such as The Sophie Horowitz Story (1984) and After Delores (1988), are detective stories, but they are also texts that are just as concerned about exploring the meaning of identity as they are in solving a crime.

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