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Schulman, Sarah (b. 1958)  

Author and playwright Sarah Schulman is concerned with constructing a lesbian identity around and against the multicultural identities of New York City.

Schulman was born into a second-generation immigrant European Jewish family in Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, on July 28, 1958. She still lives in Manhattan, on the Lower East Side, which forms a backdrop to all of her writing.

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A lifelong political activist, Schulman has been involved in a number of strategic social movements, including Abortion Rights, ACT-UP, and most recently, the Lesbian Avengers. She is the cofounder of the Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival and is a prodigious contributor to the mainstream and progressive press, including The New York Times, The Guardian, Interview, The Face, Mother Jones, Ms. Magazine, Village Voice, The Advocate, Cineaste, and Jump-Cut.

Schulman's writing blends narrative experimentation with political critique. She constructs lesbian identity around the landscape of the modern, taking New York as the archetypal literary site. Changing, fluid, complex, and fragmented, the lesbian fights for a space juxtaposed with, and superimposed on, other cultural identities, such as Jewish, working class, or black. These "ethnocentricities" then force the reader, by a process of narrative investigation, to question the construction of identity itself.

The Sophie Horowitz Story (1984), Schulman's first novel, reveals a cornucopia of literary and political conventions skewered by a sharp satiric wit. Sophie is an early feminist sleuth-reporter parodying the Search for Woman, which has so preoccupied previous dicks. Tracing her feminist mentors proves both a hopeless and revelatory task, for in the novel icons fall from their pedestals, and the message clearly berates the tendency of subcultures to put their trust in heroes.

The hero of Girls, Visions and Everything (1986) is New York, "the most beautiful woman [she] had ever known." This city is mapped out with emotional happenings, and as Lila Futuransky, female flâneuse, walks the streets, these locations stand for symbols of connection, an antithesis to Reagan's America. Modeling herself on the Jack Kerouac of On the Road, Lila is similarly self-exploratory on her adventure, but hers is based on a female erotic aesthetic.

After Delores (1988), by contrast, is an excruciatingly painful narrative of loss, of being left by your lover for another woman. The unnamed narrator occupies what Schulman described in an interview as such "a place of sadness that [it] pushes people into a hallucinatory relationship to the world." The combat zones in this novel are drawn with knives. It won the American Library Association's Gay and Lesbian Book Award and was optioned for the screen.

People in Trouble (1990) comes closer to realism than previous works and is the novel most focused on political imperatives. Three central characters work out their sexual identities; each is confronted by the emergence of an AIDS activist organization, Justice. The novel rejects the ironic disengagement symptomatic of post-modernist aesthetics in favor of a voluntary compulsion to act, to change. People in Trouble is a warning not to confuse style with political transformations. It won the 1990 Gregory Kolovakos Memorial Prize.

Empathy (1992) takes on the Freudian accusations that lesbians hate men or want to be men. In challenging this relational identity, Schulman rejects the social realist linear narrative in favor of a variety of literary styles: plays, a movie, a short story, a college essay, a poem, personal ads, and recipes. All these genres combine to refute the traditional "coming-out" narrative form. Lesbian identity thus becomes a clash of systems, a traveling implosion. "With Empathy, the lesbian novel comes of age," comments Fay Weldon.

Schulman is an incisive author whose work will have a rare quality of longevity.

Sally R. Munt

     

 
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A publicity photograph of Sarah Schulman provided by Outright Speakers and Talent Bureau.
  
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    Bibliography
   

Munt, Sally R. "What Does it Mean to Sing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow...' and Release Balloons?: Postmodernism and the Fiction of Sarah Schulman." New Lesbian Criticism: Literary and Cultural Readings. Sally R. Munt, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. 33-49.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Munt, Sally R.  
    Entry Title: Schulman, Sarah  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated December 1, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/schulman_s.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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