Bright, Susannah 1958-

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BRIGHT, Susannah 1958-

(Susie Bright)

PERSONAL: Born March 25, 1958, in Arlington, VA; companion of Jon Bailiff; children: Aretha. Education: University of CaliforniaSanta Cruz, B.A., 1981; also studied women's studies and theatre at California State University—Long Beach. Religion: "Raised Catholic."

ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 8377, Santa Cruz, CA 95061. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Author, editor, and performer. Known professionally as Susie Bright. International Socialists, organizer, 1975-77; involved with the underground newspaper the Red Tide, c. 1975-77; performance artist in San Francisco, CA, and elsewhere, beginning in the early 1980s; Good Vibrations, clerk, beginning 1981; On Our Backs magazine, founder (with others) and manager, 1983, contributing editor and advertising director c. 1983-84, chief editor, 1984-91; Penthouse Forum, contributing editor and film columnist, 1987-89; San Francisco Review of Books, columnist, 1992-94; member of the advisory board of OUT!, 1995; Penthouse, contributing fiction editor, 1995-96; University of California—Santa Cruz, instructor, 1995—. Columnist for Salon online magazine. Actor in films, including The Grafenberg Spot (video), Mitchell Brothers, 1985; Behind the Green Door, the Sequel [United States], 1986; News at 10 (documentary), 1988; Stripped Bare: Women in the Sex Industry Speak Out, 1988; The Virgin Machine (also known as Die Jungfrauenmaschine), Norddeutscher Rundfunk/Hyane Film, 1988; Kathy (short film), 1989; Peril or Pleasure: Feminism and Pornography, 1989; "Let's Talk about Sex" segment of Erotique, Group One Distribution, 1995; (and technical consultant) Bound, Gramercy Pictures, 1996; and The Celluloid Closet (also known as Gefangen in der Traumfabrik), Sony Pictures Classics, 1996; and Susie Bright, Sex Pest, (documentary), 1998. Involved in the production of films, including Clips and Suburban Dykes. Appeared in television specials, including Reel Sex 8, HBO, 1994; Gay and Lesbian Erotica in the U.S., BBC; Susie Bright Live at Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Community Access Television, 1997; Crescendo, Channel 72, 1999; A Return to Modesty?, Lifetime Television, 1999; and Sex in the 20th Century, History Channel, 2001. Appeared on episodes of television series, including The Phil Donahue Show, syndicated, 1991; and The Joan Rivers Show, syndicated. Appeared in various stage productions, including Dress Codes (solo show), Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA; Porn I've Known and Loved and Even Been Offended By, by Roxie Theatre, 1993 and 1995; also appeared in Girls Gone Bad and Knife Paper Scissors, both produced in the San Francisco, CA, area. Keynote speaker at conferences and delivered the lecture "The Case of Pornography" at the University of California—Santa Barbara Conference on Pornography and Censorship, 1994. Delivered the lecture and film clip presentation "How to Read a Dirty Movie" at various venues, including Cal Arts, Valencia, CA; Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA; San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA; Roxie Theatre, San Francisco, CA; Dobie Theatre, Austin, TX; Collective for Living Cinema, NY; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge; Nuart Theatre, Los Angeles, CA; Pacific Archive of the University of California—Berkeley; University of California—Santa Cruz; Castro Theatre, San Francisco, CA; Berlin Lesbian Film Fest, Berlin, Germany; Hamburg Gay Film Festival, Hamburg, Germany; and Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; all 1987-93. Delivered the lecture and film clip presentation All-Girl Action: The History of Lesbian Erotica at the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Castro Theatre, San Francisco, CA; Gay Film Festival, Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL; Chatham College, Pittsburgh, PA; Hallwalls, Buffalo, NY; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Nuart Theatre, Los Angeles, CA; Amsterdam Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; British Film Institute; University of Washington, Seattle; and at the Castro Theatre; all 1989-92. Lecturer of "Sex in Public: Erotic Expression, Censorship, and Sexual Repression" at Hunter College, City University of New York, New York, NY; State University of New York—Binghamton; Brown University, Providence, RI; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Amherst College, Amherst, MA; Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Yale University, New Haven, CT; Slim's Spoken Word Series, San Francisco, CA; University of Indiana, Bloomington; a Modern Language Association conference; and an American Library Association conference, San Francisco, CA, all 1990-92. Delivered lectures, including "The Bloom in Women's Erotica," Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, Scottsdale, AZ, 1986, and the Institute for the Study of Human Sexuality, San Francisco, CA, 1989; "Sex Educators and Erotica," Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, San Francisco, CA, 1990; "Covering Sex: Sex in the Media," Lesbian/Gay Media Conference, NY, 1993; "Safe Sex for Sex Maniacs," Smith College, Northampton, MA, 1993; "Erotica vs. Pornography," San Francisco Book Fair, San Francisco, CA, 1993 and 1995. Delivered lecture "Sexual State of the Union Address" at the Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Florida State University, Gainesville; Alfred U, Alfred, NY; 92nd Street Y, New York, NY; Antioch College, Yellow Springs, OH; Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA; Wesleyan University; Williams College, Williamstown, MA; Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY; and Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA; all 1993-95, and at the Women's Live Conference; Smith College, 1997; Tulane University, New Orleans, LA; Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 1998; Carnegie Melon, 1999; Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA; MIT, 2000; Williams College; California State University at Chico; Ohio State; Carnegie Mellon; all 2003. Delivered lecture (with Molly Katzen and Harriet Lerner) "Food, Sex, and Relationships," Unity Temple, Kansas City, MO, 1996, released as a sound recording (with an interview) by Sounds True, 1997. Conducted workshops, including "Reading, Writing, and Rethinking Erotica: A Creative Writing Workshop for Women," San Francisco, CA, 1993. Also worked as a bookstore clerk, dishwasher, and waiter.

AWARDS, HONORS: Named reason number twenty-four to love America in the article "Recapture the Flag: Sixty-two Reasons to Love America," Minneapolis City Pages, 1991; Venus Award, 1997, for Good Vibrations; Lambda Literary Award, best photography/art book of the year, 1997, for Nothing but the Girl; New York Press, Best of 1998, Best Sex Columnist, for Salon Magazine's "Sexpert Opinion"; Film/Video of the Year Oscar for British TV, 1999, for Sex Pest; inducted into the X-Rated Hall of Fame, 2003, and named one of the "one hundred visionaries who could change your life" by the Utne Reader.



(Editor) Herotica: A Collection of Women's Erotic Fiction, Down There Press (Burlingame, CA), 1988.

Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World, Cleis Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1990.

(Editor, with Joani Blank) Herotica 2: A Collection of Women's Erotic Fiction, Plume (New York, NY), 1991.

Susie Bright's Sexual Reality: A Virtual Sex World Reader, Cleis Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1992.

(Editor) The Best American Erotica, nine volumes, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1993–2002.

(Author of introduction) Mari Blackman and Trebor Healey, editors, Beyond Definition, Manic D Press (San Francisco, CA), 1994.

(Editor) Herotica 3: An Anthology of Women's Erotic Fiction, Plume (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor) Susie Bright's SexWise: America's X-Rated Intellectual Does Dan Quayle, Catherine MacKinnon, Stephen King, Camille Paglia, Nicholson Baker, Madonna, the Black Panthers, and the GOP, Cleis Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1995.

(Editor) Totally Herotica, Book-of-the-Month-Club (Garden City, NJ), 1995.

(Editor, with Jill Posener) Nothing but the Girl: The Blatant Lesbian Image, Cassell (New York, NY), 1996.

Susie Bright's Sexual State of the Union, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.

Full Exposure: Opening Up to Sexually Creativity and Erotic Expression, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1999.

How to Write a Dirty Story: Reading, Writing, and Publishing Erotica, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.

Mommy's Little Girl: Susie Bright on Sex, Motherhood, Porn, and Cherry Pie, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor) The Best American Erotica 2003, Touchstone (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor) The Best American Erotica 2004, Touchstone (New York, NY), 2004.

(Editor) Susie Bright Presents: Three the Hard Way, Touchstone (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to books, including Forbidden Passages, Cleis Press, 1995; Surface Tension, edited by Meg Daly, Simon & Schuster, 1995; and Virgin Territory, edited by Shar Rednour, Masquerade Books, 1995. Contributor to periodicals, including the Advocate, East Bay Express, Elle, Esquire, Future Sex, In These Times, New York Quarterly, New York Times Book Review, On Our Backs Outword, Penthouse, Penthouse Forum, Playboy, Realist, San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Review of Books, Utne Reader, Village Voice, and the Whole Earth Review. Contributor to and performer in recordings, including Cyborgasm, Heydey/Time Warner, 1994, and The Edge of the Blood, Heydey/Time Warner, 1995.


(With Honey Lee Cottrell) How to Read a Dirty Movie, produced at various venues, 1987–93.

(With Honey Lee Cottrell) All-Girl Action: The History of Lesbian Erotica, produced at various venues, 1989–92.

With Caitlin Morgan and Jeanne Gallo, created the stage productions of Girls Gone Bad and Knife Paper Scissors, both produced in the San Francisco, CA, area.


"Let's Talk about Sex" segment (with Lizzie Borden), Erotique, Group One Distribution, 1995.

SIDELIGHTS: A pioneer in creating women's erotica in a variety of media, Susannah Bright, who writes under the name Susie Bright, has achieved wide popularity. She has also earned critical respect for her wit, intelligence, and positive tone. Bright has created and performed in stage productions, edited anthologies featuring women's erotic literature, written books of commentary on sex, appeared on television talk shows and in films, written a screenplay, and has contributed to publications as diverse as Penthouse Forum, the Village Voice, and the New York Times Book Review. Though Bright's ideas sometimes arouse controversy, many critics consider Bright a positive cultural influence. Jonathan Wald, writing in Gay & Lesbian Biography, noted that Bright's "candid and insightful attitudes have inspired a new public discussion of eroticism and sex."

Bright was born in Arlington, Virginia, in 1958, but also spent her childhood in parts of California and Canada. She began developing her writing skills in high school when she joined the staff of Red Tide, an underground student newspaper. After earning a bachelor's degree at the University of California—Santa Cruz, Bright began working at Good Vibrations, a store specializing in erotic toys, where she organized a feminist erotic video library. At Good Vibrations, Bright also listened to the stories and experiences of customers, amassed a wealth of knowledge on sexual matters, and began to give advice. This experience led her to found and edit On Our Backs, a magazine aimed at a lesbian audience. The magazine includes fiction, essays, and photographs on sexual topics.

Bright joined Penthouse Forum as a feminist critic of pornographic films. Bright's views about pornography have gotten her into trouble with some feminists who argue that pornography degrades women. Despite these attacks, however, Bright has remained pro-porn. She has criticized the male-dominated pornography business, but she maintains that women have a right to create and enjoy erotic images. Bright has fashioned some of these images herself by contributing to the screenplay for the film Erotique and to the production of the films Clips and Suburban Dykes. She has also appeared in many films relating to sex, including News at 10 (a documentary), Stripped Bare: Women in the Sex Industry Speak Out, The Virgin Machine, Peril or Pleasure: Feminism and Pornography, Bound, and The Celluloid Closet.

Bright edited the 1988 Herotica: A Collection of Women's Erotic Fiction, a collection of erotic literature written by women. She also edited Herotica 2: A Collection of Women's Erotic Fiction with Joani Blank and Herotica 3: An Anthology of Women's Erotic Fiction. Pat Murphy, writing in the Whole Earth Review, commented that the first Herotica is "designed to appeal to a variety of tastes" and deemed it "teasing, comic, and ultimately satisfying." Bright's advice columns for On Our Backs were collected and published in Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World. This 1990 book is a mixture of advice and cultural commentary on women's sexuality. Susie Bright's Sexual Reality: A Virtual Sex World Reader includes pieces on topics such as computer sex, sexuality and pregnancy, date rape, and bisexuality. "Bright is funny, flip, irritating, revealing, and observant," wrote Booklist contributor Ryn Etter in a review of Susie Bright's Sexual Reality, as the author addresses "the joys, fears, and confusions of gays, lesbians, bis, and straights alike."

In 1993 Bright edited the first volume of the annual anthology The Best American Erotica and has edited each volume since. Writing in reference to the 2000 volume in Lambda Book Report, Sheryl Fowler remarked, "Perhaps the most surprising thing about this collection is how respectable it is. Real, or apparently real, author names abound, and according to the biographies, erotic writing credits are being placed next to newspaper work and (university) teaching careers." Fowler compared reading erotica to riding a bus: "You're fairly certain it will get you there, you just don't know how fast or in what condition." Fowler went on to say that this anthology "is like traveling by luxury ocean liner, with complimentary champagne, beautiful food, and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery."

A Kirkus Reviews contributor praised The Best American Erotica 2003, the tenth anniversary edition of the series, saying, "Now that the indefatigable impresario has left behind the focus on fetishism and identity politics that made several of her earlier collections seem pat and mechanical, the twenty-three new stories here are less wide-ranging but more heartfelt and emotionally appealing even for readers who may not be gay, lesbian, transgendered, or sadomasochistic themselves." A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that the "enormous range of subjects and styles is what makes the anthology shine, although some of the stories sacrifice good prose for steamy effects."

Susie Bright's SexWise: America's X-Rated Intellectual Does Dan Quayle, Catherine MacKinnon, Stephen King, Camille Paglia, Nicholson Baker, Madonna, the Black Panthers, and the GOP features pieces about each of the people or groups mentioned in the subtitle. It inspired New York Times Book Review contributor Hall Goodman to dub the author "the voice of sweet reason and literacy." Library Journal contributor Scott Johnson praised Bright's "sharp, quick, revealing, [and] insightful" writing in SexWise. Bright later teamed up with Jill Posener to edit Nothing but the Girl: The Blatant Lesbian Image in 1996. The work is "a beautiful, carefully made coffee-table book of erotic images," according to Meryl Altman in the Women's Review of Books, "which also gives a clear yet sophisticated history of lesbian-feminist aesthetic politics over the past couple of decades." Altman praised Bright's introduction as well the book's diversity.

The 1997 book Susie Bright's Sexual State of the Union is an anthology containing pieces of diverse cultural and political content. In a review of the book, a Publishers Weekly contributor stated that "Susie is bright and her knowledge is broad—no one will read this book without learning something." A Kirkus Reviews contributor found that the book offers "insight, rendered with soul and humor, on sex and sexual politics," and called its author "an honest spokes-woman for a thoughtful, inclusive politics of liberation."

In reference to Bright's How to Write a Dirty Story, a Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked that with Bright's extensive experience in the genre, penning a how-to book "is akin to Stephen King or Patricia Cornwell writing about their craft." In the book Bright explains the difference between erotica and porn and discusses the various types of erotica. She recounts each step in writing erotica and discusses how to break into various publishing markets, including finding a literary agent, publishing with small press, or publishing on the Internet. "Despite its far-reaching goals—to encourage more people to write candidly about sex, to end censorship, and to debunk stereotypes about sex and art—the book is organized handily and is accessible," explained the same Publishers Weekly reviewer.

In Full Exposure Bright discusses the role sexuality plays in creative expression and the positive effect eroticism has on lives. She contemplates her own "personal erotic identity" and even ventures into childbearing and parenting. Writing in Library Journal, Kimberly L. Clarke noted that in the book, "Bright is her usual engaging self, offering lucid meditations—and even wisdom—on one of society's most taboo subjects." Critics appreciated Bright's writing style. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described her voice as "earnest, helpful, and American-as-apple-pie even when using profanity to prove points about sexual stereotyping." Another reviewer for the same publication also praised Bright's straightforward approach, noting, "The most refreshing aspect of Bright's breezy, no-holds-barred style is the way she addresses sexual feelings and action in plain English without embarrassment," but voiced that in the end Bright may minimize "more complicated sexual and emotional issues and may seem repetitive to those familiar with her message."

In addition to performing and lecturing throughout the world, Bright has appeared in television specials and on television talk shows, including The Joan Rivers Show and The Phil Donahue Show. Her impact on contemporary attitudes about sexuality, gender roles, and society reaches a diverse audience. Writing in Gay & Lesbian Biography, Jonathan Wald noted that Bright has been identified as "one of America's new power-brokers of gay clout" by Newsweek magazine, while contributors to the Utne Reader have included her among the "one hundred visionaries who could change your life." Margot Mifflin, reviewing Susie Bright's Sexual State of the Union in the New York Times Book Review, observed that "Ms. Bright is the missing link between old-school feminists and their postfeminist heirs. Her writing is sometimes clumsy but generally charming; her ideas are not always profound, but they are often delightfully original."



Gay & Lesbian Biography, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.


Advocate, November 16, 1993, p. 92; August 22, 1995, pp. 102-103; November 12, 1996, pp. 65-67; March 4, 1997, pp. 55-56.

Booklist, July, 1992, p. 1902.

Boston Phoenix, December, 1993.

Curve, February, 2004, Rachel Pepper, review of The Best American Erotica 2004, p. 44.

Future Sex, May, 1993.

Girljock, summer, 1991.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November, 1990.

Guardian, April 17, 1999, Julie Burchill, review of The Best American Erotica 1999, p. 8.

Impact: New Orleans, September, 1995.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1997, p. 108; September 1, 1999, review of Full Exposure: Opening Up to Sexually Creativity and Erotic Expression, p. 118; December 1, 2001, review of The Best American Erotica, p. 1623; November 15, 2002, review of The Best American Erotica 2003: 10th Anniversary Edition, p. 1636; April 15, 2004, review of Three the Hard Way, p. 344.

Lambda Book Report, February, 2000, Sheryl Fowler, "Not Your Mother's Damp Panties," p. 26.

Library Journal, September 15, 1993, p. 108; July, 1995, pp. 104-105; March 1, 1997, p. 91; October 1, 1999, Kimberly L. Clarke, review of Full Exposure, p. 118.

Los Angeles Times Magazine, July 24, 1994.

Minneapolis City Pages, July, 1991.

Mother Jones, February-March, 1990.

Nation, March 29, 1993, pp. 418-420.

New Leader, May 19, 1997, pp. 19-22.

New York Observer, April 4, 1994.

New York Times Book Review, July 16, 1995, p. 20; March 23, 1997, p. 16; November 1, 1999, review of Full Exposure, p. 44; December 12, 1999, Helen Fisher, "Just Do It: Susie Bright, Who Feels That Sex Gets No Respect, Wants Us to Celebrate Our Libidos," p. 44.

People, November 19, 1996.

Playboy, December, 1993, p. 36.

Publishers Weekly, August 21, 1995, p. 59; August 12, 1996, p. 80; January 13, 1997, p. 61; July 12, 1999, review of Full Exposure, p. 84; November 1, 1999, review of Full Exposure (audio book), p. 41; January 10, 2000, review of The Best American Erotica, p. 46; May 7, 2001, review of How to Write a Dirty Story, p. 55; January 21, 2002, review of The Best American Erotica 2002, p. 66; December 16, 2002, review of The Best American Erotica 2003, p. 44; December 15, 2003, review of The Best American Erotica 2004, p. 39.

Rolling Stone, January, 1991.

San Francisco Chronicle, September, 1992; October 7, 2001, Louise Rafkin, "FaceTime," p. 6.

Vanity Fair, February, 1995.

Whole Earth Review, fall, 1986, p. 119; summer, 1992, pp. 97-99.

Windy City Times, June 30, 1994.

Women's Review of Books, March, 1997, pp. 6-8.


Susie Bright Home Page, (March 22, 2004).*