Join us in exploring Marijane Meaker’s legacy


Marijane Meaker, the author that pioneered the lesbian genre that we know today, passed away on 21 November this year. Her novel Spring Fire, published in 1952 under the pseudonym Vin Packer, created the genre of lesbian pulp fiction that gave a voice to thousands of silenced women.

Seventeen years before events like Stonewall would begin to bring gay liberation to America’s streets, Marijane brought lesbian struggles into the hands of readers. Spring Fire told the story of college freshman Susan who fell in love with her sorority sister, Leda, and was based on Marijane’s own experience at boarding school in Virginia. The book alone sold 1.5 million copies and laid the foundations for other lesbian writers such as Ann Bannon and Valerie Taylor to follow.

Marijane would then go on to write a prolific number of novels under a variety of pseudonyms. Using M.E Kerr she wrote young adult novels such as Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! (1972) which dealt with adolescent struggles such as body image and negligent parents. Under Ann Aldrich she detailed lesbian life in Greenwich Village in non fiction books such as We Walk Alone (1955). She even wrote children’s books under the pseudonym Mary James such as Shoebag (1990) about a cockroach that turns into a boy.

But one of the books she wrote under her own name was Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s (2003). During the 1950s, Meaker had a two-year relationship with canonical author Patricia Highsmith who wrote works like The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Price of Salt. They met in a lesbian bar in Greenwich Village in their mid-30s, and in a 2003 interview with NPR she described how she saw “Pat” as “a handsome, dark-haired woman in a trench coat, drinking gin, stood at the bar”. Despite the tumultuous nature of their relationship, they remained in contact until Patricia’s death.

While Marijane’s cult classic Spring Fire set forth a precedent of lesbian writing that followed her, when the publisher Cleis Press asked to re-release it in 2004 Meaker was hesitant. At the time of its publication, it was standard to provide lesbian novels with unhappy endings to avoid censorship. Despite their college love affair, Spring Fire ends with Susan having a “hetrosexual awakening” realising she never loved her friend while Leda ends up in a mental institution after a drunk driving incident.

“The unhappy endings were hilarious. I mean, I look at them; I can’t believe I wrote them,” Marijane said to NPR. “When you’re writing these things, you don’t have any vision of the future, of there even being there or discussed in the future. I was delighted to get my first book published. And if that was the rule, well, I was willing to follow it.”

She was lauded as a brilliant writer throughout her career, earning her a number of awards such as the ALA Margaret A. Edwards Award in 1993 for her young adult fiction under M.E. Kerr. The Young Adult Library Services Association championed her as “a pioneer in realistic fiction for teenagers”. Her writing portfolio is made up of nearly 60 titles that span at least six different pseudonyms.

Marijane was born in Auburn, New York in 1927, and despite moving to Virginia, Vermont, and Missouri, she was a New Yorker at heart. She died at home in East Hampton after a cardiopulmonary arrest at the age of 95.

So before there was Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit or Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo, there was Marijane Meaker – one of the first lesbian pulp fiction writers to bring sapphic love stories to the masses.

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