Introduction and Credits
A Biography on Pink Paper
Defining LGBTQIA+ Identity in
the Early Twentieth Century
Lavender Ink: Introduction to Writing and Publishing Queer
Sexuality, Gender, and Transgression
Lavender Ink: Introduction to Writing and Publishing Queer Literature
What makes literature "queer?" Did Truman Capote write queerness into the frozen Kansas veldt in the
pages of In
Cold Blood by simple merit of his personal life? How do Claude McKay's alligator pears and ginger roots
Tropics of New York offer a lens for queer literary scholars to apply a queer-of-color analysis? What
people like Radclyffe Hall whose depictions of queer characters aged poorly and even drew ire in the author's
time for unflattering depictions that may play into social stereotypes?
To say we must approach that question gingerly would be an understatement. The lives and works of queer
did not always yield unambiguous depictions of queer people in their literature. Similarly, laws about what
could and could not be published and which people could and could not form romantic and sexual relationships
made the process of writing queerness even thornier.
While queer theory as a lens through which one can read literature gained in popularity after the late
century, literature scholars have not yet reached a consensus on what counts as queer literature or even who
counts as a queer author. In this category, we navigate that difficult path while leaning in on that ambiguity
and highlighting artifacts that demonstrate how enormously difficult and delicate this type of work can be for
literary scholars and historians alike.
The intimate politics of interpersonal relationships gave control of estates to people like Una
outlived her partner and wanted to present a posthumous version of the woman she loved as she saw her to the
world. That meant deliberate erasure of people and events that represented painful parts of her relationship
with Hall. Herself no stranger to publication, Troubridge represents what many queer biographers with extreme
personal interest in those about whom they wrote navigate: telling a queer story to a world that would likely
be unsympathetic and not fully understand the relationships described.
Of course, other intersecting factors of race and income already presented barriers to queer authors of
and those without wealth. For them, the act of writing queerness proved even riskier. However, that did not
them from alluding to their relationships in their personal and public writings. Their own struggles to
for their work is significant, as are the ways in which they had to navigate factors such as racism and
in the publishing world that White, wealthy writers did not.
For educators and students alike, these artifacts offer us the chance to examine and question the world
authors and the compounding factors we must consider as contemporary readers of their work.
Defining queer literature and aethetics
As with much of literary analysis, questions about queer readings of texts are diverse and nuanced. While
literature has existed as long as we have had literature, methods of evaluating the "queerness" of a text
to especially grow in an American context in the 1970s. Even then, the work of queer scholars from that point
the present day has drastically evolved as public understandings of gender and sexuality shift and fluctuate.
This section invites students to form their own hypotheses of how they would determine queer themes in a text
and provide a "queer reading." That does not mean all of these texts had openly queer authors or subject
However, considering that obscenity laws and social conservatism required authors to craft queer themes in
books with some degree of discretion, many literary studies practitioners maintain openmindedness and
when looking for queer subject matter. Other identities overlap as well in such readings. Queer-of-color
critiques might center Black, Indigenous, and other persons of color queer narratives in their methods. Queer
Crip scholars might look at how sexuality, gender, and disability overlap. Eco-Queer scholars might look at
environmental world and queerness in works of film and literature. As such, it can be a fun and exciting
opportunity for those new to queer scholarship to think about what aspects of queer identity in literature
interest them. This section is designed to give space to such thought and provide an introduction to the
of queer scholarship.
Guy Davenport, Review of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson,
Guy Davenport Papers 35.8
While it is not known if Jackson herself was queer, The Well of Loneliness, which she read as
at the University of Rochester, certainly impacted her. Both flattering and unflattering depictions of
lesbians certainly pepper her fiction, and it is known that she had openly gay friends. However,
oblique references to her protagonist's sexuality in her famous novel could be and were interpreted
a lens of nonconformity. While Stephen may be a lesbian, the word "lesbian" during the time that
and Jackson's lives overlapped was not fully understood in its contemporary context. While Jackson
herself might not have been a lesbian and left no written or spoken clues she found women attractive,
she felt some degree of identity with queer characters she encountered through reading, in the sense
that they were both mutual outsiders.
For modern readers who examine literature using queer theory, Jackson leaves behind a rich
wrote queer characters, such as Theo (implied to be a lesbian) in the 1959 horror novel The
Hill House. Furthermore, her texts regularly depict the home, the nuclear family, and cultural
expectations for women as horrific and violent. Similarly, her "misfit" characters play into many of
cultural expectations that queer people living in Cold War America likely felt. For students, it begs
the questions: what do we define as a queer theme? What role does a text's popularity with queer
play when it comes to making such an evaluation?
Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower, outline and notes, circa 1989.
Huntington Library OEB 1765
By the time of her untimely death in 2006, Butler had given considerable thought to sexual
and gender. Pioneering and genius, her invaluable contributions to speculative fiction featured
characters who shifted gender and bodies regularly and whose sexualities did not fit within White,
European understandings of the words. For example, her 1980 novel, Wild Seed, features an
African protagonist who shape-shifts to different bodies to ensure her survival.
Growing up in segregation-era America as a Black, disabled girl, she was drawn early to writing,
particularly science fiction. She would go on to make contributions to speculative fiction and
afrofuturist genres which challenge White-dominant cultural conceptions of what the future means and
entails for people of color. Though speculation is still rampant (and inconclusive) about her
Butler's speculative universe offers a fluid, rich future in which to imagine queer identities and
bodies of color without the cultural forces that would seek to marginalize them.
For students, it is worth considering how queer scholarship can take up questions of the "future"
how different understandings of bodies and desires might relate to alternate timelines and realities.
Marcel Proust, A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, paste-up sheet, undated.
Carlton Lake Collection of French Manuscripts 314.3
Marcel Proust has been a fixture of queer literary studies for decades. In Hall's The Well of
Loneliness, Stephen travels to Paris, which Hall describes as a much more open, tolerant place
comes to sexuality than the United Kingdom. This partially involved a relaxed legal system that did
criminalize homosexual activity. However, the titanic presence of Proust as a queer author who also
incorporated queer themes into his texts cannot be understated in the literary universe in which Hall
wrote. His iconic text, In Search of Lost Time, features several references to same-gender
sexual desire, and is in many ways iconic of the Parisian queer literary scene in the early modern
An author of prodigious ability, Proust is still an influential figure in discourse on LGBTQIA+
literature and literary history.
Unidentified photographer, Yoshiya Nobuko, November 26, 1947.
The Japanese feminist writer Yoshiya Nobuko wrote a series of semi-autobiographical stories for
women and girls that focused on romantic friendships in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Openly lesbian
and commercially prolific as a writer, Yoshiya Nobuko lived openly with her partner, Monma Chiyo, who
later legally adopted as her daughter so the pair could have legal rights when it came to medical
decisions and property transfer, a practice not uncommon for queer couples at the time.
Vandamm Studio, photographer, Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence in Private Lives,
A friend and collaborator of Radclyffe Hall's, Noel Coward in many ways epitomized queer British
for several decades of the 20th century. Coward, with his witticisms and ostentatious persona, seems
unusual comrade to Hall's more somber and spartan style. However, the two were friends and
throughout their lifetimes, and Hall possibly based a character in The Well of Loneliness on
Coward. Private Lives offers a transcript of Coward's
stylistic choices as a well known, commercially successful queer playwright and actor. The title
calls to mind the privacy of queer relationships and the subject matter, with its comedy-of-manners
approach, fits within the legacy of other queer playwrights such as Oscar Wilde who made thinly-veiled
references to their sexualities through their writing.
Susan Sontag, Notes on Camp, digital file, 1964.
The concept of "camp" permeates queer literary analysis and scholarship. Though certainly present
Susan Sontag's 1964 essay, Sontag analyzed the work of several prominent queer authors, including
Christopher Isherwood, to analyze and place the aesthetics of camp into broader academic discourse.
merely "larger than life," Sontag describes "camp" as "the love of the unnatural." Though she
camp as "apolitical" and not innately queer, the term has been largely associated with gay and
masculinities. Drag culture, exaggerated acting in classic films, and the works of filmmaker John
all fit to varying degrees under the aesthetics of "camp." However, lesbian, transgender, and asexual
literary scholars have pushed back on the erasure of non-gay men from camp categories and have
to theoretically position the work of transgender, lesbian, and asexual authors into frameworks of
Stylistically, Hall's suits and manner of dress might fit that category. Her literary aesthetic might
also fit within a lesbian or transgender analysis of camp. How can scholars position Hall's work
a camp framework? Is this method of analysis still valuable? How might readers of Hall's work take up
this term that has been so frequently described to many of her queer contemporary authors and
Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness, manuscript, undated.
Radclyffe Hall and Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge Papers 13.4
Hall's The Well of Loneliness offers a trove of entry points for queer literary analysis.
typically held up as a watershed text in lesbian literature on par with Patricia Highsmith's The
of Salt, transgender literary scholars also view the text with interest. The concept of
(broadly understood to mean inadequate complicity with gender constructs and norms), the protagonist
assuming the name "Stephen," and the ambiguous lines between sexuality and gender identity offer rich
lines of inquiry when it comes to imagining this text as transgender literature. While the term
"transgender" might not have existed as we know it in Hall's time, literature dating back to the
times offers transgender literary studies a wealth of opportunities for analyzing social constructions
of gender and transgressions against those norms.
Publishing while Queer
To say that the path towards publishing The Well of Loneliness was difficult would be an
addition to questions of obscenity and legal challenges against its content matter, Hall experienced extreme
frustration that the question of the book's merit came down to "free speech" rather than Hall's skills as an
author and what Hall believed to be the text's obvious literary merit. Hall was certainly not alone in that
regard. Queer authors who published queer content prior to shifts in public culture and opinion in the late
century did so at extreme personal risk. While audience mattered and more progressive genres such as poetry
theatre offered queer authors slightly more overtness in content, the task of creating queer literature for
broad public consumption was difficult and fraught. Many queer authors who published books and plays with
unambiguous queer content did so anonymously. Others sought to incorporate queerness through symbolism and
that queer readers might understand but that non-queer people might not. Oscar Wilde's The Importance of
Earnest, while not overtly queer at surface level, relies heavily on the question of "double
Lowell's poetry regularly used flower imagery to symbolize queer sex and intimacy between women. Mary
monster in Frankenstein (adapted for film by openly gay director James Whale) is given life through
collaboration between men, sidestepping heterosexual reproduction. Others simply complied with social
expectations for how queerness might be best received by the reading public. For example, cultural norms (such
as the Motion Picture Production Code of 1934-1968) didn't explicitly ban queer characters and content, but
dictate that queer characters must be punished and not rewarded with a happy ending. Lillian Hellman's 1934
The Children's Hour ends in a death by suicide, as does the queer husband of Blanche Dubois in
Williams's 1947 Broadway play A Streetcar Named Desire. However, queerness became a less taboo topic
with the shifts of the 1950s and 1960s such as the publication of the Kinsey Studies in 1948 and 1953, Betty
Friedan's 1963 The Feminine Mystique, and queer uprisings at The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in
Compton's Cafeteria in San Francisco in 1966, and at Cooper's Donuts in Los Angeles in 1959. However, that
not mean decades of European and North American morality culture disappeared overnight. This section places
Hall's own challenges with publishing as a queer person in broader context with other authors throughout the
early to mid twentieth century. Teachers might use this space to talk about symbolic readings of queerness,
importance of a "happy ending" for queer characters, and thorny questions about artistic integrity and
challenges to publishing queer works.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The modern Prometheus (London: Printed for
Robert Lee Wolff Collection 6280
Considered now to be a pioneer of both the science fiction and horror genres, Mary Shelley wrote
iconic text Frankenstein at age 20. Published anonymously (a relatively common practice in
19th-century England to circumvent the sexism women faced when publishing), the book defined genre
it came to speculative fiction, but has also long fascinated queer literary and cultural scholars
Shelley's and her husband's (poet Percy Bysshe Shelley) sexuality remain controversial. Shelley, the
daughter of proto-feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, certainly had queer friends (including
Diana Dods and Isabella Robinson), and her private writings allude to possible queer relationships
women after her husband's death. However, when it came to publishing, her text illustrates the
and difficult task of balancing an author's personal life with their creative work. Regardless of
Shelley's own sexuality, the text challenges the "biology" of the body and sexual reproduction.
Similarly, the Monster exists as an "outsider" in his world, hating his creator and seeking aimlessly
for love and belonging. The novel later assumed another association with queer culture when gay
James Whale adapted it into the films Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein. Held
up today as
of queer cinema, the films highlight the transgressive approach to bodies and sexuality that Shelley
constructed in her novel.
Patricia Highsmith, Letter to Jenny Bradley, March 5, 1960.
William A. Bradley Literary Agency Records 31.9
Patricia Highsmith's pioneering 1952 novel The Price of Salt (adapted into the 2015 film
featured a relatively happy ending for its two lesbian protagonists, an unprecedented inclusion in
queer literature up to that point. Social conservatism around LGBTQIA+ identities resulted in most
literature ending in tragedy, even when queer authors wrote them. Predominantly involved in romantic
relationships with women, Highsmith is more widely known for her Mr. Ripley mystery books and
published The Price of Salt under the alias "Claire Morgan" to preserve her career.
Involved with leftist circles and vocally supportive of Civil Rights, her published diaries also
demonstrate deeply problematic and complex flirtation with antisemitism.
Critically well regarded, the text avoided many of the challenges The Well of Loneliness faced
the almost three decades between their publication might account for this). Like The Well of
The Price of Salt is undoubtedly a titanic work of lesbian fiction and has gone through several
successful rounds of new editions prior to being published for the first time with Highsmith's name in
Elizabeth Bishop, Letter to Anne Sexton. September 14, 1962.
Anne Sexton Papers 18.1
This letter between poet Elizabeth Bishop and Anne Sexton features Bishop offering a stark,
evaluation of Sexton's poems. Describing them as "harrowing, awful, very real, and very good," Bishop
commends fellow New Englander Sexton's authentic voice and bold approach to gloomy subject matter.
Bishop, fiercely private about her identity as a lesbian, actively avoided identifying as a "female"
lesbian poet and even refused to have her poems published in women-only anthologies. Though recognized
as one of the most gifted poets of her generation, Bishop's own perfectionist tendencies limited her
creative output to roughly 100 published poems. Sexton, married to a man, had several affairs with
women, including her friend Anne Wilder.
Sexton's writing involved highly personal material and an emotionally charged response to
"off-limits" subjects, such as her bouts of disabling mental illness, almost entirely antithetical to
Bishop's more objective voice. However, she offers sincere and earnest praise on Sexton's work, even
though she self-categorizes her work as "not objective" due to her ability to intimately recognize the
details of a somber New England life hovering in the background of the poems.
Regardless, this letter encapsulates a specific and memorable interaction between two highly
and influential voices in American poetry. Both sought to be compelling, strong writers and to enhance
their considerable talent through constructive feedback. It also centers the role of platonic and
creatively enriching friendships between queer women as valid and important components of any queer
Allen Ginsberg, reading "Howl," sound recording, 1959.
Sound Recordings PS 3513 I74 A6 1959
A fixture of the Beat poetry movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the openly gay Allen Ginsberg
the poem Howl in 1956. Like Hall some three decades before, Ginsberg found his work on trial
obscenity after poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Bookstore manager Shigeyoshi
Murao were arrested and charged with selling obscene reading material after an undercover police
purchased Howl. After a highly sensationalized trial, both were acquitted when a judge ruled
did not qualify as obscene. Howl, with its highly experimental style and unambiguous references
sexuality, remains a watershed text in American poetry and queer literature, and City Lights Bookstore
still operates in San Francisco.
Claude McKay, Letter to Nancy Cunard, undated.
Nancy Cunard Collection 17.1
Jamaican-American poet Claude McKay took exceptional risks
as a poet when it came to style, meter, and political messaging.
A devoted leftist for most of his early life, he defied suggestions
that he "tone down" the more controversial elements of his
poems and personal writings to comply with Jim Crow-era
American expectations that Black authors write conservatively.
He writes here to the British writer and political leftist, Nancy
Cunard. Cunard wrote in favor of the Civil Rights movement,
writing essays that attacked white women's racism against
people of color, edited The Negro Anthology, and received death
threats too obscene to be published.
Compton Mackenzie, Foreword to Extraordinary Women, manuscript, 1953.
Compton Mackenzie Papers 22.2
Just as The Well of Loneliness hit bookstore shelves, Scottish author Compton Mackenzie
own lesbian-themed novel. Extraordinary Women is, however, a satirical piece that lampoons
lesbians and disregards the validity of their relationships (including several characters that mock
and several of Hall's and Troubridge's friends). Mackenzie's foreword to his book demonstrates his
contempt for The Well of Loneliness and how the sensationalism following its publication simply
in his opinion, to make a "dull book" seem "exciting."
Pegasus Press, The Well of Loneliness, leaflet, 1928
Radclyffe Hall and Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge Papers 17.2
After the controversy and subsequent obscenity trial surrounding The Well of Loneliness, Hall
considerable frustration that those who came to her aid (including Virginia Woolf and her husband
Leonard) did so on "free speech" grounds rather than defending what Hall believed to be the book's
obvious literary merit. What Hall regarded as skillful writing met with mixed reviews when it came to
the actual content of the book. While there's no denying the text's importance when it came to
publishing openly LGBTQIA+ content, even scholars and biographers favorable to Hall are still today
divided on whether or not the text is well-written.
Queer Women and Ambiguous Sexualities
For many women who did not marry or lived lives outside of cultural expectations for women, questions
their sexuality persist. Pre-20th-century gender expectations in North America and Europe largely dictated
separate spaces based on gender binaries. Doubtlessly, many women leave behind legacies of homosocial bonding
schools, seminaries, and social circles. Eleanor Roosevelt and Juliette Gordon Low both wrote about their
"crushes" at their respective early-twentieth-century schools, and their papers still hold much important
content for bisexual and lesbian scholars. Many queer women navigated space for themselves within these
forming close friendships and sometimes sexual and romantic relationships with other women. That is not to say
that all women authors who have lived and died without conclusively self-identifying as heterosexual would do
if given the chance. Many were queer, and it certainly does not make their work off limits for queer literary
scholars. For example, while Harper Lee never conclusively addressed her sexuality and bristled when asked
it, her 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a popular text for queer analysis, with Scout's and Dill's
ambivalent relationship with gender conventions continuing to produce rich discourse within literary
For the purposes of Hall and Troubridge, sexuality in their time was largely defined based on the works
Sigmund Freud. Later twentieth-century authors and painters such as poet June Jordan, novelist Octavia Butler,
and painters Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Georgia O'Keeffe would deliberately seek to reimagine
cis-women and women's sexuality outside of a male-dominated Freudian discourse. For her part, Hall deeply
believed in scientific innovations. However, her social circle and contemporary authors included many people
guarded their sexuality with fierce privacy, or at least never commented on their romantic connections in
writing. Teachers might use this section to frame the inevitable question of whether how much we do or don't
know about an author's personal life should influence how we read their work. Furthermore, a feminist inquiry
into this section might question how transgressing gender expectations fits into a queer framework and why
centering the relationships between women in literature remains a powerful and important thing. For students
this might provide a spring-board to think about how much or how little an author's sexuality, gender
or other identity marks should play in how we read and understand texts, particularly when those personal
questions don't necessarily have clear answers. Furthermore, how do we examine literature through a "queer"
when it comes to analyzing love and same-gender affection in texts that might have had different
of sexuality than contemporary culture?
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, signed manuscript page, undated.
Truman Capote Collection 3.2
Like The Well of Loneliness, To Kill a Mockingbird met with significant polarization.
the book has never been out of print since its initial publication. However, it's themes about the
segregated south opened the book to significant challenges, ranging from luke-warm reviews from
prominent southern authors such as Flannery O'Connor, to being outright banned in many parts of the
country. Similarly, Black authors and historians criticize the book's over-simplification of race in
South and for glorifying White moderates in the Civil Rights Era.
Here we have a signed typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird which Lee sent to her life-long
openly gay Truman Capote. Lee's sexuality long fascinated readers of her Pulitzer Prize–winning book,
much to Lee's annoyance and possible amusement. Given multiple opportunities in her life to address
sexuality, Lee never publicly identified as queer. However, queer readers have long identified with
Scout and Dill (semi-autobiographically based on Lee and Capote) in the text, both of whom defy gender
conventions in their Alabama town. While there is no way of knowing Lee's sexuality, significant
speculation comes from the author's own disregard for cultural norms and conventions for women of her
William Case North, photographer, Emily Dickinson half-length portrait, circa 1846-1847.
Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Series 3
Remembered for her innovative and transgressive use of unconventional meter and subject matter,
Dickinson is now something of an icon in the pantheon of American poets. Though she is commonly
caricatured as a ghostly, old-maid shut in, her private life was rich, captivating, and intimate. Her
poems allude to close friendships, possible romantic interests, and her own questions about the
world, romantic love, and mortality. Since Victorian-American understandings of gender typically
involved entirely separate social spheres for men and women, romantic friendships between women were
uncommon, and Dickinson certainly had both male and female friends whom she regarded with deep
affection. While we have no conclusive proof about Dickinson's sexuality, queer scholars express
particular interest in her relationship with her sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Gilbert. Regardless,
her work frequently appears in LGBTQIA+ anthologies, and queer analysis of her creative work continues
to the present day.
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962).
National Museum of American History 2013.3104.01
Scientist and author Rachel Carson became synonymous with her 1962 book, Silent Spring, which
the harmful effects of DDT. She also was widely known in her lifetime for her work on marine biology
contributions to the conservation movement. She doubtlessly had a deep love of nature and the earth,
inspiring multiple eco-feminist scholars as they examined overlaps between sexism and environmental
damage. In her personal life, Carson shared an intimate relationship with Dorothy Freeman. The two
exchanged a trove of letters, many of which were burned, arguably based on the assumption that they
would be understood as "lesbian" in nature. Since we lack access to the burned letters, it is
to conclusively categorize Carson's sexuality, but many queer historians and biographers note that
categorization of her sexuality is not necessary. Her love for Dorothy Freeman, regardless of
contemporary understandings of sexuality, was an important aspect of her life, and the letters that
survive are both beautifully written and show the deep bond the two women had.
Arnold Newman, photographer, Georgia O'Keeffe at home, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, August 2,
Arnold Newman Papers and Photography Collection 5233
O'Keeffe's relationship with women and the subject matter of her most famous paintings sparks
debate amongst biographers and art historians. She had a close friendship with Maria Chabot, a queer
woman with whom O'Keeffe exchanged hundreds of letters. Furthermore, her famous flower paintings have
been controversially described as yonic, an assertion O'Keeffe disliked due to the Freudian readings
women's sexuality male critics superimposed onto her work. While male art dealers and critics
commented on her floral paintings as "vaginas" in gauche, sexualized terms, queer women have long
admired and identified with her work. Other queer authors (such as Virginia Woolf and Amy Lowell) have
used flowers to symbolize intimacy between people with vaginas, and artist Judy Chicago based her
work, "The Dinner Party," on O'Keeffe's iconic flowers.
Kay Dick, Article on Stevie Smith, manuscript, 1971.
Kay Dick Collection 14.10
Smith lived the majority of her life without sexual or romantic partners. She and her work have
interpreted as lesbian, bisexual, and asexual. However, while Smith never made conclusive statements
about her sexuality, she was adamant that the personal fulfillment she felt from her intimate
relationships with friends and family matched any that she might have received from romantic partners.
For many asexual theorists and fans of her work, her emphasis on the importance of emotional
outside of sex and romance resonates. Similarly, her poems featured cartoons with ambiguously-gendered
Smith is known for her wit and dark humor, and fans of her work included author Sylvia Plath.
Bi and Ace Erasure
Queer historians and literary scholars have deliberately and systematically erased the bisexual
countless authors. A great many bisexual authors had deep, fulfilling relationships with people of a range of
genders. For Una Troubridge, while her relationship with Radclyffe Hall dominated her life, she still
at least some romantic and sexual attraction to men. However, there is also a problem of categorization.
Certainly plenty of people married and entered relationships with people of other genders despite a lack of
romantic or sexual attraction due to social pressures or needing some protection from legal consequences of
non-conformity when it came to gender presentation and sexuality.
Similarly, many asexual and aromantic authors, artists, and thinkers lived deep, rich,
lives without feeling the need for sexual or romantic partners. Both acephobia and biphobia, cultural
to monosexuality (attraction to one gender), and trans-erasing insistence on gender binaries have deep and
problematic roots in even lesbian and gay-specific spaces and scholarship.
For educators, these documents offer a chance to think critically about bisexual and asexual identities
their relationships with people of different genders have been minimized or erased or mischaracterized. For
students, these documents offer a chance to "dig in" to complicated questions about gender and sexuality as a
spectrum that is not always easily defined by simple categories. For everyone, it highlights and celebrates
bi identities of different authors whose writings offer a rich trove of resources for bisexual/pansexual and
Unidentified maker, Jacket owned by Carson McCullers, circa 1950s.
Carson McCullers Collection 5.47
Famous for her pioneering work in the southern gothic genre, Carson McCullers remains a
focus for queer disability scholars. McCullers, who spoke relatively openly with her friends about her
attraction to multiple genders, is remembered also for her flamboyant wardrobe and sense of style.
Though her childhood in Georgia provided significant inspiration for her creative work, she spent much
of her adult life as a member of queer-dominated literary scenes in New York. Friends included fellow
queer southerners Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote.
Disability frequently appears in her work, and McCullers lived with chronic illnesses (both
mental) for much of her life. Ability, like sexuality, served as a marker of difference in her works,
and she relied closely on her experiences as a bisexual, disabled woman to craft her well-defined
Djuna Barnes, Letter to Charles Henri Ford, July 25, 1935.
Charles Henri Ford Papers 12.3
Known to have had romantic and sexual relationships with multiple genders, Barnes published her
landmark work of queer literature, Nightwood (1933). Barnes influenced a range of authors,
Carson McCullers and Shirley Jackson, and became an emblem of Greenwich Village's literary scene in
mid-twentieth century. A known globe-trotter and sophisticated fashion icon in her own right, she
time in multiple cities that would be influential on Hall and Troubridge, including Paris and London.
Lloyd Yearwood, photographer, June Jordan, circa 1970.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The bisexual poet June Jordan lived unapologetically as a queer Black woman of Caribbean
Passionate in her support of Black feminism and specific in her critique of white-dominant
about discourse and sexuality, Jordan insisted on writing in what she called "Black English" as a
radical break from "Standard English," which she regarded as overly White and saturated with racism.
Jordan saw bisexuality as liberatory and a natural extension of humans as complex beings. Bisexuality,
she believed, was innately difficult to control and was, therefore, an act of rebellion against
authoritarianism. Dedicated to human equality, Jordan wrote against apartheid practices and brutality
Ireland, South Africa, and Palestine in addition to challenging racism in the United States.
United Press International, photographers, Tallulah Bankhead with Tennessee Williams,
Tennessee Williams Literary File Photography Collection P-437
Alabama-born actress Tallulah Bankhead spoke relatively openly about taboo subjects of sexuality.
Politically and socially outspoken, she referred to herself as "ambisextrous," and had romantic and
sexual relationships with people of multiple genders in her life. She lived through several prominent
changes in how American culture understood human sexuality, including the publication of the 1948 and
1953 Kinsey Reports. She, like many stars of the Classic Hollywood era, garnered a significant queer
fanbase, and she remains something of a "gay icon" with enduring popularity in a range of queer
spaces, such as drag shows and movie clubs.
Bankhead is pictured here with her friend, the prolifically southern and prolifically queer
Edward Gorey, Untitled drawing, circa 1950.
Edward Gorey Art Collection 2002-7
Identifying as both gay and asexual in interviews, Edward Gorey crafted what he considered an
universe in his morbid, darkly comedic artwork and stories. Focusing on Victorian and Gothic themes,
Gorey frequently bristled at art and literary critics who attempted to superimpose sexualized meanings
on his works.
Carl Van Vechten, photographer, Marlon Brando, December 27, 1948.
Theater Biography Collection 56
Marlon Brando, like Bankhead, has a queer fan base that transcends gender. Photographed here in a
publicity shot for A Streetcar Named Desire, Brando's good looks and prodigious talent as an
him an enduring icon of a shift in acting techniques towards "method" rather than "technical
performance." Politically outspoken, Brando mentioned in interviews that he'd had sexual experiences
with men, and he was rumored to have had relationships with Richard Pryor and James Baldwin (Brando's
Story Telling: The Role of Partners and the Ghosts of Authors
While not every queer author wrote about death, death proved just as complex and uniquely challenging for
as life did. Laws and norms that did not legally recognize same-gender partners as legal heirs made
and creative control difficult to navigate. Similarly, defining legacies and the need to protect the privacy
living partners duplicated the need for discretion for authors who passed away.
For contemporary queer authors, the HIV/AIDS crisis casts a long shadow. With many queer people dying at
alarming rates from AIDS-related illnesses, many same-gender partners and transgender partners who lived with
them for years suddenly found themselves with little legal right to shared property and in many cases were not
allowed to visit their loved ones in hospitals in their final days.
The more painful aspects of personal life and the difficulties of any partnership also influenced the
surviving partners and estates played in organizing and publishing posthumous works of authors. This
examines what role partners play in posthumous guardianship of their partners' estate, papers, and reputation.
Here we examine how Troubridge, like many others publishing biographies of authors and seeking to control the
narrative of their deceased loved ones, omitted facts and deliberately destroyed letters that reminded her of
painful parts of her marriage to Sir Ernest Charles Thomas Troubridge, and of her partnership with Radclyffe
Hall. However, the material records of that writing process also served as a testament to the deep belief many
partners held about the greatness of their deceased loved ones. Similarly, this category also examines the
that the queer rights and women's rights movements played in critical re-evaluation of authors who died prior
those political movements in the late 20th century.
How did feminist politics and queer liberation impact the work of dead authors? How do their surviving
fit into their narratives not just as executors of estates, but also of authorship and publication? How do
archivists position partners as equals in relationships instead of falling into sexist, partiarchal tropes
relegate spouses to "supporting" roles or shadows in the background?
Unidentified photographer, Lorraine Hansberry, 1973.
Theater Biography Collection 742
A closeted lesbian, Hansberry and her politics marked stark contrast to many other queer writers
her lifetime. Isolated already as a leftist sympathizer and needing to delicately balance personal
beliefs with financial security, Hansberry took incredible risks by offering political support to the
early LGBTQIA+ rights movement in the US, including publishing works in lesbian magazines. Astute in
political understanding of the world and commercially successful as a Black woman playwright,
won critical acclaim and lasting admiration for her creative work and her advocacy for social justice.
She offered more open support for lesbian rights movements in her later years. However, when her
ex-husband donated her papers after her death, he did so with the condition that any contents that
identify Hansberry as a lesbian not be made publicly available. While queer-of-color scholars and
Black-feminist scholars only recently began examining these valuable papers that attest to Hansberry's
experience as a Black lesbian, Hansberry's life doubtlessly influenced her work that earned her a
of distinction as one of the great American playwrights. However, her life and experience as a lesbian
Black woman offers new lines of inquiry into her creative work and political life.
Lillian Hellman, Janet Flanner tribute, manuscript, 1978-1979.
Lillian Hellman Papers 61.3
Playwright Lillian Hellman offers an obituary for the journalist Janet Flanner. A lesbian for
her adult life, Flanner was a fixture of the American literary scene in Paris for five decades. She
maintained close connections to other queer women, including Getrude Stein, Alice Toklas, Sylvia
and her own partner, Solita Solano.
Hellman's obituary, coming at the height of the 1970s Women's Liberation movement, specifically
Flanner's role as a pioneering woman journalist and trailblazer for women in her line of work. Her
biography also includes coded nods to Flanner's identity as a lesbian, such as her admiration of her
"finely tailored suits."
Bryher, Letter to Marianne Moore, June 24, 1950.
Marianne Moore Collection 1.10
Bisexual poet Hilda Doolittle (known as H.D.) and writer/editor Bryher (pen name for Annie
Ellerman) lived together for a time and were romantic partners and literary collaborators for much of
their lives. H.D. represents the significance of the rise in feminist academic discourse that gave new
fame and prominence to women authors who specifically wrote about women's lives and experiences.
Bryher, a lesbian, was also a noted magazine editor, writer and critic.
Una Troubridge, Diary excerpt, June 21, 1943.
Radclyffe Hall and Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge Papers 32.4
Hall's romantic relationship with Evgenia Souline deeply hurt Una Troubridge. Upon Hall's death,
Troubridge quite literally did everything in her power to erase Souline from Hall's legacy. She
destroyed their letters and largely ignored her presence in Hall's life when she began constructing
Hall's biography. Whatever intimacies Hall and Souline expressed for each other in writing are for the
most part lost. However, this inclusion is important for several reasons. Primarily, it shows modern
readers that queer relationships are not without complications and difficulties. The pain Troubridge
felt was real, though not enough to deter Hall's attraction to Souline. It also demonstrates that
narratives controlled by partners are not, of course, objective. However, questions about the
of objectivity also emerge from this. Is any biography truly objective? What does Troubridge's dual
as romantic partner and executor of a literary estate tell us about the importance of surviving
and their control over legacy?
Willa Cather, Letter to Edith Lewis, October 4, 1936.
Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial Collection 1328
Edith Lewis outlived her partner Willa Cather by almost three decades. After 40 years of living
together, the grief that she felt must have been extreme. Like Troubridge, who tailored Hall's suits
wore them herself as she constructed a biography of her late partner, Lewis dedicated her time to
memorializing Cather. Cather, one of a handful of women to win a Pulitzer Prize in literature, had
somewhat fallen out of favor in her later years as literary interests about the plains focused more
directly on questions of class and adopted a more overt leftist political lens.
Lewis, an editor by training, provided Cather with feedback and advice when it came to her
work, and when Cather died in 1947, Lewis began working to memorialize her late partner in the 1953
biography Willa Cather Living.
Emily Dickinson, Poems (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1890).
Houghton Library AC85.D5605.890p (B)
Contrary to popular mythology that Dickinson did not want her work published, she bristled not at
thought of publication, but at male editors changing her meter, punctuation, and capitalization. When
she died, her sister Lavinia followed her instructions and destroyed her letters and personal
correspondence. However, publishing her poetry after death proved challenging and controversial. While
her sister-in-law, close friend, and speculated romantic partner Susan Huntington Gilbert initially
assumed some role in preparing Dickinson's works for publication, she did so too slowly, and the work
shifted to Mabel Loomis Todd, a woman with whom Susan's husband had an extramarital affair, much to
Dickinson's fury. Todd, partnering with T. W. Higginson, published early collections of Dickinson's
work, notably editing her punctuations and other stylistic choices, and removing dedications to Susan
Gilbert Dickinson from several of her poems.
This inclusion is notable in several senses. First, the destruction of personal papers leaves a
Dickinson deliberately created by ordering her papers burned. Her sister Lavinia, dedicated to
Dickinson's legacy as a great American poet, balanced personal guardianship over her legacy, but also
wanted her works broadly published. Susan Gilbert Dickinson's role as trusted friend of Dickinson's
her erasure from the first published collection also provides intrigue for queer scholars who have
viewed the relationship between Dickinson and Gilbert with particular fascination. While publishers
eventually publish anthologies of Dickinson's work as she wrote it, editing her style and omissions of
dedications clouded the first collected publication.
Fred Fehl, photographer, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater production photographs of
Fred Fehl Dance Collection 1.14
Black dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey was pioneering in
his use of multiple forms of dance and focused his many of his
works specifically on the experiences of Black Americans. At the
height of the crisis, Ailey died from AIDS-related complications,
a diagnosis that was intentionally hidden due to intense stigma
that those who died of the virus faced. Similarly, Ailey guarded
his private life extremely closely. Discourse of "the closet" is not
particularly meaningful and assumes a singular goal of
"outness" that not all queer people shared. His decision to keep
his romantic life private, whether out of a desire for privacy or a
sense of professional preservation, extended beyond his death.
However, this artifact illustrates the momentous task of handling
the legacies of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and centering the grief and
loss of considerable artistic talent. Government neglect and an
inadequate healthcare system needlessly cost countless people
their lives. For queer communities (especially queer men and
trans women) the collossal loss of life and culture cannot be
overstated. When thinking about queer legacies, HIV/AIDS is an
unavoidable topic. Though HIV/AIDS did not appear until
several decades after Hall's death, the question of legacy and
remembering queer contributions to art, science, athletics, and
literature runs throughout the twentieth century.
This question is especially poignant when it comes to
queer-of-color critiques. While Hall certainly faced discrimination based on homophobia and misogyny,
she did not have to worry
about racism or classism when it came to her access to space
or when it came time to euologize her. Stigma against queer
people of color, even in death, crafts a bitter question for
queer-of-color scholars. What lives do people view as
"grievable?" How must queer-of-color critique take up questions
of legacy in ways that are distinct from White queer scholarship?
W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, The Entertainment of the Senses, manuscript,
W. H. Auden Collection 1.1
Auden and Kallman had a relationship that fluctuated between deep friendship, creative
sexual partner. Here we see one of the many collaborations they made together over the course of their
Upon his death, Auden left his estate to Kallman.
Takedown Notice: This material is made available for education and research
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item. Due to the nature of archival collections, rights information may be incomplete or out of date. We
welcome updates or corrections. Upon request, we'll remove material from public view while we address a rights issue. The unpublished works,
correspondence, diaries, and daybooks of Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge are under copyright in the United
States. The Ransom Center is grateful to Alessandro Rossi Lemeni Makedon, the representative of Troubridge's
estate, who has granted permission for the Center to share the papers of Troubridge.