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  • Night Heron Press and Lesbian Print Culture in North Carolina, 1976–1983
  • Julie R. Enszer (bio)

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During the 1970s and 1980s, lesbian-feminist books, shorter chapbooks, journals, periodicals, newspapers, posters, and broadsides were distributed across the United States through social networks, community organizations, and businesses. The intent, as founders Harriet Desmoines and Catherine Nicholson expressed for their journal Sinister Wisdom, was to challenge public consciousness and create materials for a lesbian-feminist revolution. Catherine Nicholson (left) and Harriet Desmoines.

Photograph © by Lynda Koolish, used with permission. Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, Duke University.

[End Page 43]

In the inaugural 1976 issue of the journal Sinister Wisdom, founders Harriet Desmoines and Catherine Nicholson wrote, “We’re lesbians living in the South. We’re white; sometimes unemployed, sometimes working part-time. We’re a generation apart.” Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, the women pledged “political action” to “think … keenly and imaginatively” about how to develop lesbian-feminist consciousness and emphasized that they were “using the remnants of our class and race privilege to construct a force that we hope will ultimately destroy privilege.” Many lesbian-feminists around the United States recognized Sinister Wisdom as a vital entry into the landscape of lesbian print culture, particularly after the demise of Amazon Quarterly, a national journal headquartered in Oakland, California, that ceased publication in 1975.1

During the 1970s and 1980s, lesbian-feminist books, shorter chapbooks, journals, periodicals, newspapers, posters, and broadsides were distributed across the United States through social networks, community organizations, and businesses. Locally, writers and publishers often circulated their goods hand-to-hand—selling, swapping, and sharing publications. The intent, as Desmoines and Nicholson expressed for Sinister Wisdom, was to challenge public consciousness and create materials for a lesbian-feminist revolution. Journals and zines proposed visions of a new world—one absent of sexism and homophobia where women and lesbians could live full, open lives, unencumbered by the oppression of hetero-normative patriarchy.2

Lesbian-feminism, as an ideology, was both a visionary and a practical expression of the Women’s Liberation Movement (wlm), and lesbian print culture helped mobilize other women to share in its vision, philosophy, and activism. Although narratives of the wlm often focus on major urban centers, the movement flourished across the nation. In the early 1970s, for example, feminists in North Carolina organized a number of initiatives including the Durham Women’s Center (a project of the Durham ywca), the Durham’s Women’s Health Collective, Peer Information Service for Counseling and Education in Sexuality (pisces), and Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists. The burgeoning feminist community prompted a group, including Elizabeth Knowlton, to publish 3,000 copies of the Whole Women Carologue: A Guide to Resources for Women in North Carolina. Emphasizing women’s liberation, the guide included resources for health, athletics, law, and politics, among other things, and sold to women in North Carolina for $3.3

From this culture of organizing grew two lesbian-feminist journals: Sinister Wisdom and Feminary—the latter having begun in 1969 as a newsletter of the Research Triangle Women’s Liberation. The founding of these two journals in North Carolina demonstrates the vitality of local lesbian-feminist communities to launch and sustain projects of national significance. In addition to Feminary and Sinister Wisdom, three small publishers made their home in the Tar Heel State. Judy Hogan [End Page 44] founded Carolina Wren Press in 1976 in Chapel Hill. While not solely a lesbian-feminist press, Carolina Wren illustrates the creative and artistic vibrancy of the region. Hogan was also a member of the collective that founded Chapel Hill’s Lollipop Power in 1969. This publisher and print shop issued non-sexist and non-racist children’s books. By the mid-1970s, it was a major operation, doing its own typesetting, printing, and design, and in 1975, Lollipop Power sold 1,500 books per month. Down the road in Durham, Night Heron Press emerged in 1981 as a vibrant cultural expression of lesbian-feminism, as well as a strategy to transform the material conditions of lesbians’ lives.4

Print culture was not the only thriving expression of feminism or lesbian...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 43-56
Launched on MUSE
2015-05-30
Open Access
No
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