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Boyd, Blanche McCrary

BOYD, Blanche McCrary

Born 1945, Charleston, South Carolina married (divorced)

Blanche McCrary Boyd is a novelist, essayist, and writer of short fiction. Her stories take place in the American South, where Boyd was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. Her fiction and nonfiction are known for their humor, but also deal with difficult themes such as drinking and mental instability. Boyd's first book, Nerves (1973), for example, concerns a mother and daughter who are isolated emotionally from each other, even as the mother, Lena, loses her best friend to suicide and begins to go mad.

Boyd's works also feature female characters, often including the protagonist, who are in the midst of addressing their sexuality and dealing with their romantic desires for other women. Mourning the Death of Magic (1977), Boyd's second book-length work of fiction, is about three characters dealing with the ramifications of the civil rights movement, one of whom is unable to come to terms with her own lesbianism.

In 1981 Boyd published a collection of candid essays, many of which had been seen first in the Village Voice, dealing with her departure from and eventual return to the South. The book was called The Redneck Way of Knowledge: Down-Home Tales. The "contemplative and beer-soaked essays," in the words of Library Journal, touch on her leaving Charleston for college at Duke University, her imperfect marriage in the suburbs of California, her life in a commune in Vermont during the 1960s, her relationships with female lovers in New York during the 1970s, and her mixed feelings toward her native South and her gradual acceptance of her heritage and past.

A reviewer in Nation wrote that the book was "a redneck rubberneck tour of the Rockettes, Pope John Paul II at Yankee Stadium, stock car races, a Tough Man contest, the Ku Klux Klan shoot-up of those Commies in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the 1980 Democratic National Convention." The magazine, which praised Boyd's serious articles on violence and politics as "superb," termed the more personal essays "bantamweight" and called the author "a bit of a lesbian tease."

After the publication of The Redneck Way of Knowledge, Boyd stopped drinking and lost the courage to write fiction again for nearly 10 years, during which time she effectively remained in hiding, as she later admitted. Eventually, the editor of the Voice Literary Supplement encouraged her to submit some work, which she did. Three of her stories for the Voice became the first chapters of her novel The Revolution of Little Girls (1991).

The book deals with a protagonist, Ellen Burns, who begins to understand and accept her lesbianism and Southern roots after years of drinking, enduring a poor marriage, getting mixed up in a series of love affairs, going through several career changes, and testing out different lifestyles. Michael Dorris, writing in the New York Times Book Review, said, "A mood of what might be called wise nostalgia permeates this brief novel's nine chapters, most of which could easily stand on their own as short stories…. Just when we think we have identified a somber tone in The Revolution of Little Girls, however, the author springs a scene so funny that we laugh out loud." A reviewer in Publishers Weekly added, "Ellen's story is fascinating and spirited, but hard to grasp, and her experience becomes elusive."

Boyd revisited Ellen Burns in Terminal Velocity (1997), which focuses on Ellen's four years during the 1970s when she was part of the lesbian-feminist movement and called herself Rain. The tale involves Rain's nervous breakdown, eventually leading to electroshock treatments, and drug abuse. Andrea Barnet wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "As it crisscrosses the country, Boyd's story moves from comic high jinks through seduction, betrayal and finally violence with a speed that at times feels dizzying." While noting that the novel was difficult to read at some points but ended up with a redemption of sorts, Barnet continued, "[Boyd's] is a voice that never wavers in its authority or its fierce sexual politics."

In addition to her books and her contributions to the Voice Literary Supplement, Boyd has written essays, reviews, and short stories for publications including Esquire, New York Times Magazine, and Premiere. She has also taught writing at several locations, including at Connecticut College.

Bibliography:

Reference Works:

CA (1998).

Other reference:

Christopher Street (20 Oct. 1991). Ms. (June 1982). NYTBR (30 June 1991, 24 Aug. 1997). PW (16 Apr. 1982, 15 Mar. 1991, 19 May 1997). Nation (19 June 1982).

—KAREN RAUGUST

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