Grahn, Judy

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Nationality: American. Born: Judith Rae Grahn, Evergreen, Illinois, 28 July 1940. Education: New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, 1958–59; Raton Community College, New Mexico, 1959; Washington School of Medical Techniques, Washington, D.C., 1961; Montgomery Junior College, Takoma Park, Maryland, 1962–63; Howard University, Washington, D.C., 1963–65; San Francisco State University, B.A. in women's studies 1984; California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, 1994–99, Ph.D. in integral studies 1999. Family: Has lived with Kristine Brandenburger since 1986. Career: Since 1985 instructor, and since 1998 co-director and professor, M.A. programs, New College of California, San Francisco. Taught at Stanford University, Stanford, California, spring 1986, and at California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, 1995–96. Conducts writing and spirituality workshops. Awards: Poem of the Year award, American Poetry Review, 1979, for A Woman Is Talking to Death; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1980; American Book award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1983, for The Queen of Wands; Gay Book of the Year award, American Library Association, 1985, for Another Mother Tongue; Women of Words award, Women's Foundation, San Francisco, 1985; Lambda Book award for nonfiction, 1988, for Really Reading Gertrude Stein; Pioneer Gay Writer award, Outlook Foundation, 1989; Lifetime Achievement in Lesbian Letters, Bill Whitehead award, Publisher's Triangle, 1995; Thanks Be to Grandmother Winifred Foundation grant, 1996. Address: c/o Beacon Press, 25 Beacon Street, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.



The Common Woman Poems. Privately printed, 1969.

Edward the Dyke: And Other Poems. Oakland, California, Women's Press Collective, 1971.

She Who. Oakland, California, Women's Press Collective, 1973.

A Woman Is Talking to Death. Oakland, California, Women's Press Collective, 1974.

The Work of a Common Woman. Oakland, California, Diana Press, 1978.

The Queen of Wands. Freedom, California, The Crossing Press, 1982.

Descent to the Roses of the Family. Iowa City, Iowa, Iowa City Women's Press, 1986.

The Queen of Swords. Boston, Beacon Press, 1987.

Recordings: Where Would I Be without You, The Poetry of Pat Parker and Judy Grahn, Olivia Records, 1975; Lesbian Concentrate, Olivia Records, 1978; March to the Mother Sea: Healing Poems for Baby Girls Raped at Home, Lavender Rose Productions, 1990; A Woman Is Talking to Death and Other Poems by Judy Grahn, Watershed, 1991; A Menarche Ritual, Kerala, South India, Serpentina Productions, 1998; Green Toads of the High Desert, WIND, 1999.


The Cell (produced Antioch College, Ohio, 1968).

She Who (produced Los Angeles and San Francisco, 1974).

Queen of Wands (produced Ithaca, New York, 1985; London, 1986).

Queen of Swords (produced San Francisco, 1988).

March to the Mother Sea (produced Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, 1989).


Mundane's World. Freedom, California, The Crossing Press, 1989.


Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds. Boston, Beacon Press, 1983; revised edition, 1990.

The Highest Apple: Sappho and the Lesbian Poetic Tradition. San Francisco, Spinster's Ink, 1985.

Really Reading Gertrude Stein. Freedom, California, The Crossing Press, 1989.

Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World. Boston, Beacon Press, 1993.


Critical Studies: "The Re-Vision of the Muse: Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Judy Grahn, Olga Broumas" by Mary Carruthers, in Hudson Review, summer 1983; "Judy Grahn: Creating a Gay and Lesbian Mythology" by Steve Abbott, in Advocate, September 1984; Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America by Alice Suskin Ostriker, Boston, Beacon Press, 1986; "Judy Grahn's Gynopoetics: 'The Queen of Swords'" by Sue-Ellen Case, in Studies in the Literary Imagination, fall 1988; The Safe Sea of Women by Bonnie Zimmerman, Boston, Beacon Press, 1990; "Judy Grahn and the Lesbian Invocational Elegy: Testimonial and Prophetic Responses to Social Death in 'A Woman Is Talking to Death'" by Margot Gayle Backus, in Signs, summer 1993; in Forms of Expansion: Recent Long Poems by Women by Lynn Keller, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1997; Lesbian Identity Poetics by Linda Garber, New York, Columbia University Press, 2000.

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When critic Margaret Cruikshank notes that Judy Grahn's poetic language has "a rhetorical drive [that] draws on oral traditions of poetry—biblical, Black, beat, and protesting…," she implicitly connects Grahn with that long tradition of American poetry written by outsiders. In this case Grahn is a lesbian feminist outsider interested in writing about her own experiences in language direct, unabashed, and celebratory. By reworking familiar sexual categories and histories, by rewriting etymology and mythology, and by reclaiming women's experiences as a subject fit for poetry, Grahn ultimately succeeds in revising the American poetic tradition as a whole.

In Grahn's book Edward the Dyke, Edward enters a women's bathroom at a department store and shocks three housewives there who mistake her for a man. Laying the groundwork for Grahn's lifelong poetic project of familiarizing readers with outsiders like herself by reinventing the categories of sex, gender, sexual identity, and class so that they are more inclusive, Edward the Dyke introduces the central preoccupation of Grahn's subsequent poems—making visible the wide variety of lesbian experience. By talking about lesbian experience in a voice so accessible, candid, and matter of fact, Grahn widens the scope of American poetry to include the voices and experiences of working-class lesbians like herself.

In "Beauty, sleeping (who shall wake us)" Grahn writes of the importance of women writers claiming their own voices and topics:

   Who shall wake us
   if we don't ourselves
   shake loose the sleep
   of ages, animate the doll
   at last and bid her
   rise, and move and rule.

In her introductory remarks to The Queen of Wands, a book of poetry whose title derives from tarot cards and whose subject is Helen of Troy and other lost queens of history, Grahn explains that she was "just going somewhere with the idea of using lyric poetry to express herstoric narration: women's stories." In The Common Woman Poems, Edward the Dyke, She Who, and A Woman Is Talking to Death Grahn imagines a woman's alternative poetic tradition.

All of Grahn's work—poetry, fiction, and nonfiction alike—articulates women's experiences (from menstruation to lesbian love-making) and explores traditional myths and tales so that they encom-pass contemporary experience. She is preoccupied with the metaphors of weaving, websters, spinsters, and spiders, and her poetic vocabulary and figurative language invite comparison with the best of those poets who write from outside the margins about unlikely survival. Grahn says, "For language is a form of weaving too, a clothing our ideas wear, a glowing flesh they are made of, a heart that beats in them."

As Grahn explains in her nonfiction prose work Another Mother Tongue, by familiarizing readers with words like "dyke" she "defuses the terror people have of the word." By rewriting literary traditions, contriving new etymologies, and inventing new terms, Grahn fosters a lesbian aesthetic also employed by other writers like Mary Daly, who likewise invents a diction that serves as an alternative to the traditional tongue of the father. Grahn writes in a language that is largely simple and plain and that in works like The Common Woman Poems celebrates the experiences of working-class women, including mothers, lesbians, prostitutes, and waitresses. When Grahn's work is read in the context of other lesbian writers of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, we can see a shared project of excavation (as in Adrienne Rich's Diving into the Wreck), reinvention of language (Daly's Gyn/Ecology), and manifesto against silence (Marilyn Hacker's Going Back to the River and Audre Lourde's Cancer Journal Poems). Grahn writes in The Queen of Wands,

   …Oh womb, cell Spinster,
   as you know
   the only real production is love.
   I mean the ties between all unlike beings,
   minute connections on
   the message line, the one continuous knotty cord
   (oh spider webster) wrapping us together.

—Sarah Sloane