OCTOBER 24: Paula Gunn Allen (1939-2008)


The renowned poet, literary
critic, and Native-American activist Paula Gunn Allen was born on this day in
1939. While she identified as a lesbian in her earlier years, by the end of her
life Paula was identifying as a “serial bisexual.”

Paula Gunn Allen photographed by Christopher Felver in 2007 (x).

Paula was born on October 24, 1939
in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She grew up in the small town of Cubero, New
Mexico, which was a Spanish-American land grant village that bordered the
Laguna Pueblo reservation. Although Paula was of varying descent with Laguna,
Sioux, Lebanese, and Scottish people all along her family line, she always most
identified as a Native-American woman and with the Laguna people. Growing up,
her father owned a small local store and her brother was a much beloved poet
and teacher in the Laguna Pueblo-Anishinaabe community. Together, the family
was well off enough to allow Paula to attend the University of Oregon for her
undergraduate and then later the University of New Mexico for her PhD.

After graduating from college,
Paula became a professor and a writer. She worked in the English department of
over 7 different premier universities throughout her lifetime, even becoming the
head of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center in the 1990s. As a writer, her
breakout work was The Sacred Hoop:
Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions
, which changed the
face of academia when it was published in 1986. By combining Native-American with feminist theory, Paula brought a new radical perspective to both areas
of study; The Sacred Hoop is still
read in college classrooms today. During her life, Paula was also a fiction
writer and published over 15 novels, short stories, and poetry collections.

Although she was not as much of a
vocal member of the LGBT community during her younger years, Paula Gunn Allen
would later recount her experiences of sexuality and of struggling to find a
label that fit her. She began her journey by identifying as a lesbian, but
would later discover that she was bisexual. She eventually married twice and
had two children who survived her at the time of her death on May 29, 2008.