Today we honor and celebrate the author of a pioneering work of lesbian fiction: poet, writer, and activist Rita Mae Brown. Born in Pennsylvania in 1944, Brown grew up in Florida but moved to New York to finish her undergraduate work, receiving a BA in Classics and English from New York University. (She later received degrees in cinematography and a PhD in literature.) Her early work was poetry with a strong feminist bent.
In 1973, Brown published her first novel, the groundbreaking Rubyfruit Jungle. A strongly feminist novel, it also explores themes of lesbianism and bisexuality with an unusual frankness for its day. She has written a dozen other novels on a variety of themes, often harkening back to the ground she broke with her first book. She also writes a series of cozy mysteries (sharing credit with her cat) and has published 20 of these to great popularity.
As she completed her undergraduate work and began writing in the late 60s, Brown turned her attention to politics. She became active in the American Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the Gay Liberation movement and the feminist movement. She took an administrative position with the fledgling National Organization for Women, but angrily resigned over Betty Friedan’s anti-gay remarks and NOW’s attempts to distance itself from lesbian organizations. She played a leading role in the “Lavender Menace” zap of the Second Congress to Unite Women on May 1, 1970, which protested about Friedan’s remarks and the exclusion of lesbians from the women’s movement. In the early 1970s, she became a founding member of The Furies Collective, a lesbian feminist newspaper collective which held that heterosexuality was the root of all oppression. Brown is a firm believer in the broad spectrum of human sexuality, going so far as to say, “I don’t believe in straight or gay. I really don’t. I think we’re all degrees of bisexual.”