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vii Introduction Dorothy Allison is keenly aware of her public and private roles as a bestselling writer. A veteran of the early days of the women’s movement, she maintains her political roots as a lesbian activist. As an extremely successful writer, lecturer, and teacher, she has been called a “Writer-Rock Star” and “Cult Icon,” equally at home in a university lecture hall or a small feminist bookstore. In her home in northern California, she occupies yet other important roles as long-time companion to Alix Layman and mother to their son Wolf Michael. She has been compared to Janis Joplin and evangelical southern revival preachers. Allison’s rise to fame, if not fortune, began in 1949 in Greenville, South Carolina, when she was born to a fifteen-year-old unmarried waitress. Her southern upbringing in an extended working-class family led to Allison’s unique voice and her willingness to deal with issues that few writers dare to address: violence, incest, and discrimination. She tells the stories of those who cannot speak for themselves, addressing poverty of the spirit as well as poverty in material things. Allison is unavailingly honest and generous with her time in these interviews, which span the time period between 1993, shortly after her widely acclaimed novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, was published , and 2009. A finalist for the 1992 National Book Award, Bastard Out of Carolina has been translated into more than a dozen languages and published in more than a dozen countries. In 1996, it was made into a movie directed by Anjelica Huston. Allison followed up her success with her second novel, Cavedweller, published by Dutton in 1998. She has also published a collection of narrative essays called Skin—Talking about Sex, Class & Literature (1994); a memoir, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure (1995); and a collection of short stories called Trash (1988, 2002). In the absence of a biography, Allison’s interviews chart her writing life and chronicle the personal events that propelled her life as an artist. A chronological look at all of the interviews reveals a series of intersecting circles that form Allison’s communities. Within these communities, Allison carves out her personal and public lives. At the same time, she continues to write from the margins as a self-proclaimed “outlaw.” The core of her viii INTRODUCTION writing comes from her first community—her family, both immediate and extended, and the place she came from. Asked in an interview with Carolyn Megan about the “southern tradition” of writing, Allison claims, “It’s a lyrical tradition. Language. Iconoclastic, outrageous as hell, leveled with humor. Yankees do it, but Southerners do it more. It’s the grotesque.” She claims the same tradition, “on good days,” as Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams. Like these writers, each lurking on the borders of Southern society, Allison embraces her double roles as both belonging to a community and critiquing it from the margins. She tells Alexis Jetter in a profile published in The New York Times, “You have to go back. . . . Otherwise you’re cut off at the root.” The stories of her home community proved to be a never-ending source of inspiration for Allison, even after she moved away. She comments in an interview with Susanne Dietzel, “All you have to do is close your eyes and remember Greenville and you have something to work at.” Allison looked in vain for familiar speech in books she read growing up, finally finding it in works by African American writers such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison . She talks extensively about the language of the working class in an interview with Minnie Bruce Pratt, an interviewer who shares with Allison the common “terrain” of the South: “When I found Zora Neale Hurston, it was like getting kicked in the butt. It was a voice—the weird thing was that it was a voice that I heard in my head. That I was familiar with. The speech, the rhythms of my family, the kind of language that I grew up with resounded for me in the books written by those women. It didn’t read to me black. It read to me working class.” In her own books, Allison had to fight with her editors to get that spoken language down on the written page without making the speaker sound stupid and uneducated. She explains, “The copyediting was a struggle. I had to fight for how I spell certain...


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