Dan Carmell, who worked for the Oakland transit district, is the biological father of Wolf, the son of Dorothy Allison and Alix Layman, and all four of them shared an house. They make up what Allison calls a "weird extended queer family" or, as she once wrote, "Mama and Mom and Dad and son." Dan Carmell was Bo Huston's partner: at the time of his death, Bo Huston and Dan Carmell shared a beautiful home in San Francisco with their four cats, and Huston was continuing his work as a journalist for the San Francisco Bay Times and other publications, occasionally teaching writing, and had begun a collection of thematically related short stories. Bo Huston died of AIDS complications more or less simultaneously with the publication of his second novel, The Dream Life, in 1993.
Dorothy E. Allison was born on April 11, 1949 in Greenville, South Carolina to Ruth Gibson Allison, who was fifteen at the time. Ruth was a poor and unmarried mother who worked as a waitress and cook. When Allison was five, her step dad began to sexually abuse her. It lasted for seven years (until age 11) and then she was able to tell a relative, who told Ruth, and it stopped. The family still remained together. The physical abuse resumed and lasted for another five years, and she contracted gonorrhea from her stepfather. This went undiagnosed until Allison was in her 20's, making her unable to have children.
Dorothy Allison with Alix Layman and Wolf Micha, 1987, by Robert Giard
Dorothy Allison is an American writer, speaker, and member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. She is one of the founders of the Lesbian Sex Mafia. Since 1987 her partner is musician Alix Layman and they have one son, Wolf. Dan Carmell, partner of late Bo Huston, is the biological father of Wolf, the son of Allison and Layman, and all four of them shared an house at one time. They make up what Allison calls a "weird extended queer family" or, as she once wrote, "Mama and Mom and Dad and son"
The family moved to central Florida to escape debt. Allison had witnessed her family members die because of the extreme poverty. Allison soon became the first person in her family to graduate from high school. At age 18, she got out of the house and went on to attend college.
In the early 1970s, Allison attended Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) on a National Merit scholarship. While in college, she joined the women's movement by way of a feminist collective. She credits "militant feminists" for encouraging her decision to write. After graduating with a B.A. in anthropology, she did graduate studies in anthropology at Florida State University.
Allison held a wide variety of jobs before her career took off: she was a salad girl, a maid, a nanny, a substitute teacher, helped establish a feminist bookstore in Florida, worked at a child-care center, answered phones at a rape crisis center, and clerked with the Social Security Administration. She trained during the day and at night she sat in her motel room and wrote on yellow legal pads. She wrote about her life experiences, including the abuse by her stepfather, poverty, her lust for women. This became the backbone of her future works.
In 1979, she moved to New York City, where she began classes at the The New School where she would receive her M.A. in urban anthropology in 1981.
She was a panelist at the Barnard Conference on Sexuality in 1982, where the New York chapter of Women Against Pornography picketed outside, calling the panelists "anti-feminist terrorists", and even accused Allison of being a proponent of the sexual abuse of children because of the content in her works. She responded to these critics in The Women Who Hate Me: Poems by Dorothy Allison, a collection of poems that won her recognition among the gay and lesbian community.
At this time, she was teaching college courses, served as a guest lecturer, and contributing to publications like The Village Voice, the New York Native, and the Voice Literary Supplement.
In 1988, Allison published Trash: Short Stories, a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories, which won her two Lambda Literary Awards. The book was inspired by a negative review of Mab Segrest's novel My Mama's Dead Squirrel that infuriated Allison. Segrest's work was one of her favorite novels and she was repulsed by reviewer's use of words like "white trash" and his insulting attitude toward Southerners. To dispel the stereotype that Southerners were stupid, brain-damaged, or morally lacking, she spent the next two years pumping out Trash: Short Stories. The title of the book derives from the word used as a racial slur against her family.
She had spent nearly a decade attempting to finish her first novel Bastard Out of Carolina, which she took half-finished to Dutton Publishing in 1989, where she received a $37,500 cash advance to complete it. It appeared in 1992.
It would later be adapted as a film on TNT directed by Anjelica Huston, but was aired instead on Showtime because of its graphic content. The Canadian Maritime Film Classification Board initially banned the release of the motion picture, until the ban was reversed on appeal. In November 1997 the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a decision to ban the book in schools because of its graphic content.
In 1998 Allison published Cavedweller, which received numerous awards. She founded the Independent Spirit Award. It was while writing this novel that Allison, with her partner Alix Layson, a printer, became a mother of a son named Wolf Michael.
In 2002, Allison re-released Trash: Short Stories, but added a new short-story "Compassion", which was selected for both The Best New Stories from the South 2003 and The Best American Short Stories 2003.
In 2007, Allison announced that she was working on a new novel, She Who, to be published by Riverhead Press. The story follows three female protagonists in California, all of whose lives have been shaped by violence.
She had a three month residency at Emory University in Atlanta in 2008 as the Bill and Carol Fox Center Distinguished Visiting Professor.
Themes in Allison's work include class struggle, child and sexual abuse, women, lesbianism, feminism, and family.
Allison's first novel, the semi-autobiographical BBastard Out of Carolina was published in 1992 and was one of five finalists for the 1992 National Book Award. Graphic in its depiction of Southern poverty, family ties, illegitimacy, child abuse, and rape, Bastard Out of Carolina went on to win the Ferro Grumley and Bay Area Reviewers Award for fiction. The novel has been translated into over a dozen languages. A film version, directed by Anjelica Huston, premiered in 1996 on Showtime amid some controversy for its disturbing content. The film was banned by Canada's Maritime Film Classification Board, both theatrically and in video release.
Cavedweller, Allison's second novel, was published in 1998 and became a New York Times bestseller. It won the 1998 Lambda Literary Award for fiction and was a finalist for the Lillian Smith Prize. Cavedweller has been adapted for the stage and screen, most notably in the 2004 film starring Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon, directed by Lisa Cholodenko.
Her influences include Toni Morrison, Bertha Harris, and Audre Lorde. Allison says The Bluest Eye helped her to write about incest. In 1975, Allison took a class from Harris at Sagaris, a feminist theory institute in Plainfield, Vermont. Harris told her to be "honest and fearless, especially when writing about lesbianism". In the early 1980s, Allison met Lorde at a poetry reading. After reading what would eventually become her short-story "River of Names," Lorde approached her and told her that she simply must write.
Allison founded The Independent Spirit Award (not to be confused with the Independent Spirit Awards) in 1998, a prize given annually to an individual whose work within the small press and independent bookstore circuit has helped sustain that enterprise. The award is administered by the Astraea Foundation and is designed to encourage people and institutions that are vital to supporting new writers and introducing readers to works that may otherwise go unread.
She has contributed to Conditions, the Village Voice, the New York Native, and the Voice Literary Supplement.
Allison is a member of the board of International PEN. She serves on the advisory boards of the National Coalition Against Censorship, Feminists for Free Expression, and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, a prize that is presented annually to a science fiction or fantasy work that explores and expands on ideas of gender.
Allison remains dedicated to safer sex and is active in feminist and lesbian communities. She is one of the founders of the Lesbian Sex Mafia, an information and support group for women of all sexual orientations and identities.
Very few writers make the case that writing saves lives the way that Dorothy Allison does in Trash, a short story collection. Writing with her loud, imagistic, Southern queer voice fine-tuned to the way the world works and how stories might make sense of life’s horrors, Allison pulls no punches. The opening story of this collection, “River of Names,” announces the writer as a force to be reckoned with, an artist who was never meant to survive her brutal childhood, and from there, this collection of unforgettable stories never looks back. Related reading: Bastard Out of Carolina, Allison’s breakthrough novel, the clear-eyed story of a defiant childhood. --K.M. Soehnlein
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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