Allison, Dorothy E
ALLISON, Dorothy E
Nationality: American. Born: Greenville, South Carolina, 11 April 1949. Education: Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College), B.A. 1971; New School for Social Research, M.A. Family: Companion of Alix Layman; children. Awards: Lambda Literary awards, 1989 and 1999. Agent: Frances Goldin, 305 East Eleventh Street, New York, New York 10003, U.S.A. Address: Box 112, Monte Rio, California 95462, U.S.A.
Bastard out of Carolina. New York, Dutton, 1992.
Cavedweller. New York, Dutton, 1998.
Trash. Ithaca, New York, Firebrand Books, 1988.
The Women Who Hate Me. Brooklyn, New York, Long Haul Press, 1983.
The Women Who Hate Me: Poetry 1980-1990. Ithaca, New York, Firebrand Books, 1991.
Skin: Talking About Sex, Class and Literature. Ithaca, New York, Firebrand Books, 1994.
Two or Three Things I Know for Sure. New York, Dutton, 1995.
Introduction, The Redneck Way of Knowledge: Down-Home Tales, byBlanche McCrary Boyd. New York, Vintage Books, 1995.
Foreword, My Dangerous Desires by Amber L. Hollibaugh. Durham, North Carolina, Duke University Press, 2000.
Contributor, Lesbian Words: State of the Art, edited by Randy Turoff. New York, Masquerade Books, 1995.
Contributor, Ida Applebroog: Nothing Personal, Paintings 1987-1997 by Ida Applebroog. New York, Distributed Art Publishers, 1998.
Contributor, This Is What Lesbian Looks Like, edited by KrisKleindienst. Ithaca, New York, Firebrand Books, 1999.
Contributor, The Beacon Best of 1999: Creative Writing by Women and Men of All Colors, edited by Ntozake Shange. New York, Beacon Books, 1999.
Contributor, The Mammoth Book of Modern Lesbian Short Stories, edited by Emma Donoghue. New York, Carroll & Graf, 1999.
Contributor, The Vintage Book of International Lesbian Fiction: An Anthology, edited by Naomi Holoch and Joan Nestle. New York, Random/Vintage, 1999.* * *
Dorothy Allison was born in 1949, to a teenage unwed mother in South Carolina. This fact is central to Allison's literary sensibility, which often takes up the themes of illegitimacy and poverty, marginalization and the rebellion it inspires. Like the writer herself, Allison's characters fashion themselves out of their painful circumstances, not in spite of them.
Out of her impoverished and abusive background, Allison made her way to college on a National Merit Scholarship, and by her early twenties she was living in a feminist commune in Tallahassee, Florida. There she began to take her writing seriously, and in 1988 her first book, Trash, a collection of short stories, was published by a small press. Shortly thereafter, a book of poetry, The Women Who Hated Me, appeared and heightened Allison's reputation in the gay and lesbian literary community.
Allison's first mainstream success came with Bastard Out of Carolina, which was well received by critics and was nominated for the National Book Award. It was also optioned and produced as a TV-movie, though not without controversy. The incest and violence at the narrative core of Bastard frightened off some broadcast executives, but the movie did eventually air on cable television.
A semi-autobiographical novel, Bastard Out of Carolina centers around a young girl, Ruth Anne ("Bone") Boatwright, growing up as "poor white trash" in the small-town South of the 1950s. In addition to her decidedly Southern gift for colorful and resonant dialogue, Allison's characterization drives the novel. We meet the Boatwright aunts, uncles, and cousins and through them Allison convincingly constructs a microcosm through which to view, and to understand, the deeper psychologies of dispossession and violence. The signs of rural poverty—a surfeit of liquor, sex, and quarreling—are there, to be sure, but Allison probes beneath the conventional shorthand to show us "the poor" as people rather than an abstraction. Even more important, and chillingly, she also de-abstracts incest, bringing to the scenes between Bone and her stepfather, Daddy Glen, a disturbingly convincing realism.
Allison's fiction fits well into the category somewhat narrowly defined as Southern Gothic, and she counts one of the style's foremost progenitors, Flannery O'Connor, as her most important literary ancestor. But Allison's sensibility in fact relates to two broad strands in American literature: the first, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, and what she calls "the whole critical tradition of southern outlaw writers, the queer, disenfranchised and expatriate novelists"; and the second, contemporary working-class novelists such as Sapphire, Terry McMillan, and Jewelle Gomez and work that otherwise shares Allison's feminist preoccupations—the poetry of Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich, for instance. Indeed, it is not surprising that Allison the novelist would turn to poetry for inspiration. Her prose often reaches the lyrical decibels, and she has said that her novels and stories sometimes begin as poems that, through the editing process, unfold themselves into narrative strands.
In her second novel, Cavedweller, Allison leaves behind the autobiographical impulse of Bastard and invents the story of Delia Byrd, a rock-n-roller who escapes domestic violence and makes it to California, only to return to Cayro, Georgia, a decade later to struggle with alcoholism and craft a new life. Cavedweller is an epic narrative that traces familiar themes in Allison's work—especially maternal love and spiritual hunger.
Allison is also the author of a collection of essays, Skin, and a memoir adapted from a performance piece, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure.
—Michele S. Shauf
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