Guess, Carol (A.) 1968-

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GUESS, Carol (A.) 1968-


Born January 3, 1968, in Bethesda, MD; daughter of Harry (an epidemiologist) and Geraldine (an English as a second language teacher; maiden name, Graflund) Guess. Ethnicity: "White." Education: Columbia University, B.A. (English), 1990; Indiana University, M.A. (English), 1993, M.F.A. (poetry), 1994, A.B.D. (English), 1994. Hobbies and other interests: Lesbian and gay activism.


Office—Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225. E-mail[email protected].


Aquarius Feminist Bookstore, Bloomington, IN, volunteer, 1991-95; Indiana University, Bloomington, associate instructor of English, 1991-95, associate instructor in the Division of Extended Studies, 1993, associate instructor of women's studies, 1995-96; Columbus State Community College, Columbus, OH, adjunct faculty member, 1996-97; Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, assistant professor of English, 1997-98; Western Washington University, Bellingham, associate professor of English, 1998—. Midwestern Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Writers panel discussion, Barnes and Noble bookstore, Bloomington, IN, member of panel, 1996; Ohio Lesbian Festival, Kirkersville, OH, workshop participant, 1997; delivered a number of presentations and readings; also appeared on radio programs.


Seeing Dell (novel), Cleis Press (San Francisco, CA), 1996.

Switch (novel), Calyx Books (Corvallis, OR), 1998.

Gaslight (memoir), Odd Girls Press (Anaheim, CA), 2001.

Femme's Dictionary (poetry collection), Calyx Books (Corvallis, OR), 2004.

Contributor to books, including Third Wave Agenda: Gender, Feminism, Contradiction, edited by Jennifer Drake and Leslie Heywood, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1997; The Ghost of Carmen Miranda and Other Spooky Gay and Lesbian Tales, Alyson Publications (Los Angeles, CA), 1998; and Love Shook My Heart: New Lesbian Love Stories, edited by Irene Zahava, Alyson Publications, 1998. Contributor to periodicals, including Anything That Movies, Arts Journal, Bakunin, Bay Windows, Birmingham Poetry Review, Blackwater Review, Blue Violin, Encodings, Epicenter Gerbil, Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, Hiram Poetry Review, Icon, Ilya's Honey Indiana Review, Interim, Journal of the American Medical Association, Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, Lesbian and Gay Studies Newsletter, Mankato Poetry Review, No Exit, Poetry Motel, Poetry Northwest, Potato Eyes, Red Cedar Review, and Sulphur River Literary Review.


A collection of poetry and prose fragments titled Love Is a Map I Must Not Set on Fire; a novel.


Author of the novels Seeing Dell and Switch, as well as a memoir and a collection of poetry, Carol Guess started writing fiction after earning a master of fine arts degree in poetry. While establishing her academic career, Guess initially wrote short stories, and has more recently begun working in the longer novel form. In addition to alternating between writing poetry and writing novels, she is a tenured associate professor of creative writing and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender studies at Western Washington University.

Some reviewers have detected a theme of abandonment in Guess's novels, and the author herself notes the constant moving that was part of her childhood—her family moved eight times before her fourteenth birthday. As she noted in an interview published in BiWomen: "I don't feel as if I have a geographical "home"; I'm not sure I ever will. My family tended to be very isolated. I grew up feeling very isolated, at times reveling in that isolation, at times resenting and fearing it."

Guess's youthful sense of isolation diminished when she developed an avid interest in dancing. As a high school student, she developed anorexia, but in graduate school, Guess was finally able to control this disorder. Around this time, her writing blossomed, and she also came out as a lesbian. "Coming out was not only about discovering my sexual identity," Guess stated in a profile posted on the Calyx Books Web site, "but also about accepting my body and shedding light on secrets, to speak and write about things that have been silenced."

Another prevalent theme in Guess's novels is the diversity of her characters' sexual orientation and expression. As the author has explained, her novel Switch is part of her ongoing effort to show how "people's desires and needs and sexualities are very, very wide-ranging. Attempting to categorize them is really futile." She added: "Most people's desires—if they're honest with themselves—are odd. There's no such thing as 'normal.'" Guess's novels demonstrate this theme not only through their content but also through their style. Multiple characters narrate the books, and Guess's texts are structured in episodes instead of through a dominant plot. This way, the novels focus more on constantly shifting perspectives rather than a series of chronological events.

The central character of Switch is Caddie Sue Ruby, a woman motivated by her brother's untimely death. She goes in search of "something worth dying for," wrote Victoria A. Brownworth in the Lambda Book Report, and ends up waiting tables at the M & H Diner in Cartwheel, Indiana. At the center of Caddie's new life is her relationship with Jo, a woman posing as a man. Only Caddie knows Jo's secret, and keeping it requires enormous energy on her part. Although the secret is a burden to Caddie, Jo's departure is much harder for her to bear. Other key characters in Switch include Selena and Bobby, Caddie's coworkers at the diner, and Sean, whose monologue concludes the novel.

Guess published her memoir, Gaslight, in 2001. Described by Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide contributor Hanna Bordas as "part memoir and part novel," Gaslight skirts around the facts. Guess admittedly includes deliberate misstatements along with the truth about her life, and highlights some of these misstatements by changes in font within the book's text. The narrator reflects on her Southern roots, her experiences with anorexia, the beginning of her life as a writer, and her youthful insecurities, yet also sets these incidences within a larger framework. "In addition to inquiring after the truths about her family and the complications of being someone who must, as a writer, 'lie for a living,' Guess explores larger lies which have permeated American culture," noted Amanda Laughtland in her review for the Lambda Book Report. Laughtland found much to admire in Guess's fragmentary work, citing the author's resistance to conforming to a chronology as a means of representing her life, and added that while Gaslight "defies tidy categorization," it also "offers a rich and multilayered reading experience." As Bordas concluded: "Perhaps the best approach would be to read Gaslight …as fiction and allow the author's mastery at storytelling to carry her along."



BiWomen, February-March, 1998.

Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, July-August, 2002, Hanna Bordas, review of Gaslight, p. 44.

Lambda Book Report, September, 1998, pp. 16-18; May, 2002, Amanda Laughtland, review of Gaslight, p. 16.

Library Journal, July, 1998, p. 136.


Calyx Books Web site, (January 27, 1999), "Carol Guess."