Category: lesbian writers

SEPTEMBER 14: Kate Millett (1934-2017)

365daysoflesbians:

On this day in 1934, the American writer, artist, and social
activist Kate Millett was born. The author of the classic feminist text Sexual Politics, Kate enjoyed a long career as a speaker and writer on the topic of lesbian-feminism.

Kate Millett photographed in 1979 (x).

Katherine Murray Millett was born on September 14, 1934 in
Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her father was an engineer and an alcoholic and Kate
recalled living in terror of him, as he frequently beat her as a child. He
abandoned the family when she was only 14-years-old, “consigning them to a
life of genteel poverty.” Her mother worked two jobs to help support Kate and
her two sisters. In 1956, Kate graduated from the University of Minnesota and
then went on to study at Oxford University. In
1958, she became the first American woman to graduate from Oxford with a
first-class honors degree in English literature.

Kate on the cover of the May/June 1977 edition of The Lesbian Tide magazine. The headline reads “Millett’s Passions” (x).

After leaving school, Kate became a teacher and taught at
several universities both in American and abroad. It was during her time living
in New York City and teaching at Barnard College that she joined the second
wave feminist movement. Before long, she had become a leading committee member
in the National Organization of Women (NOW) as well as a member of the New York
Radical Women and the Radicalesbians. In 1970, Kate’s PhD dissertation, Sexual Politics, was published and made
a huge splash in the world of feminist theory. The book quickly became a
bestseller and included feminist literary critiques of popular straight male
authors compared to that of gay authors.

Kate Millett reads from her novel The Basement at a meeting of The Woman’s Salon in New York, December 17th, 1977. Photograph: Marilynn K Yee/The New York Times (x).

Kate officially came out when she was giving a talk at
Columbia University and a student asked her, “Why don’t you say you’re a
lesbian, here, openly. You’ve said you were a lesbian in the past.” Kate
responded, “Yes I am a lesbian.” She ended up writing over 10 books during her
lifetime, both about theory and fiction books. She married a man while teaching in Japan in
the 1961, but the two divorced in 1985 and she later married a woman named
Sophia Kier. Tragically, Kate passed away just last week on September 6, 2017
after suffering from unexpected cardiac arrest while celebrating her birthday
with friends and family.

-LC

SEPTEMBER 11: Jewelle Gomez (1948-)

365daysoflesbians:

Happy 69th birthday to Jewelle Gomez!! The lesbian
poet, literary critic, and playwright was born on this day in 1948.

In a 2012 interview with Curve Magazine, Jewelle said, “

Everything I write, and my activism as well, centers around creating community, the responsible use of power, and the feminist understanding that we’re all connected, and that includes our oppressions” (x).

Born in Boston, Massachusetts on September 11, 1948, Jewelle
Gomez was the daughter of a nurse and a bartender, but she ended up being
raised by her great grandmother. Her great grandmother, Grace, was born to a
black mother and an Iowan father, and so Jewelle’s childhood was imbued with
both black and Native American culture. In high school, she was heavily
involved in the world of black activism and the Civil Rights Movement. After
she graduated, she moved to New York City and began working as a stage
manager in off-Broadway theater production. During this time in New York, she
also began to develop her lesbian identity and became involved in LGBT
activism. Some of her very first writings began to appear in Conditions, a popular lesbian-feminist magazine
of the 1960s.

To date, Jewelle is the author of seven books, most
notably the novel The Gilda Stories,
which became a two-time Lambda Literary Award winner in 1991. She created the very
first anthology of black speculative fiction in 2001 titled Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative
Fiction from the African Diaspora
and has worked extensively in television
and theater in addition to her work in the literary world; Jewelle was on the founding board
of GLAAD back in 1984 and also worked on the staff of the very first weekly
black television show, Say Brother,
in 1968. Her latest work was a play about
the life of James Baldwin, Waiting for
Giovanni
, which premiered at the New Conservatory Theater in 2010. Today,
Jewelle serves as the Director of Grants and Community Initiatives for Horizons
Foundation, which is one of the oldest LGBT foundations in America.

-LC  

SEPTEMBER 10: Mary Oliver (1935-)

365daysoflesbians:

Happy 82nd birthday to Mary Oliver, who was born
on this day in 1935!! Having published over 40 poetry collections and
nonfiction books in her lifetime, Mary is a lesbian icon of the literary world.

As of 2017, Mary Oliver has won over 11 prestigious poetry and book awards (x).

Mary Oliver was born on September 10, 1935 in a suburb of
Cleveland, Ohio called Maple Heights. Her father was a high school teacher and
athletic coach while her mother was a stay-at-home wife. She recalls having
written her first poem at the age of 14. When she was 17, Mary visited the home
of the late great poet Edna St. Vincent Millay in Austerlitz, New York, which
greatly affected her outlook on her own writing and the study of literature as
a whole. In the 1950s, she attended both Ohio University and Vassar College but
eventually dropped out of both before she could receive a degree.

Her first book of poetry, No Voyage and Other Poems, was published in 1963 when Mary was only
28-years-old. The collection was a critical and commercial success and by the
time her fifth poetry collection, American
Primitive
, was published, she was nominated for and won the Pulitzer Prize.
Mary work is grounded in nature and she has been compared to naturalist writers
such as Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. Her home state of Ohio as well as
her “adopted home” of Provincetown Massachusetts, where she lived with her
partner for over 40 years, are both featured heavily in her work.

Mary photographed with her partner Molly Malone Cook at the couple’s home in Provincetown, Massachusetts (x).

Mary met Molly Malone Cook in the 1950s while visiting
Austerlitz for a second time. The poet and the photographer hit it off
immediately; Mary has written that she “took one look and fell, hook and
tumble.” The two lived together until Molly’s death in 2005. After Molly’s
passing, Mary compiled her partner’s photographs of the life they had shared together
and published a book titled Our World.
Despite feeling “very, very lonely” after Molly’s death, in a 2011 interview
with O Magazine, Mary revealed that she has been continuing her writing and is “happier
now than she’s ever been.”

-LC

SEPTEMBER 9: Jane Ellen Harrison (1850-1928)

365daysoflesbians:

Scholar, linguist, and one of the first women in to become a “career academic,” Jane Ellen Harrison, was born on this day in 1850.
Known for her famous lectures on Ancient Greece religion and mythology, Jane
had multiple relationships with women throughout her lifetime.

Detail of a painting of Jane Ellen Harrison. Photograph: James Austin. Courtesy of Newnham College, Cambridge (x).

Jane Ellen Harrison was born on September 9, 1850 in
Cottingham, Yorkshire. Because her mother died just a few days after Jane was born, she was raised by a series of governesses; it was her governesses, all hailing
from different parts of Europe, who laid the foundation for Jane’s love of
languages. As a child, she was taught to speak English, German, Latin, Ancient
Greek, and Hebrew and she eventually mastered 16 different languages during her lifetime.  

After leaving school, Jane became a teacher at Newham College, a
women’s college at Cambridge. It was at Newham where Jane met the woman who she
is believed to have her first relationship with. Eugenie Sellers started out as
one of Jane’s students, but after she graduated and became a poet and a writer
in her own right, she and Jane became partners in earnest and lived together
first in England and then later in Paris. During this time, Jane began to turn
her studies to Greek mythology and art. She studied at the British Museum under
Charles Newton, published her first book, The Odyssey in Art and Literature, and
even began to publish writings in Oscar Wilde’s periodical Woman’s World. Her topic, unsurprisingly, was “The Pictures of
Sappho.”

Hope Mirrlees (left) and Jane (right), who lived together from 1913 until Jane’s death in 1928. Although Hope was simply believed to have been a “devoted student” during her lifetime, it is now understood that both women were in a romantic relationship (x).  

Eventually, the relationship with  Eugenie
ended, Jane moved back to London from Paris, and began brushing shoulders with the city’s famous Bloomsbury Group (Virginia
Woolf
, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, name dropped Jane Harrision in her
novel A Room of One’s Own!).. It was in these
social circles where Jane first met the translator and novelist Hope Mirrlees. Their friendship eventually blossomed into a romantic relationship and the
two would stay together until Jane’s death on April 15, 1928.
At the peak of her career, “Bloody Jane” was pulling in thousands to hear her
lectures on the violent and bloody realities of Ancient Greece and to witness
the “ingenious sound effects and gas-powered lantern slides” that she used in
her presentations. At the time of her death, Jane was an academic celebrity and
had changed the way the western world saw women intellectuals.  

-LC

SEPTEMBER 3: Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909)

Born on this
day in 1849, Sarah Orne Jewett was a lesbian writer most well-known for her
poems and short stories that richly captured life on the coast of Maine.

Sarah Orne Jewett photographed in 1875 (x).

Sarah Orne
Jewett was born to a wealthy New England family in South Berwick, Maine on
September 3, 1849. Her father was a doctor who specialized in “diseases of
women and children.” Sarah was very close to her father and often joined him on
his house calls throughout her hometown. She contracted rheumatoid arthritis at
an early age, for which her father prescribed long walks. These walks planted a
love for nature and an imaginative spirit in Sarah. She was educated at Miss
Olive Rayne’s School and then later at Berwick Academy, but she discovered her
love of books by spending many hours in the library of Hamilton House, her family’s home.

She first leaped onto the literary scene at age 19 when one of her stories was published in the
Atlantic Monthly
. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, she became famous for her representation
of country life and, as Willa Cather described, her “rich accounts of women’s
lives and voices.” Sarah’s most popular works are the novella The Country of
the Pointed Firs
(1896), the novel A Country Doctor (1884), and a collection of
poetry titled A White Heron (1886).

Portrait of Emily Davis Tyson and Sarah Orne Jewett standing in the doorway of Hamilton House, Sarah’s family home in South Berwick, Maine (x).

Sarah never
married in her lifetime and her life partner was a fellow writer named Annie
Adams Fields. Sarah first met Annie through her husband, James Thomas Fields,
who was the co-owner of the publishing house Ticknor and Fields. After James’s
death in 1881, Annie moved in with Sarah and the two would be together for the
rest of their lives. The relationship, now understood to be a lesbian partnership,
would have been called a “Boston marriage” or “romantic friendship” in the late
Nineteenth Century. Their shared home in Boston became somewhat of a literary
salon, hosting many popular writers who Sarah and Annie had
befriended. Throughout their life together, Sarah and Annie also frequently
traveled to Europe where they networked with writers such as William Thackeray
and Mary Cowden Clarke.

Annie Adams Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett’s portraits edited to show the true nature of their romantic relationship (x). 

On September 3,
1902 – her 53rd birthday – Sarah was injured in a serious carriage accident.
The injuries she sustained virtually ended her writing career
and set Sarah on a path of failing health. In March of 1909, she suffered a stroke
that left her paralyzed. After suffering a second stroke in June of that year,
she would die on June 24, 1909 in her and Annie’s home in South Berwick, the
town of her birth and the inspiration of so many of her literary tales.
Following her death, Annie published a collected titled Letters of Sarah Orne
Jewett.
However, after pressure from their close friend and editor Mark Anthony
Howe, several passages indicating the romantic and sexual aspect of Sarah and Annie’s
relationship were taken out of the collection.

-LC

SEPTEMBER 2: Bryher (1894-1983)

365daysoflesbians:

On this day in 1894, the popular novelist and magazine editor, Bryher, was born. Known simply by her famous pen name, Bryher was a member of the iconic group of American expat lesbians in the 1920s and founder and editor of the film magazine Close Up.  

Bryher sports her famous “boyish” haircut and stares off into the distance (x).

Annie Winifred Ellerman was born on September 2, 1894 in the seaside town of Margate in Kent, England. She came from a long line of outrageously wealthy ship-owners and her father, John Ellerman, was declared the wealthiest Englishman who had ever lived at the time of his death in 1933. As a child, she traveled extensively throughout Europe. It was on a trip to the Isle of Scilly where she discovered Bryher Island and found her future pen name. After leaving boarding school and settling down in Paris, she inserted herself in the “Lost Generation” of writers and found community in the lesbian salons of the day. Her family’s fortune allowed her to financially support many of her writer friends, such as James Joyce and Edith Sitwell. Before long, she had had enough of observing her artistic friends and began publishing poetry and novels herself, of course, under the single name “Bryher.”

Bryher’s personal journals reveal that she knew she was a lesbian from a young age. In 1918, she met the love of her life, the bisexual poet Hilda Doolittle, who she would enjoy an open relationship with until her death. Due to her being a member of the prestigious Ellerman family, reputation was everything and Bryher was forced to enter into multiple marriages of convenience. The first was with a man named Robert McAlmon in 1921, but the two eventually divorced in 1927. She would later marry another man named Kenneth Macpherson, who was Hilda’s lover. The arrangement allowed for Bryher to live with Hilda without arousing the suspicions of polite society. The three would eventually create the film magazine Close Up and the production company Pool Group together.

Bryher and her partner of over 40 years, Hilda Doolittle, with Hilda’s daughter Perdita in Carmel, California, 1921. Bryher later adopted Perdita and helped to raise her along with Hilda (x).

During World War II, Bryher urged Close Up readers to resist fascism and to take action against Hitler’s genocide of the Jewish people, and she herself helped over 100 people escape Nazi persecution by turning her house in Switzerland into a refugee home. In her later years, Bryher became known as a popular historical novelist and was lauded for her depictions of Europe’s WWII years. She eventually passed away on January 28, 1983.

-LC

AUGUST 16: Reaching for the Moon is released (…

365daysoflesbians:

Based on the book Rare
and Commonplace Flowers
(Flores Raras e Banalíssimas) by Carmem Lucia de
Oliveira, the biopic Reaching for the
Moon
(Flores Raras) was first released in its home country of Brazil on
this day in 2013.

Set in the city of Petrópolis and spanning throughout the
1950s and 1960s, the film tells the real life love story of American poet
Elizabeth Bishop (who we wished a happy birthday back in February!) and a
Brazilian architect named Lota de Macedo Soares. The story starts off with Elizabeth Bishop, a once great
poet in a creative slump, arriving in Brazil in 1951. Played by Miranda Otto, she
is hoping that a retreat into nature will not only revive her writing ability
but will also save her from an increasing dependence on alcohol. Surprising to anyone but the audience, it’s actually a friend of a friend named Lota, played by Glória Pires, who
truly pulls Elizabeth back into the world of the living. 

image

Instead of the
intended stay of three weeks, Elizabeth ends up staying, loving, and living
with Lota for 15 years. The film itself is sprawling and extends beyond the
easy label of “lesbian romance movie;” from dealing with the trappings of
literary stardom, to internalized homophobia, to both women’s experience of the
1964 Brazilian military coup, by the end of the movie the audience
has truly witnessed the scope of Elizabeth and Lota’s 16 year long relationship and has seen their lives and identities been woven together. With the infamously dismal and amateur-ish
reputation of most lesbian films, the beautiful cinematography, score, and
tight writing of Reaching for the Moon
is something to be cherished.

-LC

AUGUST 14: Beauty of the Broken is published (…

365daysoflesbians:

On this day in 2014, the book Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters first hit shelves. In classic
teen fiction style, the novel tells the story of two girls named Mara and Xylia
as they experience forbidden first love in their small New Mexico town.

The cover of the novel shows the silhouettes of two girls holding hands reflected in a pool of water (x).  

The story focuses on Mara, a 15-year-old girl who has
always been stifled in life. Her father is physically abusive, her mother is an absent alcoholic,
and her small town of Barnaby, New Mexico is just as emotionally toxic for Mara due to the conservative
Christian values of her neighbors. Her one reprieve from daily life was the
relationship she had with her older brother Iggy, but even that has been shot
to pieces thanks to a head injury Iggy suffered at the hands of their father. When
we first meet Mara, she is at that certain spot at rock bottom reserved for all
young lesbians who grow up alone, in the middle of nowhere. All that changes,
however, when a girl named Xylia moves to town. Xylia is from San Francisco,
California – a city of openness and liberty that Mara has only dreamt about before. When
the two girls’ friendship evolves into a romance, Mara must come to terms with
the fact that person she is on the inside is in opposition to the person
present herself as to world and must stare her fears of being outed in the
face.

Although the novel is undeniably in the young adult genre,
like the classics that come before it such as The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Annie on My Mind, Beauty of
the Broken
renders the stories of its teenage protagonists in such a way that
readers of any age can fall in love and root for them. The story is less of a
romance and more of a coming-of-age for Mara that is sure to tug at fellow
lesbian readers in particular.

-LC

AUGUST 12: Fried Green Tomatoes is published (…

365daysoflesbians:

Published on this day in 1987, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg is an
oft-overlooked and sanitized classic of lesbian literature. Weaving across time,
the novel follows a bored 1980s housewife by the name of Evelyn Couch as she
rediscovers her passion for life through hearing the tales of two women who unapologetically
lived and loved in 1930s Alabama.

image

While visiting her mother-in-law at the Rose Terrace Nursing
Home, Evelyn Couch meets an old woman named Ninny Threadgoode. Dealing with her
own issues of depression and loneliness, Evelyn ignores the chatty
Mrs. Threadgoode’s old stories at first, but with visit after visit she slowly
but surely gets drawn in by the stories of Mrs. Threadgoode’s hometown of
Whistle Stop, Alabama, the beloved long-gone Whistle Stop Café, and the love
story of the two women who ran it – Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison. Taken
in by the Threadgoode family from a young age, Ninny was given a front seat
view of a decades-spanning drama; after her big brother is unexpectedly killed,
tomboy Idgie is consumed by grief. It is only when an out-of-towner named Ruth
Jamison comes to stay with the family  that Idgie is shaken out of
her sadness and dives headfirst into a love affair with Ruth. Before long, Ruth
is forced to return home to Valdosta, Georgia and fulfill her promise of
marrying the wealthy Frank Bennett, but once Idgie discovers that Ruth is being abused by her new husband, Ruth is rescued and Frank Bennett mysteriously goes missing.

image

Although the words “lesbian” or “gay” are never used in the
novel, it is obvious from the story that Idgie and Ruth are a couple; from the
multiple “I love you”s to the fact that they raise a child together, the novel
doesn’t waste time grappling with the idea of lesbians in the 1930s or going
over the obvious homophobia they must have faced, but instead gives readers a nostalgic
and endearing love story. When the novel was adapted into an Academy Award
winning movie in 1991, the writers left in all the intriguing bits of death,
murder, and depression, but Idgie and Ruth were gal pal-ed hard. In the film, the writers changed the story where Ruth was the grieving girlfriend of Buddy Threadgoode – the dead older brother – and Idgie
was constantly turning down marriage proposals by the good ole’ country boys
who just couldn’t get over the fact that she ~wasn’t like the other girls.
Today, it is this version of the story that is most remembered and cherished by
audiences and although the true, lesbian version of Fried
Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café
has been forgotten and buried under
the legacy of its sanitized film adaptation, this only further proves the old
saying: the book is always better than the movie.

-LC

AUGUST 9: Tove Jansson (1914-2001)

365daysoflesbians:

Whether you’ve come across The Moomins through Tumblr or the book series was a staple of your childhood, you have lesbian legend,
novelist, and illustrator Tove Jansson – who was born on this day in 1914! – to
thank for the whimsy of that unforgettable fairy tale world.

The profile photo for the official Twitter account in honor of Tove Jansson’s work (@ToveJansson1914) shows the author and illustrator herself in a bountiful flower crown (x). 

Tove Marika Jansson was born on August 9, 1914 in Helsinki,
Finland. Her family was a part of the Swedish-speaking minority of Finland and
had a history of producing artistic minds; her father was a sculptor and her
mother was a graphic designer and illustrator. Tove wrote and illustrated her
first picture book, Sara and Pelle and
the Water Sprite’s Octopuses
(Sara
och Pelle och näckens bläckfiskar
), when
she was only 14-years-old, and unlike most people’s childhood creations, it didn’t
dawdle in a forgotten box in her family’s attic, but was actually published
later on in 1933! After graduating high school she attended the University
College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm and would also go on to earn
degrees from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and L’École des Beaux-Arts in
Paris.

Tove Jansson and her partner

Tuulikki Pietilä were together for over 40 years and stayed together until Tove’s death. After meeting Tuulikki for the first time, Tove wrote, “I love you both enchanted and very calm at the same time, and I don’t fear anything that might await us…

I have finally come home to that one person whom I want to be with” (x).

From the 1930s to 1952, Tove worked as a political cartoonist
for the Swedish-language magazine Garm
and became known for her comical portrayals of the happenings of World War II,
but she eventually left the magazine when her Moomins series took off. The first Moomins book, The Moomins and
the Great Flood
, was published in 1947. Tove later said that her inspiration
for the white, round-bellied family of trolls came from a childhood story her
uncle used to tell her of a “Moomintroll” who lived in the kitchen
pantry and stopped children from stealing food. Several recurring characters in
the Moomins series are also famously inspired by people in Tove’s real life;
the character of Too-Ticky was based on her life partner Tuulikki Pietilä (you
can read more about the story of Too-Ticky and Tuulikki here!) and the characters
Moominpappa and Moominmamma are adaptations of Tove’s own parents.

The Moomins
eventually became an international sensation and the most identifiable marker of
Tove’s cultural legacy! Throughout her lifetime, the characters were featured
in books, comic strips, short stories, and even stage productions that Tove
herself participated in. The series is the most widely-translated works of
Finnish literature and includes a Moomins theme park and museum. In 1966, Tove
won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for her work in children’s literature with the Moomins. She would eventually pass away on June 27, 2001 at the age of 86. Footage of her
creative journey, life, and travels with Tuulikki was eventually compiled into
the 2010 documentary titled Moominland Tales:
The Life of Tove Jansson
.

-LC