Rediscover: Marijane Meaker

Marijane Meaker, "a versatile and prolific author whose 1952 novel, Spring Fire, was among the first lesbian-themed paperback originals and sold so briskly that it jump-started the genre of lesbian pulp fiction," died November 21 at age 95, the New York Times reported. Meaker wrote dozens of books in multiple genres under several pen names. As M.E. Kerr, she wrote pioneering YA novels. As Ann Aldrich, she wrote nonfiction books chronicling lesbian life in Greenwich Village and beyond, including We Walk Alone (1955) and We, Too, Must Love (1958). As Mary James, she wrote quirky books aimed at younger children, like Shoebag (1990). Her books under her own name included Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s (2003), about her two-year relationship with the author Patricia Highsmith.

In 2003, Meaker told NPR: "I like pseudonyms. I like disguises. I've always hated the name Marijane. And I think the idea that you can name yourself is interesting." Another reason for the strategy was that when she arrived in New York she couldn't get an agent, and so she became one, with a roster of clients that consisted of her pseudonymous selves. "All of my clients were me," she recalled. "And I would take people out to lunch and tell them about my clients. And nobody knew that I was all my clients."

"But the work that put her on the map and may have had as much impact as any of the others was Spring Fire, published by Gold Medal Books under the name Vin Packer, which Ms. Meaker later used for a series of suspense novels," the Times wrote. The book, which is said to have sold 1.5 million copies, was about a college freshman who falls in love with one of her sorority sisters and "spoke to a significant segment of women who, in the early 1950s, were not seeing themselves in fiction." Meaker was uncomfortable with the ending of Spring Fire. The Times noted that the Postal Service then "was on the lookout for anything that seemed to glorify what its censors thought of as perversion. So publishers made sure she and other lesbian writers gave their stories unhappy endings."

"Which," said Robin Talley, a queer author of YA books, "is why in Spring Fire, one of the women in the central romance winds up in an asylum and the other becomes straight and forgets she ever liked girls to begin with.... Still, Spring Fire and the novels it influenced were what caused a whole generation of queer women to see themselves represented for the first time." Spring Fire is available in paperback from Cleis Press ($17.95).

Powered by: Xtenit