Saturday, November 12, 2011

Barbara Grier 1933-2011

Barbara Grier,
a founder of what once was the world's largest publishing house of literature about gays and lesbians, has died. She was 78. Her partner in life and business, Donna McBride, said [...] "It was her belief that through literature she could make lesbians feel good about themselves and find a happy life" [...]. Most of their titles were romances and mysteries, McBride said. (Kaczor)
As June Thomas writes in Slate's culture blog,
in 1973 she and her partner, Donna McBride, founded Naiad Press, which was one of the first and most successful lesbian publishing houses of the 20th century. Although mostly known for light fiction—there was a template for Naiad books: conflict, romance, and a happy ending—the press also published works by Gertrude Stein and Renee Vivien, as well as occasional nonfiction, notably its most high-profile and successful book, Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence.
Victoria Brownworth recalls that
There were many complaints about Naiad over the years–that it was just a lesbian version of Harlequin (to which I always responded, “So?”), that the books were always romances with happy endings or mysteries with cozy Agatha Christie endings. But Grier said repeatedly that what she wanted was to reach the lesbians in Middle America who were in the closet and who deserved to have books about their lives, too.
Karin Kallmaker, a romance author who was published by Naiad and who is now Editorial Director of Bella Books, the successor to Naiad, explains the press's importance:
To understand the contribution that Barbara and Donna made to lesbian books one has to be capable of imagining a world that had none. Rather, what lesbian books there were had been hidden, disguised and coded. A lesbian lucky enough to find pulp paperbacks at the bus station featuring a brooding brunette and the sunny blonde on the cover had found lesbians in books, but not lesbian books. With very few, notable exceptions such as Ann Bannon's Beebo Brinker titles, they founds stories about despair and ruin. Those books were read and left behind, because it wasn't safe for most women to be discovered reading them. The reader was left more certain than ever that her life was doomed.
There were no mysteries with lesbian detectives. No romances with happy women choosing lives together. No warriors, no princesses, no heroes (only villains). No literature that could be discussed in polite society. Then, out of a hotbed birthed by the early feminist and gay liberation movements, the Stonewall riots, and the meetings of notable minds who networked by letter because no one could afford phone calls, there was an explosion of lesbian books. In the middle of that explosion, and going on to survive the rigors of publishing the longest, was Naiad. Naiad published poetry, literary works and, thank goodness, popular fiction. Finally, lesbians could see themselves in the books. They saw themselves deserving happiness. Deserving respect. Deserving futures. Deserving to live.

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