Lesbian Fiction Writers Over the Years


Lesbian fiction is a subgenre of fiction that deals with lesbian themes like the love or sexual desire between female characters and usually has one or more lesbian female protagonists. Though lesbian literature goes back to fifth century when Sappho of Lesbos penned poems depicting her love for other girls, lesbian-themed fiction began to be published only in the last century. Here are some of the writers whose works have contributed to growth of lesbian fiction down the ages.

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Radclyff Hall

Radclyff Hall was the writer of The Well of my Loneliness, a novel which is now recognized as the first lesbian-themed fiction in the English language. Hall's first novel was The Unlit Lamp, the story of Joan Ogden, a young girl who dreams of setting up a flat in London with her friend; this was followed by two social comedies The Forge and A Saturday Life. Then came Adam’s Breed a novel with mystical themes. In 1928, The Well of Loneliness was published which deals with the life of Stephen Gordon, a masculine lesbian who, like Hall, believes herself to be an “congenital invert”. Although Gordon is seen as embodying a tortured attitude toward her own sexuality, the novel presents lesbianism as natural and makes a plea for greater tolerance. After The Well of Solitude was banned in England because of its lesbian theme, Hall went on to write another four novels The Sink of Solitude, the Master of the House, Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself  and The Sixth Beatitude. Despite all the litigation over The Well of Solitude, it remained Hall’s only novel with a lesbian theme even though later it came to be recognized as a pioneering work in the genre of lesbian fiction.

Ann Bannon

During the 1950s and ‘60s a distinctive sub genre rose in lesbian fiction and was known as lesbian pulp fiction. This was characterized by sensationalism, graphic descriptions of lesbian sexual encounters as well as depictions of lesbianism in prison, the military and boarding schools. In a time when lesbian themes barely figured in mainstream fiction, lesbian pulp fiction writers kept the subject alive, albeit with a violent and sensational narrative style. One of the foremost writers of this genre was Ann Bannon who wrote six lesbian themed pulp novels from 1957 to 1962 that later became known as The Beebo Brinker Chronicles. The titles include Odd Girl Out, I Am a Woman, Women in the Shadows, Journey to a Woman, The Marriage and finally Beebo Brinker. For a large part of her writing career, Bannon was unaware of the massive impact her novels had on the construction of lesbian identity or alternative female sexuality. Over the years however the influence of her writings was recognized and she came to be known as the Queen of Lesbian Pulp Fiction.

Valerie Taylor

Valerie Taylor  was another write who wrote lesbian themed novels during the heydays of lesbian pulp fiction. Taylor wrote eight such novels which include Whisper Their Love, The Girls in 3-B, Stranger on Lesbos, A World Without Men, Unlike Others and Journey to Fulfillment. Among her later works are The Secret of the Bayou 1967, Love Image, Prism, Ripening and Rice and Beans. Apart from writing lesbian-themed poetry too, Taylor eventually became a gay activist, co-founding the Mattachine Society and the Lesbian Writers' Conference in Chicago in 1974. In 1992, Taylor’s literary and political contributions were widely recognized as she was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame; five years later she died at the age of 84.

Nancy Garden

With the emerging of the feminist movement during the late 1960s and ‘70s, many of the lesbian themes found voices in other genres of women’s writing. One such sub-genre was young adult lesbian fiction, of which one of the best known names was Nancy Garden. Her Annie on my Mind became a classic of young adult fiction which openly dealt with a lesbian theme. Published in 1982, the novel tells the story of two high school girls who fall in love with each other. The novel marked new trend since unlike previous writings, lesbian love is not seen as a passing phase; rather an alternative sexual identity is seen as something to be positively explored and dealt with. And while many of her other titles also featured GLBT characters, she never wrote another overt lesbian-themed book like Annie on my mind. The book is also important because it was published in hardback and by a major press despite the fact that it essentially celebrates a lesbian romance.

Val McDdermid

Even though Scottish woman writer, Val McDdermid is primarily known as a crime fiction writer, one of her main characters in the series is Lindsay Gordon, a lesbian journalist; this makes the series starring Lindsay Gordon part of the lesbian fiction subgenre. These include Report for Murder, Common Murder, Final Edition, Deadline for Murder, Union Jack, Booked for Murder and most recently Hostage to Murder published in 2003. Until Mcdermid's Report for Murder was published in 1987, the majority of lesbian fiction had a plot that wholly or partially revolved around the protagonist's angst about her sexuality, the constant fear of being found out and, frequently, her hopeless love for a straight woman which was eventually doomed to heartbreak. McDermid was one of the first writers who began writing about lesbian characters as part of mainstream popular fiction and not for a rarely-read sub genre of merely academic interest. Indeed her character Lindsay Gordon is a firebrand woman reporter who is undoubtedly lesbian but does not obsess over her sexuality.

Shamim Sarif

In recent times, lesbian fiction has engaged with many other issues like race and colonialism. One of the newer crop of lesbian fiction writers concerned with such dynamics, is Shamim Sarif. A woman of South Asian and South African descent, Sarif draws from her ethnic origins to explore various nuances of sexuality and lesbianism in contemporary times. Till date she has written three novels, The World Unseen, Despite the Falling Snow and I Can't Think Straight. The first and last of these have been adapted into feature films.