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17 Dorothy Allison, Crossover Blues Blanche McCrary Boyd/1993 The Nation 5 July 1993: 20–22. Reprinted with permission from the July 5, 1993 issue of The Nation. For subscription information, call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week’s Nation magazine can be accessed at Dorothy Allison and I were on different sides of a political argument in 1974, and we’ve liked each other ever since. When my novel The Revolution of Little Girls was published by Knopf in 1991, Dorothy was instrumental in its receiving widespread “crossover” recognition in the gay and lesbian literary community; now her novel Bastard Out of Carolina is receiving sensational “mainstream” praise. I called her a few weeks ago to discuss success and its ironies. BB: So, how are you feeling about being a crossover artist? DA: Hi, darlin’. It’s bullshit. What about all those straight writers who are read in queer communities? If you’re talking about crossover only in terms of small-press lesbian and gay writers who suddenly sell some books to straight people, it’s insulting and trivializing. BB: I heard that Bastard wasn’t listed for the Lambda Award for Lesbian Fiction because it wasn’t lesbian enough. DA: Do you remember that Bertha Harris used to say there was no such thing as a lesbian novel because no little female books ever ran off with other little female books? I got into a furious argument with her in 1975 because I needed there to be a category called lesbian fiction. I realize now that what I really needed was to know that my life was a proper subject for fiction, that my life was as valid as heterosexuals’ lives. We don’t have awards for lesbian writers, which would in many ways be more valuable. BB: Well, then we’d get into the argument about who’s a real lesbian. 18 CONVERSATIONS WITH DOROTHY ALLISON DA: Yeah, and you can’t be a real lesbian if you do things that the rest of us don’t approve of. But this controversy is about a community defining itself for its own purposes, and while at first I was indignant, I pretty much decided that it’s useful to have had this whole decision, the announcement and the press release around it, because as a result people are going to have to pay more attention to what we really need and what we want to encourage . That’s the purpose of the Lambda Awards. I mean, they don’t pay you any money, you don’t get to go anywhere, there’s nothing attached to them except the community saying, We appreciate what you did. And we are an extremely argumentative, embattled community. That’s just how we are. BB: You know, there’s some way I don’t even think in these categories. I don’t feel like a lesbian writer. I feel like a lesbian and a writer. DA: Yes, but you must understand that I always have felt like a lesbian writer. I have felt like there was not any other community in which I could have developed my craft or published. BB: So it must be a tremendous shock to you, all this mainstream recognition . DA: It’s completely nerve-wracking. I don’t trust it for a minute, and I try to approach it with a sense of humor rather than a sense of terror. I keep expecting them to figure out who I am and change their minds. I know for a fact that people will accept your existence only if you have a use to them, and what I really expect is that when I publish this next book, which is going to be much more lesbian in content, in the traditional definition, all these people will immediately say, Oh, we’ve made a mistake, she can’t really write. BB: Don’t you think that sexuality, or how to be a sexually authentic person, is the same problem for everybody? DA: At base. However, the ways we’ve learned to deal with it vary greatly within various communities. BB: Do you think there’s a level of self-definition as a lesbian or gay person that can’t be there unless you’re this kind of outlaw? DA: We are forced to do things that a lot of heterosexuals are not forced to do, so we have a certain clarity...


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