After World War II the paperback book trade accelerated.
Paper made of low-quality wood pulp and the books' lurid cover art
connoted genre trash titles for a disposable market. But the industry
also created a niche for cheap reprints of reputable works.
In the estimation of later lesbian feminist critics, a few lesbian
genre writers stand out from the mass. Illinois natives Ann Bannon of
Joliet and Valerie Taylor of Oswego garnered loyal followings.
Bannon, nom de plume of Ann Weldy, a married academic at the time,
published five lesbian novels in the 1950s--the first, after only one
visit to a Greenwich Village gay bar. Bannon created the
quintessential "butch" character, Beebo Brinker. Bonnie Zimmerman in
The Safe Sea of Women: Lesbian Fiction, 1969-1989 (1989) and others
suggest that Brinker's swaggering attitude not only became the
stereotypical perception of "butches" but also determined the
behavior of a generation of gay women.
Valerie Taylor used the proceeds of her first novel to obtain a
divorce from an abusive husband and moved with her three boys to
Chicago, the setting for several of her lesbian novels. Taylor, nom
de plume of Velma Tate, sold more than 2 million copies of her first
lesbian title, Whisper Their Love (1957). Five of her novels featured
some of the same characters. Taylor wrote for The Ladder (1958-1972),
the magazine of the first U.S. lesbian rights organization, the
Daughters of Bilitis.
Another notable "trash" writer of the period was Chicagoan Paul
Little, who wrote genre fiction (including lesbian fiction) under at
least a dozen names, according to his obituary.
European bestsellers such as the questionable Radclyffe Hall
classic, The Well of Loneliness (1928), which postulated homosexuals
as a "third sex," and Elisabeth Craigin's Either Is Love (1937), with
its total acceptance of bisexuality, were reprinted as paperbacks.
In 1972 Anyda Marchant and her partner Muriel Crawford incorporated
as Naiad Press, self-publishing two novels written under Marchant's
nom de plume Sarah Aldridge.
The women soon pooled resources with Barbara Grier (who under the
pseudonym Gene Damon had retained The Ladder's mailing list as its
last publisher) and with Grier's partner, Donna McBride, and the most
successful lesbian press to date began. The new joint venture was
coordinated out of the Missouri home of the latter couple. The
initial Naiad brochures were printed by Chicago's Womanpress, and
early titles including Jeannette Howard Foster's translation of Renee
Vivien's Une femme m'apparut (A Woman Appeared to Me) were printed
at Salsedo Press, a Chicago printer for progressive causes. Books by
Bannon, Taylor, Mary Renault, Patricia Highsmith and others would be
reprinted in the 1980s by the Naiad Press. Taylor would continue to
write novels until her death in 1997.
Copyright 2008 by Marie J. Kuda
From Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay
Community, edited by Tracy Baim, Surrey Books, 2008.