Rita Mae Brown
|Born||November 28, 1944|
Hanover, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Occupation||Novelist, poet, screenwriter, activist|
|Education||University of Florida|
New York University (BA)
School of Visual Arts
Union Institute and University (MA, PhD)
|Literary movement||LGBT rights, lesbian movement, feminism|
Rita Mae Brown (born November 28, 1944) is an American feminist writer, best known for her coming-of-age autobiographical novel, Rubyfruit Jungle. Brown was active in a number of civil rights campaigns, but tended to feud with their leaders over the marginalising of lesbians within the feminist groups. Brown received the Pioneer Award for lifetime achievement at the Lambda Literary Awards in 2015.
Brown was born in 1944 in Hanover, Pennsylvania to an unmarried teenage mother and her mother's married boyfriend. Brown's birth mother left the newborn Brown at an orphanage. Her mother's cousin Julia Brown and her husband Ralph retrieved her from the orphanage, and raised her as their own in York, Pennsylvania, and later in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Julia and Ralph Brown were active Republicans in their local party.
Starting in late 1962, Brown attended the University of Florida at Gainesville on a scholarship. In the spring of 1964, the administrators of the racially segregated university expelled her for participating in the civil rights movement. She subsequently enrolled at Broward Community College with the hope of transferring eventually to a more tolerant four-year institution.
Brown hitchhiked to New York City and lived there between 1964 and 1969, sometimes homeless, while attending New York University where she received a degree in Classics and English. In 1968, she received a certificate in cinematography from the New York School of Visual Arts.
Brown received a Ph.D. in literature from Union Institute & University in 1976 and holds a doctorate in political science from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
In 1982, Brown wrote a screenplay parodying the slasher genre titled Sleepless Nights; retitled The Slumber Party Massacre, the producers decided to play it seriously, and it was given a limited release theatrically. Brown is featured in the feminist history film She's Beautiful When She's Angry.
In the spring of 1964, during her study at the University of Florida at Gainesville, she became active in the American Civil Rights Movement. Later in the 1960s, she participated in the anti-war movement, the feminist movement and the Gay Liberation movement. She was involved with the Student Homophile League at Columbia University in 1967 but left it because the men in the league were not interested in women's rights.
She was involved in the Redstockings, but also left the group because of its lack of involvement in lesbian rights. She then went on to join the Gay Liberation Front, where she suggested the formation of an all-lesbian group, since many of the women felt excluded from the feminist movement and the male-led gay liberation movement.
Brown took an administrative position with the fledgling National Organization for Women, but resigned in January 1970 over comments by Betty Friedan seen by some as anti-gay and by the NOW's attempts to distance itself from lesbian organizations. Brown claimed that lesbian was "the one word that can cause the Executive Committee [of NOW] a collective heart attack."
Brown played a leading role in the "Lavender Menace" zap of the Second Congress to Unite Women on May 1, 1970, which protested Friedan's remarks and the exclusion of lesbians from the women's movement. Brown and other lesbians from the Gay Liberation Front created The Woman-Identified Woman, which was distributed at the zap. The group that wrote the manifesto then went on to become the "Radicalesbians".
While doing work for the American Civil Rights Movement, Brown was introduced to consciousness-raising groups, which she incorporated into the organizations she created and the ones she worked in.
In the early 1970s, she became a founding member of The Furies Collective, a separatist lesbian feminist collective in Washington, DC that held that heterosexuality was the root of all oppression. The women wanted to create a communal living situation for radical feminists. The group purchased two houses, where they lived together and used consciousness raising techniques to talk about things like homophobia, feminism, and child rearing. They believed that being a lesbian was a political act, not just a personal one. Brown was exiled from The Furies after a few months and the group dismantled in 1972, a year after its inception.
When asked if she had ever really come out (i.e. as lesbian), she told Time in 2008,
"I don't believe in straight or gay. I really don't. I think we're all degrees of bisexual. There may be a few people on the extreme if it's a bell curve who really truly are gay or really truly are straight. Because nobody had ever said these things and used their real name, I suddenly became the only lesbian in America. It was hysterical. It was a misnomer, but it's okay. It was a fight worth fighting."
Brown also does not consider herself a "lesbian writer" because she believes art is about connection and not about divisive labels. In a 2015 interview for The Washington Post, Brown was asked if she thought awards in gay and lesbian literature were important; she replied:
"I love language, I love literature, I love history, and I'm not even remotely interested in being gay. I find that one of those completely useless and confining categories. Those are definitions from our oppressors, if you will. I would use them warily. I would certainly not define myself -- ever -- in the terms of my oppressor. If you accept these terms, you're now lumped in a group. Now, you may need to be lumped in a group politically in order to fight that oppression; I understand that, but I don't accept it."
Starting in 1973, Brown lived in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles. In 1978, she moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where she lived briefly with American actress, author, and screenwriter Fannie Flagg, whom she had met at a Los Angeles party hosted by Marlo Thomas. They later broke up due to, according to Brown, "generational differences", although Flagg and Brown are the same age.
In 1979, Brown met and fell in love with tennis champion Martina Navratilova. In 1980, they bought a horse farm in Charlottesville where they lived together until their breakup, over Navratilova's then concern that coming out would hurt her application for U.S. citizenship (according to The Washington Post). Brown still lives on the estate in Charlottesville.
The Mrs. Murphy Mysteries include "Sneaky Pie Brown" as a co-author.
"Sister" Jane Mysteries
Mags Rogers Mysteries
While I was enchanted by the animals, mother was often more taken with the people. She was active in the local Republican party and knew everyone. Of course, it's easy to know a lot of people in a small place. Dad was also involved in politics. Cigar in hand, a big smile on his handsome face, he would chat up the town's men as he walked me down to the horse car.
Scroll down to 'View online' to hear the audio of the interview.