History's Lessons for Right Now
Oh boy, was I worried!
There’s a new book out called Indomitable: the Life of Barbara Grier, by historian Joanne Passet. Grier and her partner Donna McBride were two of the founders of the legendary Naiad Press, along with Rehoboth’s own Anyda Marchant and Muriel Crawford.
I’ve told stories about Anyda and Muriel for years. I adored them and worried that with two sides to every story, and this being a biography of Barbara, the last word on Anyda and Muriel’s publishing legacy (and frequent clashes with Barbara!) might be told from Barbara’s vantage point alone.
Their head-butting morphed into a full-blown feud prior to the two-couple business partnership breaking apart in 1994.
Barbara Grier was complicated. I’d heard much from Anyda and others about her rudely direct criticism to and about writers and colleagues and ruthlessness in business. I’d also heard from Anyda and others that she could be generous to a fault, loyal, and one of our publishing and lesbian rights heroes. People loved her or wanted to vilify her, little in between.
The instant the book was published I started scanning the whole thing, ready to cry “foul!” at outrageous instances where the author got only Barbara’s side of the story.
Well, first, I had to stop speed reading because from the prologue on, the book was so damn fascinating.
Also, early on it was pretty clear the author was a crackerjack historian, working from original sources, personal correspondence, phenomenal research, and interviews with dozens, maybe hundreds of people. Even me. She’d called me so long ago I’d forgotten—until I saw a quote I had given referenced in a footnote. Cool. I am literally now a footnote in history!
The book gets everything right, even criticisms about Anyda —she could be imperious, classist, and haughty. Her books were not literary gold. But in the 1970s, Anyda had the courage to write lesbian romance novels and fight like hell to see them published.
Then there was the amazing 1993 scandal causing the final rift between Barbara and Anyda. Naiad published Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, an anthology of convent stories told by former nuns—quite wonderful and only scandalous to those who never expected to see the words lesbians and nuns in the same sentence. Barbara and Anyda hoped it would be a “crossover book,” bringing visibility to lesbian publishing.
And did it ever. There was a media explosion followed by national talk show interviews with the anthology’s editors. Next came huge sales and the rare placement of a lesbian book in mainstream bookstore chains. Naiad’s income soared.
Barbara Grier, working to maximize income, offered book excerpts to gay and women’s publications like Philadelphia Gay News and Ms. Magazine. She also offered excerpts to Forum magazine—a men’s soft-core porn magazine published by Penthouse.
Holy cow. Anyda found out about the Forum deal and was livid. A fierce feminist, she was apoplectic, disgusted at the betrayal of the women who wrote the essays and embarrassed to see a Naiad excerpt in a “dirty magazine.” She was still spouting off about it to me 15 years later.
The Forum deal caused a huge ugly controversy in the lesbian literary community and led to Anyda leaving Naiad. But it was a piece of our history. And the book gets all of the history of lesbian publishing right.
Read it now, because we must remember our past to confront our future—to be inspired by the pioneers who brought us so far. We need to be energized to get our butts back out on the streets with our placards and our bullhorns and our solidarity. This is a big topic for the April 6-9 CAMP Rehoboth Women’s FEST as we look ahead to RESISTERHOOD!
And speaking of proud artistic rebellion, FEST will celebrate the strength of women. In addition to the hot, hot, hot comics and awesome musicians, there will be three presentations featuring artistic resistance.
First, our keynote speaker is Delaware’s own Sarah McBride, the first transgender woman to speak at a National nominating convention. We’ll learn her story, plus news on her work as National Press Secretary for the Human Right Campaign.
A second dynamic act of resistance will be a performance of Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, a remarkable portrait of brains, brawn, and survival, brought to life by actress Stacey Fearheiley. You may remember Stacey from The Vagina Monologues at the 2015 FEST. Yes, she was the outrageous one. She’s not meek, she’s not quiet, and she will be in your face as the outspoken Dorothy Allison. See her show at 4 p.m. Sunday at CAMP Rehoboth.
Rounding out the “entertainment with a purpose” will be the 30th Anniversary celebration of the film Desert Hearts (collective “sigh”). Not only will we show this iconic film, but Producer Donna Deitch will be here to give us the inside scoop on the movie that caused such a stir in the late ‘80s.
And as for me, Trump gave me an ulcer. And everyone I talk to is upset, fearful, depressed, and otherwise disgusted with the rolling back of human rights and the agenda to deconstruct our federal government.
We will not let this stand. People everywhere are working to unmask the truth and build the resistance. I’m IN. Join me. Let’s shake off our depression (I swear, it’s like having PTSD from Nov. 8) to speak out and speak up and work for change.
And let’s remember to have fun while we fight back. Let’s perk up and be positive but keep our eyes open and our mouths running! We won’t fiddle while Rome burns, but let’s laugh and support each other as we work to stop the hate and the hateful. Let’s be indomitable!
I know I’m old, but I ain’t done yet. I intend to live so fully, that the next generation Westboro Baptist Church pickets my funeral.
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach, For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries, and Time Fries—Aging Gracelessly in Rehoboth Beach.