Dorothy Allison at Passing the Pen

This past Wednesday author Dorothy Allison (Bastard out of Carolina, Cavedweller) spoke at the LGBT Historical Society office on Mission Street for the penultimate edition of the “Passing the Pen” speaker series of 2008. Author Michael Nava moderated the Q&A / lecture / reading — it was simultaneously informative, informal and inspiring.
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Allison herself is now approaching sixty and is a big woman with long, flowing black and silver hair which she would swipe out of her eyes frequently as she spoke. She started off discussing her coming of age in the 60s feminist scene, graduating from college in Florida and going off to New York. She spoke to the conflicting elements of the movement, and also to class differences. Allison from a poor blue collar family, but beginning to move in a middle and upper-middle class circle, always feeling the outsider because of both class differences and as a lesbian. As a femme lesbian, as opposed to (as she called it) the dyke lesbians.

She ran into conflict with the feminist movement in the 70s as those leaders looked askance at lesbians, and moved from working for the feminist publication Off our backs to an underground publication On our backs. She began writing short stories (she had been writing poetry) and read one of her 70s era stories, written for “On our backs” to the audience.

Later, after speaking and answering many questions from the audience Allsion read a short story that has not been published yet, inspired by people and events in Sonoma County where she has lived with her “dyke” partner for seventeen years. She had a lot of questions from the women in the audience about lesbian community and politics, as well as about her writing. She was a lesbian separatist once upon a time, but Allison said once she became a mother that faded.

Allison and her longtime partner were married at SF City Hall just before the election. She spoke about this and related that she was of two minds. First, marriage is a patriarchal institution that she can do without. But second, the blue collar dirt poor southerner in her kept saying “no one’s gonna tell me what I can’t do.” That side won out at the last minute.

The final reading for 2008 will be next month with Jamison Green, Julia Serano, Tristan Crane on December 9th.

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