Ann Bannon
Woman of Distinction
Trailblazer Extraordinaire

Ann Bannon and Lori L. Lake, 2006, Atlanta

Ann Bannon has been called the "Queen of Lesbian Pulp" for writing the very first series of lesbian novels. Beginning
with Odd Girl Out in 1957, Ann wrote "true" characters, women who seemed real in their struggle with shame, longing, and isolation as they discovered and dealt with their lesbianism. The picture wasn't always pretty as evidenced by the doubt, confusion, domestic abuse, and bad choices that the main characters, Beth, Laura, and Beebo, often made.

These days, lesbians in the new millenium are sometimes appalled by the circumstances confronted by these 1950s/1960s characters. Many lesbians find the novels bleak or unhappy. But this was fifty years ago when homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness, and lesbians could be arrested or institutionalized merely for loving another woman. In light of the level of hostility and censorship (and even criminal prosecution) back then, the fact that any of Ann Bannon's characters found a modicum of peace and happiness was nearly a miracle.

When Gold Medal Books published Ann's first novel in 1957, nobody had any clue that these well-written books would stand the test of time. They were meant to be throwaway pulp fiction, something to titillate male and female readers, and then be tossed. But all across America, lesbians in small towns -- isolated women trapped in loveless marriages or in lonely spinsterhood -- found these books, and for the first time in their lives, their circumstances were affirmed. There were women like themselves. Their feelings were not insane or socially perverted after all. Bannon's books created a flicker of hope, a brief light in the wilderness.

But it wasn't until the 1970s that lesbian literature found a voice. Naiad Press opened, and an entirely new tradition of lesbian literature gradually came into being. Naiad reprinted Bannon's five lesbian books in 1983, and, after being out of print for a number of years, Cleis Press reprinted them between 2001-2003.

Now retired, Ann Bannon has quietly gone about the world talking about lesbian fiction and lesbian lives both then and now. In 2005, she was the recipient of the first annual Trailblazer Award from The Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS), and she attended the 2006 GCLS convention in Atlanta and gave a riveting keynote speech. I had the honor of spending time with Ann and getting to know her. Though I have found her books to be inspiring and critical to the historically understanding of those "Happy Days," it's the woman herself who amazes the most. She's blessed with boundless energy, a keen, insightful mind, and a fascination for women and the world. She's a national treasure.

A hundred years from now, Ann Bannon will continue to be heralded as the Trailblazer that she is. Long may she - and her work - live!

To visit Ann's website, please Click Here.


With Odd Girl Out, Ann Bannon contributed a new spin on the previously tawdry lesbian pulp fiction genre and in so doing, launched the first lesbian fiction series. The main character, shy and feminine Laura Landon, is bowled over by Beth, her sorority sister. Beth has a strong personality and insists on rooming with Laura, then makes the timid girl her lover. Their tempestuous relationship has many ups and downs, but by the end Laura realizes she is a lesbian. Beth, though, runs away from her feelings, marries a man, and leaves Laura heartbroken.


I AM A WOMAN (1959)

In the second installment of Laura Landon's life, she leaves college heartbreak behind and moves to the lesbian bohemia of Greenwich Village in search of love and a place in the world. In the quintessential coming out story, Laura lives a double life of acting straight at the office where she works by day while frequenting gay bars after hours. She makes friends with gay guys, comes out to her father, and eventually meets Beebo Brinker, a sexy butch woman to whom she declares her love.



The third installment of the series, and the least hopeful, continues the story of Beebo Brinker and Laura Landon. Beebo is now an alcoholic, and she and Laura have anything but an ideal partnership. Their tumultuous and often unhealthy relationship in Greenwhich Village often ends in physical abuse. Laura has an affair, but it ends badly. She eventually leaves Beebo and marries a fellow named Jack Mann (setting up the events told in Bannon's fifth book chronologically, The Marriage). Women in the Shadows includes scenes of the bar raids and other events that served as precursors for the movement in the 1970s that eventually led to the fight for gay rights. The story also tackles interracial romance when that was an unthinkable topic, and the subject of gay and lesbian parenthood, another area to which no one had given a thoughtful treatment up to that point.



In Journey to a Woman, Laura's first girlfriend, Beth, returns to her, having left her husband and children to find her true self. Beth has had a relationship with the sophisticated and beautiful Vega, but it didn't work out because Vega is neither stable nor able to accept her own sexuality. So Beth set out on a quest to find Laura, whom she never forgot. When Beth finds her, she falls, instead, for Laura's girlfriend, Beebo, and the triangle that ensues is full of heartache and drama. Although things end happily for Beth, Vega is driven to insanity by her inability to accept her sexual orientation.



Though this book was written, in terms of the series' timeline, it predates the others and is a prequel. It takes us back to Beebo's early life and her journey from her stifling Wisconsin small town to the gay life in Greenwich Village, New York. We see how she managed to come into her own and buck the prevailing notions of femininity to become the self-possessed butch she turns out to be. Beebo is such a central character in the later books (later chronologically, anyway) in the series, that it's worthwhile to read this one first.



Laura Landon and Jack Mann embark on a marriage made in hell. This is the story of two people living in dread and hiding many secrets about their desire for the forbidden. The wild twilight world they crave is in direct contrast to the agony the live in due to the choices they have made. This is not a novel that the lesbian audience cleaved to, but it does show in stark detail the toll taken upon a woman like Laura to be in a marriage that doesn't suit her personality and orientation. This book is nearly impossible to find these days. It went out of print in the 1960s and has never been reprinted.


To Write Ann,

This site last updated on June 18, 2006

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