Zimmerman, Bonnie 1947-

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ZIMMERMAN, Bonnie 1947-


Born 1947, in Chicago, IL; companion of Berlene Rice. Education: Indiana University, A.B., 1968; State University of New York at Buffalo, Ph.D., 1974.


Office—Department of Women's Studies, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA 92182-8138. E-mail—[email protected].


San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, lecturer in women's studies, 1978-80, associate professor, 1980-83, professor, 1983—. University of California, Los Angeles, visiting associate professor of English, 1983; University of California, San Diego, visiting professor, 1991; San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, associate vice president for faculty affairs, 2003—.


Phi Beta Kappa, 1968.


Community Service Award, Southern California Women for Understanding, 1988; Lambda Literary Award, 1991, for The Safe Sea of Women; Emily Toth Award, 1991, for The Safe Sea of Women; Community Service Award, San Diego Lesbian and Gay Pride, 1995; Positive Visibility Award, San Diego GLAAD, 1996; Award for the Study of Human Rights in North America, Myers Center, 1997, for Professions of Desire; Alumni Award for Outstanding Faculty Contribution to the University, San Diego State University, 2003.


The Safe Sea of Women: Lesbian Fiction 1969-1989, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1990.

(Editor, with George Haggerty) Professions of Desire: Lesbian and Gay Studies in Literature, Modern Language Association (New York, NY), 1995.

(Editor, with Toni A. H. McNaron) The New Lesbian Studies: Into the Twenty-First Century, Feminist Press (New York, NY), 1996.

(Editor) Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia, Garland Publishing (New York, NY), 2000.

Contributor to scholarly journals, including NWSA Journal, Radical Teacher, Feminist Studies, and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.


One of the first openly lesbian professors in academia, Bonnie Zimmerman has been a pioneer in lesbian studies and literary criticism. She has served as a faculty member and frequent chair of the Women's Studies Department at San Diego State University since 1978, where she was active in establishing a Women's Studies major. She has written numerous articles on lesbian issues. Zimmerman is best known for her first book, The Safe Sea of Women: Lesbian Fiction 1969-1989, an overview and analysis of contemporary lesbian fiction.

The Safe Sea of Women discusses the major symbols and structures of most of the more than 200 lesbian novels written in the first twenty years of the gay liberation movement. It is the first critical survey of contemporary lesbian fiction and is among the first to recognize lesbian literature as a genre in its own right. Zimmerman examines the ways in which lesbian literature both mirrors and creates a sense of lesbian identity and community. As she states in her preface, "I view lesbian fiction as the expression of a collective 'myth of origins' with four primary divisions.…: the lesbian self, the lesbian couple, the lesbian community, and community and difference." Zimmerman's book explores how each of these categories has been presented in lesbian fiction since the late sixties. In a review for Feminist Review, Sally Munt explored Zimmerman's work, "It is appropriate that the first book-length genre study should be written by Bonnie Zimmerman, whose article 'What has never been: an overview of lesbian feminist literary criticism' has stood … as a reference point for much subsequent work." Her book is an "overview" and it is "her own felt relation to these texts which makes the book such an engaging read." Munt continued, "Zimmerman avoids universalizing clichés by self-consciously positioning herself as a critic with a specific culture and history.… The Safe Sea of Women is not intended to be 'the' authoritative version of the genre of lesbian fiction, but it is the most distinctly articulate and expressive deciphering of the field." Colleen Lamos wrote in Contemporary Literature that the book is "lucidly written, well organized, and comprehensive." Although Lamos does find strength and weakness in the attempt to address both academics and the "lesbian-on-the-street. Both audiences are likely to be disappointed: the critic will find it simplistic, while the general reader is apt to … go to the fiction itself." Lomas continued, "Although she is embarrassed by the formulaic, even trashy quality of much lesbian fiction, her attention to its audience whetted my appetite for an intensive, reader-response study of lesbian fiction."

Zimmerman joined forces with George Haggerty to edit The Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Histories and Cultures. This encyclopedia was implemented in order to fill the void in homosexual history since there is very little documentation of it before the Stonewall riots of 1969. It is divided into two volumes: Haggerty edited Gay Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia and Zimmerman edited Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia. Greg Harren from the Lambda Book Report described, "It is a huge book … but the pleasures that await the curious, more than make up for its physical awkwardness." Harren praised the accessibility of entries, "Each individual entry is scholarly in tone but readable, nonetheless." The coeditors stated that "the purpose of the encyclopedia is to give scholars a jumping-off point for research" but Harren predicted that "there is a deeper purpose that the editors … might never have imagined for young teenagers struggling with their sexuality who come across this encyclopedia and realize that he or she is not alone."

Phyllis Holman Weisbard, a reviewer from Feminist Collections, praised Zimmerman's book: "A measure of the strength and maturity of lesbian studies, scholarship, and activism so wonderfully captured in Lesbian Histories and Cultures can be taken before reading a single entry, by beginning instead with the biographies of the contributors." Zimmerman and Haggerty maintain that having two separate volumes ensures that lesbian and gay history receive full and unbiased attention. The two volumes are "undoubtedly the first relatively thorough reference work that attempts to survey the complex histories and wide cultural diversity of lesbian and gay life," according to a Booklist critic. The critic continued, "An exceptional group of authors has contributed entries to these volumes, as is evidenced by the treatment of topics." Debra Moore from Library Journal wrote, "These are fine scholarly works that belong in the reference section of every library."

The New Lesbian Studies: Into the Twenty-First Century is a collection of essays from 1982 to 1996; it contains forty essays split into six sections. The volume was edited by Zimmerman and Toni A. H. McNaron. It brings together lesbian classics with a wealth of new and diverse perspectives on teaching, research and institutional survival. The editors included writing by and about women of color, but they also selected essays from a variety of academic disciplines, including anthropology, history, sociology, and psychology. NWSA Journal critic Darcy Plymie observed, "This refreshing variety is one of the strengths of The New Lesbian Studies. Another attribute is the readability and accessibility of the selections." Shane Phelan from Signs wrote, "The volume is impressive in its commitment to the diversity of lesbian lives across lines of race, age, national and historical location, and citizenship status." Neire Mercer, a reviewer for Herizons, wrote, "The New Lesbian Studies weaves a number of themes into its six sections. It looks at the significance of feminism in past, present and future lesbian studies, and the importance of widening the geographical boundaries to include the work of scholars outside North America." She praised the editors with their "outstanding selection of essays" and felt the contributors spoke "with clarity, vision and purpose."



Booklist, September 1, 2000, review of Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia, p. 179.

Contemporary Literature, summer, 1993, Colleen Lamos, review of The Safe Sea of Women: Lesbian Fiction, 1969-1989, pp. 304-13.

Feminist Collections, winter, 2002, Phyllis Holman Weisbard, review of Lesbian Histories and Cultures, pp. 28-30.

Feminist Review, spring, 1992, Sally Munt, review of The Safe Sea of Women, pp. 94-6.

Herizons, March, 2000, Neire Mercer, review of The New Lesbian Studies: Into the Twenty-First Century, pp. 38-9.

Lambda Book Report, February, 2000, Greg Harren, review of The Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Histories and Culture, p. 30.

Library Journal, August, 2000, Debra Moore, review of Lesbian Histories and Cultures, p. 90.

NWSA Journal, summer, 1998, Darcy Plymie, review of The New Lesbian Studies, pp. 143-44.

Signs, winter, 1998, Shane Phelan, review of The New Lesbian Studies, p. 547.*

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