September 18, 2011

LGBTQ Female Role Models: Dorothy Allison [at DUKE!]

Who is Dorothy Allison?

To begin, Dorothy Allison is the feminist and queer writer who is COMING to DUKE this Friday, September 23rd to give presentations around campus! [See the bottom of the post for event times and dates.]

Duke acquired Dorothy Allison's papers September of last year, and was excited to bring her work to our Rare Books and Manuscript, and Special Collections Library (RBMSCL) here at Duke. Born in Greenville, South Carolina, Allison is a natural fit as a Southern writer who is one of the foremost queer and feminist American writers of the 21st century in her fields.

As the first person in her family to graduate from high school or college, Allison studied anthropology in Eckerd College on a National Merit scholarship, and pursued graduate studies at Florida State University. She held a variety of jobs, and later
moved to NYC, where she enrolled in The New School (a historically progressive academic college in NYC) and in 1981 recieved her M.A. in urban anthropology. While in college, Allison credits a feminist "collective" for introducing her to feminism and credits "militant feminists" for encouraging her to write.

Allison is both a non-fiction and fiction writer, writing novels such as Cavedweller, which brings up issues on class, sexuality, female bonds, domestic violence, Southern society, child sexual abuse, and non-fiction pieces such as "The Women Who Hate Me", which was a response of Allison to critics of her political and social activism. Winner of three Lambda Book Awards, the Lesbian Book award and the National Book Award (p.s. Alice Walker won the National Book Award too! Notice a queer women's authorship trend??) today she continues to write and is a visiting professor at Emory University and Davidson College.

Her social activism takes varied forms, and she is one of the co-founders of the "Lesbian Sex Mafia" in New York City, a LGBTQ women's support group that promotes safer sex regardless of sexual preferences and type of sexual act, emphasizing a woman's choice, unihibited gender and sexual expression, consent, and BDSM.

After realizing Dorothy Allison was coming to Duke-I decided to start reading her collection of semi-autobiographical short stories, "Trash", which has won the Lambda and Lesbian Book Awards. It's moving and powerful and vulnerability and strength all in the same text:
"There was a day in my life when I decided to live..."

"I became an escapee-one of the ones others talk about. I became the one who got away, who got glasses from the Lions Club, a job from Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, and finally went to college on a scholarship."

"Even now I cannot believe how it was that everything I survived became one more reason to want to die."

"I wrote out my memories of the women. My terror and lust for my own kind; the souts and arguments; the long, slow glances and slower approaches; the way my hands always shook when I would finally touch the flesh I could barely admit I wanted, the way I could never ask for what I wanted, never accept it if they offered....-all the stories of my family, my childhood, and the relentless deadening poverty and shame I had always tried to hide because I knew no one would believe what I could tell them about it."

"I write stories...I put on a page a third look at what I've seen in life-the condensed and reinvented experience of a cross-eyed working clas lesbian, addicted to violence, language and hope, who has made the decision to live, is determined to live, on the page and on the street, for me and mine."
-Dorothy Allison, "Trash" (1988).
Here at Duke we are lucky enough to have prominent scholars and leaders in various fields come to our campus, to give lectures to students, engage us, and allow us to ask questions that explore their works. Don't miss this chance to meet Dorothy Allison and discuss her works in person!

Where can we meet Dorothy Allison?
Thursday, September 22, 4:00 p.m.
Biddle Rare Book Room, Perkins Library

Dorothy Allison in Conversation with Students
Friday, September 23, 12:00 p.m.
Center for LGBT Life

Out in the South: Writers in Conversation Featuring Dorothy Allison, Shirlette Ammons, Jim Grimsley, and Minnie Bruce Pratt
Friday, September 23, 7:00 p.m.
White Lecture Hall, East Campus

[See the Duke University Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture in the RBMSCL website for more information, here.]

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