Her books shaped lesbian identity for lesbians and heterosexuals alike, but Bannon was mostly unaware of their impact. She stopped writing in 1962. Later, she earned a doctorate in linguistics and became an academic. She endured a difficult marriage for 27 years and, as she separated from her husband in the 1980s, her books were republished; she was stunned to learn of their influence on society. They were released again between 2001 and 2003 and were adapted as an award-winning Off-Broadway production. They are taught in Women's and LGBT studies courses, and Bannon has received numerous awards for pioneering lesbian and gay literature. She has been described as "the premier fictional representation of US lesbian life in the fifties and sixties", and it has been said that her books "rest on the bookshelf of nearly every even faintly literate Lesbian".
Paperback books in the United States expanded prominently after World War II through the marketing strategies of Pocket Books, who began to distribute publications through newspapers, newsstands, grocery stores, and bus and train stations. The retail opportunities of paperback books grew about tenfold with this method. In 1950, rival company Gold Medal Books published Women's Barracks, a fictionalized account of author Tereska Torres' experience serving in the Free French Forces. The book depicts a lesbian relationship the author witnessed, ending with one of the women committing suicide. It sold 4.5 million copies, and Gold Medal Books' editors were "thrilled". Its success earned it a mention in the House Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials in 1952. Gold Medal Books was a branch of Fawcett Publications that focused on paperback books which at the time were printed on very cheap paper, not designed to last for more than a year, sold for 25 cents in drug stores and other venues all over the United States and Canada. The books made for cheap, easy reading that could be discarded at the end of a trip at very little cost to the customer. Because of the low quality of production, they earned the name pulp fiction.
Gold Medal Books quickly followed Women's Barracks with Spring Fire, eager to cash in on the unprecedented sales, and it sold almost 1.5 million copies in 1952. Vin Packer, whose real name is Marijane Meaker, and Gold Medal Books were overwhelmed with mail from women who identified with the lesbian characters.
One of the letters was from Bannon, asking for professional assistance in getting published. On writing to Meaker, she said, "To this day I have no idea why she responded to me out of the thousands of letters she was getting at that time. Thank God she did. I was both thrilled and terrified." Bannon visited Meaker and was introduced to Greenwich Village, which made a significant impression on Bannon: she called it "Emerald City, Wonderland, and Brigadoon combined—a place where gay people could walk the crooked streets hand in hand." Meaker set up a meeting with Gold Medal Books editor Dick Carroll, who read Bannon's initial 600-page manuscript. It was a story about the women in her sorority whom she admired, with a subplot consisting of two sorority sisters who had fallen in love with each other. Carroll told her to take it back and focus on the two characters who had an affair. Bannon claims she went back and told their story, delivered the draft to Carroll and saw it published without a single word changed. While raising two young children, Bannon lived in Philadelphia and took trips into New York City to visit Greenwich Village and stayed with friends. She said of the women she saw in Greenwich Village, "I wanted to be one of them, to speak to other women, if only in print. And so I made a beginning—and that beginning was the story that became Odd Girl Out."
After Beebo Brinker, Bannon said the energy to write about the characters left her, but she got so good at her "obsessive fantasies" that even after the books were written she continued to live internally, and suspected it affected her subsequent relationships. "I realize now that I was in a sort of 'holding pattern,' a way of keeping my sanity intact while waiting for my children to grow up and the freedom door to open", she recalled. Returning to school, Bannon completed her master's degree at Sacramento State University and her doctorate in linguistics at Stanford University. She was an English professor at Sacramento State and later became associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences—later the College of Arts and Letters.
Ann Bannon's books began to fade away from publishing memory after initial publication, especially after Gold Medal Books went out of business. In 1975, however, Bannon was asked to include four of her books in Arno Press's library edition of Homosexuality: Lesbians and Gay Men in Society, History and Literature. Then, in 1983, Barbara Grier of the lesbian publishing company Naiad Press actively tracked Bannon down and reissued the books in new covers. Grier discussed the novels, answering the question of who among lesbian paperback authors should be highlighted: "Ann Bannon. Without even a discussion ... In terms of actual influence, sales, everything, Bannon."
Bannon did not outwardly advertise the fact that the books had been released again in her department at Sacramento State. Not being tenured, she was unsure how the information would be received. However, word got out: "I was jet-propelled out of the closet. People stared at me around campus, and the PE majors all waved. My chairman told me to put the books into my promotion file, and one of my colleagues told me my file was the only one that was any fun." She often received small recognitions from students and faculty who were pleased and surprised, once getting a bouquet of flowers from a student. She said of the rediscovery, "I was so ready for something fresh and exciting in my life. It had seemed to me, up to that point, that not only had the books and the characters died, so had Ann Bannon." However, following a bitter divorce, and just as the Naiad Press editions of her books were released, Bannon endured a bout with chronic fatigue syndrome, which she connects to repressing herself for so long. "You've got to think that it's connected, somehow. At the time I denied it fiercely, but I really think I beat myself up horribly, in ways I'll never know."
In 1984, Bannon's books were featured in the documentary Before Stonewall about how gay men and lesbians lived prior to the 1969 Stonewall riots, wherein one woman remembered picking up one of Bannon's books for the first time: "I picked up this paperback and I opened it up ... and it sent a shiver of excitement in my whole body that I had never felt before." She was featured in the Canadian documentary Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives in 1992, which recounted women's personal stories of living as lesbians from the 1940s to 1960s. The books were selected for the Quality Paperback Book Club in 1995. Bannon also provided the foreword for Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction 1949–1969 in 1999, discussing her reaction to the artwork on her own books and the other lesbian pulp fiction books she bought and read. Five of The Beebo Brinker Chronicles were reissued by Cleis Press again between 2001 and 2003—excluding The Marriage—with autobiographical forewords that described Bannon's experiences of writing the books and her reaction to their popularity, causing another wave of interest.
Reacting to the renewed interest in the books, Bannon wrote in the 2002 introduction to Odd Girl Out that she was shocked to find out that her characters were not only remembered but that they were archetypes among the lesbian community. The books are frequently on required reading lists for Women's and LGBT studies college courses. Bannon often admits to being surprised by this, explaining that she had no such aspirations when she was writing Odd Girl Out: "If I had known, it might well have resulted in a much more polished product, but one that would have been so cautious and self-conscious as to be entirely forgettable. It would never—my best guess—have had the vibrant life it has now."
In 1997, Bannon's work was included in a collection of authors who had made the deepest impact on the lives and identities of gays and lesbians, titled Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers. In 2000, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors awarded Bannon a Certificate of Honor "for breaking new ground with works like Odd Girl Out and Women in the Shadows" and for "voic (ing) lesbian experiences at a time when explicit lesbian subject matter was silenced by government and communities." In 2004, Bannon was elected into the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival Hall of Fame. She received the Sacramento State Alumni Association's Distinguished Faculty Award for 2005, and received the Trailblazer Award from the Golden Crown Literary Society the same year; the GCLS created the Ann Bannon GCLS Popular Choice Award. She was the recipient of the Alice B Award in 2008, that goes to authors whose careers have been distinguished by consistently well-written stories about lesbians. In May 2008, Bannon was given the Pioneer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation.
Ann Bannon retired from teaching in 1997, but tours the country visiting paperback-collecting conventions and speaking at colleges and universities about her writings and experiences. She was a guest of National Public Radio's Peabody Award-winning talk show "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross, and has also been featured in Gross's book, All I Did Was Ask, a collection of transcripts from the show. Bannon also speaks at gay-themed events around the country and is working on her memoirs.
In a recent editorial written by Bannon in Curve, she discussed how her books survived despite criticisms by censors, Victorian moralists, and purveyors of literary "snobbery" in writing, "To the persistent surprise of many of us, and of the critics who found us such an easy target years ago, the books by, of and for women found a life of their own. They—and we—may still not be regarded as conventionally acceptable 'nice' literature, as it were—but I have come to value that historical judgment. We wrote the stories no one else could tell. And in so doing, we captured a slice of life in a particular time and place that still resonates for members of our community."
Ann Bannon by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1081985)
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/digitallibrary/giard.html)
Odd Girl Out by Ann Bannon
Series: Lesbian Pulp Fiction
Paperback: 211 pages
Publisher: Cleis Press (September 9, 2001)
Amazon: Odd Girl Out
Amazon Kindle: Odd Girl Out
In the 1950s, Ann Bannon broke through the shame and isolation typically portrayed in lesbian pulps, offering instead women characters who embraced their sexuality. With Odd Girl Out, Bannon introduces Laura Landon, whose love affair with her college roommate Beth launched the lesbian pulp fiction genre.
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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