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Writer Ann Bannon

Bannon (pseudonym) has written a number of lesbian pulp fiction books, including Odd Girl Out, I Am a Woman and Journey to a Woman. Bannon went on to become a college dean, and has kept her identity a secret. This interview first aired Dec. 8, 1999.


Other segments from the episode on August 25, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 25, 2003: Interview with Ann Bannon; Interview with Marijane Meaker; Review of Hem's debut album "Rabbit songs."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Ann Bannon discusses her lesbian pulp fiction novels,
written in the 1950s and '60s

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

It's book week on FRESH AIR. Throughout the week we'll be hearing from the
authors of all sorts of books. Today two authors of lesbian pulp novels of
the '50s.

Ann Bannon is the pen name of one of the most popular and highly regarded
writers of lesbian pulp. Her six novels, published between 1957 and '63 are
"Odd Girl Out," "Women in the Shadows," "I Am a Woman," "Journey to a Woman,"
"The Marriage" and "Beebo Brinker." According to The Bloomsbury Guide to
Women's Literature, Bannon's character, Beebo Brinker, has come to personify
the 1950s bar butch and her ongoing search for true love.

Bannon was a wife and mother when she wrote these books. She later returned
to college, got a PhD in language and linguistics and became a dean at a
California state university. Now retired, she's still uncomfortable revealing
her real name when making public appearances as Ann Bannon. In fact, she kept
her identity secret until the feminist publisher Naiad Press tracked her down
when reprinting her books in the mid-1980s.

I spoke with Bannon in 1999 after the publication of the book "Strange
Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction," for which Bannon wrote the
foreword. I asked what inspired her to write her first lesbian novel.

Ms. ANN BANNON (Author): I was inspired by reading a few of them myself. I
actually had the experience that so many women have written about in the
subsequent years of going into a drugstore and furtively poking around on the
kiosks that held the paperback books. And one of them was by a young New York
writer who was writing under the name of Vin Packer. And her books were
contemporary and sort of college-based. Very new, but it aroused a lot of
intense feelings in me.

I read the books. It was very hard to buy them too, let me tell you, it is
scary to walk up to a drugstore counter with your arms full of lesbian
paperbacks and survive the stare from the clerk, pull yourself together, buy
them and walk out with your head held high, and then figure out where to stash
them when you get home. It's all a bit scary. But as I read them, I came to
think that I can do this, I can write about this. I had absolutely no
experience, but I had the feelings and I had the drive and I knew I could

So I had an old typewriter. It had been through fire, flood and earthquake,
and I set it up. I was a newlywed and occasionally my husband would look over
my shoulder and say, `What is that?' And I typed on looking neither to the
left or the right. And within a few months I had a manuscript. But being
nervous and uncertain and very new to this and very young--21--and since I
didn't know any publishers, I didn't know any agents, I sent this book--I sent
notice of it, anyway--to Vin Packer. And I said, `Is there any possibility
you can help me out?' And she said, `Come to New York, bring your manuscript,
I'll introduce you to my editor.'

GROSS: What happened when you actually met the editor?

Ms. BANNON: Well, I got to New York, her name actually is Marijane Meaker,
and Marijane--Vin Packer, Marijane--took me to meet her editor at Gold Medal
Books. And he was sort of a jolly Irishman, very savvy in paperback
publishing, very clever and successful. And I walked in with this massive
manuscript, it was about five inches thick, but I handed it over to him. He
read it very quickly--in a couple of days--he handed it back to me, and he
said, `Take this thing home and rewrite it and concentrate on the two young

Well, I had written a college novel in which I had a standard college romance,
but I also had two young girls who were roommates, and in the course of the
story they had become very intense about one another to the point of actually
physically exploring each other and making love, as it wound up. But at the
end one of the two opted for the classic, traditional college romance and
married the fraternity boy. And so the editor said, `Throw that out. Your
story is the two girls.' And that threw me for a loop, because I really
thought I had been very subtle about all this, and that somehow that would go
unnoticed and the traditional romance would be the part that everybody would

So I pulled up my socks, I went back to Philadelphia, and I rewrote the book
around two young women named Beth and Laura, and brought it back much slimmed
down and with the two young women as the heart of the story. And the editor,
Dick Carrol, said, `This is it.'

GROSS: And this was the novel "Odd Girl Out."

Ms. BANNON: This was the novel "Odd Girl Out," in which, by the way, you will
not find the word lesbian, because I didn't know it.

GROSS: I have a copy of the Gold Medal paperback in front of me...

Ms. BANNON: Oh, where did you ever find...

GROSS: ...sold at the time for 50 cents.

Ms. BANNON: ...yeah.

GROSS: And it says, `"Odd Girl Out," a confession of a shocking and forbidden
love.' Is that how you thought of it?

Ms. BANNON: No. I thought it was a little bit unusual, but I didn't think
of it as shocking or forb--well, forbidden, maybe, in the sense that one
wouldn't ordinarily shout it from the rooftops as one might if one had a
conventional love affair. I did feel that it was rare and odd. I hadn't
quite gotten to the point of provoking a reaction in enough people to realize
how far afield I had gone with this.

GROSS: You were a newlywed when you wrote "Odd Girl Out." You must have been
going through some pretty confusing feelings. Your heart was in this lesbian
novel you were writing you were newly married to a guy. So it must have been
a confusing time for you?

Ms. BANNON: Yes indeed, it was. You know, my whole family had always been
very traditional. It was a long marriage, too, and I felt that I owed that to
my husband and my--we did have two children. My mother had soldiered on
through difficult times, her mother had soldiered on. I thought that was how
one carried the flag for womanhood, you had to do these things. But it was
bewildering. I think must have known from the age of six when I fell in love
with the Statue of Liberty that I wasn't going to be like ordinary kids. It
gives you a clue.

GROSS: What was it like after writing a novel and envisioning what the
characters look like to then see the covers that the art directors put on the
books? Now these were pulps, these were novels that were sold, in part, by
having sometimes lurid covers or very suggestive covers. Tell us about...

Ms. BANNON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...the--describe one or two covers from your novels.

Ms. BANNON: Oh, heavens. Well, two things you have to understand. We were
not allowed to choose our titles and we were not allowed to choose our covers.
And it was a dismaying experience at first, until I came to realize that the
lesbians who were looking for these books had learned to read the covers
symbolically, or iconically. That if there were two women on the cover--and
particularly if one was blonde and one was brunette--and, even more, if one
was standing up and one was lying down--that was sort of a code. You could
read that as a possible lesbian novel, and it would only take a few words of
come-on, such as `twilight love,' or `strange love,' or `society rejects me'
or, you know, these code phrases, and you had struck pay dirt. That was the
kind of thing you learned to look for.

So after a while you got past resentment of the total inappropriateness of the
women on the covers and you sort of welcomed them, because you knew that they
were a way of making the covers, let's say, saleable.

GROSS: My guest is Ann Bannon, the author of several lesbian pulp novels of
the '50s. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Ann Bannon. She wrote several lesbian pulp novels in the
'50s and early '60s, including "Odd Girl Out" and "Beebo Brinker." I asked
her to read from her 1959 novel, "I Am a Woman," and to set the scene for us.

Ms. BANNON: This is a passage from the second novel I wrote, "I Am a Woman."
And it's set in a Greenwich Village bar. The central character is Beebo
Brinker and, in fact, this is where we first meet her. And the character with
whom she's deeply involved is Laura, who's quite new to all this, a little
afraid of where she is and who she's with, and feeling rather sad because she
has a crush on her roommate. So she's come to the bar to forget her troubles,
and runs into this somewhat phenomenal woman who is showing intense interest
in her, which disorients Laura slightly. She's a little afraid to talk to
Beebo. So Beebo tries to reassure her.

`"You don't need to tell me about it," Beebo went on, "because I already know.
I've lived through it, too. You fall in love, you're young, inexperienced,
what the hell? Maybe you're a virgin even. You fall up to your ears and
there's nobody to talk to, nobody to lean on, you're all alone with that great
big miserable feeling and she's driving you out of your mind every time you
look at her, every time you're near her. Finally you give in to it, and she's

`She said the last word with such acid sharpness that Laura jumped. "End of
story," Beebo added. "End of soap opera, beginning of soap opera, that's all
the Village is, honey, just one crazy little soap opera after another, like
Jack says. All tangled up with each other, one piled on top of the next, ad
infinitum. Mary loves Jane loves Joan loves Jean(ph) loves Beebo loves

`She stopped and grinned at Laura. "Doesn't mean a thing," she said, "it goes
on forever. Where one stops another begins." She looked around the bar with
Laura following her gaze. "I know most of the girls in here," she said, "I've
probably slept with half of them. I've lived with half of the half I've slept
with. I've loved half of the half I've lived with. What does it all come
to?" She turned to Laura, who was caught with her fascinated face very close
to Beebo's.

`She started to back away, but Beebo's arm around her waist tightened and kept
her close. "You know something, baby? It doesn't matter. Nothing matters.
You don't like me, and that doesn't matter. Someday, maybe, you'll love me,
and that won't matter either. Because it won't last, not down here. Not
anywhere in the world if you're gay. You'll never find peace, you'll never
find Love--with a capital L."

`She took a drag on her cigarette and let it flow out of her nostrils. "L for
love," she said, "looking into space. L for Laura." She turned and smiled at
her a little sadly. "L for lust, and L for the 'ell of it. L for lesbian, L
for let's. Let's," she said, and blew smoke softly into Laura's ear.'

GROSS: That's Ann Bannon reading an excerpt of her novel "I Am a Woman."

The covers of your book are reprinted in the new book "Strange Sisters," so
let me read one of the covers of the book. This was the original cover for
your book "Beebo Brinker." And it says, `Lost, lonely, boyishly appealing.
This is Beebo Brinker who never really knew what she wanted until she came to
Greenwich Village and found the love that smolders in the shadows of the
twilight world.'

So we've got...

Ms. BANNON: That sort of captures it all.

GROSS: ...smoldering in the shadows, the twilight world, boyishly--oh, and
then, she's wearing like a skirted suit and sensible shoes and she's holding,
like, a wicker valise, standing on the corner of Gay Street and there's a sign
pointing one way.

Ms. BANNON: Yes. It was pretty ham-handed symbolism. They left nothing to
chance. And, of course, Beebo as pictured there--I mean, that girl, if she
came eyeball-to-eyeball with my Beebo would have turned around and run
screaming down Gay Street in the wrong direction.

GROSS: Why, what did you imagine your Beebo looking like?

Ms. BANNON: I imagined her in jeans and a blazer and a turtleneck with her
hair short, and a big girl. I mean she'd been working on the farm all her
life pitching hay bales and riding horses, you know, very sturdy person--big
person. And not somebody with a model slim figure wearing bobby socks, and
even the sensible shoes don't cut it. I'm looking at it, too, I've got it
open here. Pink lettering, beautifully coiffed hair, it's just--you know.

I think what happened was that the editors sat the artists down and they said,
`Now we want a pretty young woman and it's OK if she looks a little bit like a
tomboy, but don't go too far overboard, because we really have two
constituencies for these books. One is the women, and they'll but it anyway,
and the other is the men, and that's who have to appeal to. The women don't
care what the covers look like, they just want to find the right books and
they'll read the code phrases and grab them off the shelves. The guys want to
find a woman who would be titillating to watch making love to another woman.'
I really think that was the guiding artistic principle--if it can be called
that--that underlay the cover art on a lot of these.

GROSS: Now I want to ask you more about the life you were living while you
were writing, you know, these lesbian pulp novels. You know, you were
married, you got your PhD in linguistics from, I think, Stanford University?

Ms. BANNON: Yes, I did.

GROSS: Raising two children?

Ms. BANNON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Was your divorce related at all to these books or to your fantasy life
related to the books?

Ms. BANNON: Well, I suppose underlying it all you'd have to yes it was. I
think a lot of other factors came into play, but that was one of them. I was
never the person in a marriage that I believed myself to be, and I had to
strike out and find out who I was. And it was interesting when the books were
reissued by Naiad Press I was a little abashed, thinking that--my position at
that time was as an associate dean at a university, and I thought, `Uh-oh,
here goes my job.' But, in fact, everybody was wonderful. And all over
campus, you know, sort of little lavender flags popped out of fox holes and
people said, `Good for you.' Particularly over in the PE Department I
discovered all sorts of nice people that were very supportive and interested.

So, partly yes, it was a watershed time in my life, one of those passages when
the marriage ended and I kind of assumed an identity that was more me.

GROSS: What are some of the things women have told you that they learned from
you books when they read them in the '50s or '60s?

Ms. BANNON: The big things they've told me initially was, `Thank God that
I'm not the only one.' And that's how isolated people were then. But also
that it's OK to open up a little bit, that it can be healthy, it can be a
warm, generous, wonderful way to spend your life.

GROSS: Now were you able to take your own medicine about that? Were you able
to believe that about yourself?

Ms. BANNON: You know, it's funny, Terry. I think what I did to myself in
that long-term marriage and a long-term career, a very scholarly turn of mind,
was to learn to live so well in my own fantasy that I never truly got out of
it. And that's not to say I haven't reached out and tried, I have, it just
never has taken.

I have friends who laughingly call me the Ice Queen. I am not the Ice Queen.
I am just someone who may have, in a sense, hurt herself or limited herself by
being so tremendously good at creating a life internally. I do it
wonderfully, if I say it myself. I have to start writing some of this down
and sharing it, I guess, but it's satisfying to me. And I live by myself, I
have loads of wonderful friends--straight and gay--I love them all, I depend
on them all, but I guess either I don't have a gift for partnership in the
real world or I just haven't found the partner. I don't know.

GROSS: One more question. Well, you know, I'm thinking, like, your books are
on the same shelves and the same publishing companies with the, you know,
erotic novels of the period and the crime novels of the period, you know, all
the pulp. Did you feel comfortable in that literary environment?

Ms. BANNON: At first I felt somewhat embarrassed and self-conscious about it.
I thought `This isn't worthy of me,' and I really wasn't sure how to take it.
But then my mother began reading my books. And she said, `Sweetheart, good
for you, this is great. I would never have thought this would have been your
subject,' but she said, `I'm proud of you.' And I thought, `Well, dang, if my
mother is OK with it, bless her heart.' And she was the most proper and
lovely Victorian mother you can imagine. I'm OK. It's all right to be who
you are.

GROSS: Well, Ann Bannon, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
How does it feel to be called Ann Bannon? Should I be calling you by your
real name?

Ms. BANNON: Oh no, no, please. Ann Bannon. Wonderful, very good. I never
thought I'd be talking to you, Terry, so this is truly delightful.

GROSS: Ann Bannon's lesbian novels include "Odd Girl Out" and "Beebo
Brinker." She wrote the foreword for the book "Strange Sisters: The Art of
Lesbian Pulp Fiction."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: One of the first paperback originals with a lesbian main character was
the 1952 novel "Spring Fire." Coming up, we meet Marijane Meaker, aka Vin
Packer. Her recent memoir is about her affair with Patricia Highsmith, the
author of "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley." Also, rock
critic Ken Tucker reviews "Rabbit Songs" by the band Hem.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Marijane Meaker discusses her writing career, her life
as a lesbian and her relationship with novelist Patricia Highsmith
as told in her new memoir "Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Marijane Meaker, holds an important place in the history of
paperback books and gay literature. Her 1952 novel "Spring Fire" was one of
the first paperback originals about a lesbian. It sold a million and a half
copies. Its success led to the publication of many more lesbian-themed
paperbacks, including more by Meaker and several by our previous guest, Ann
Bannon. Meaker wrote her early lesbian novels under the pen name Vin Packer.
She used a different pseudonym, Ann Aldrich, to write non-fiction books about
lesbians. Now she writes fiction for young adults under the pen name M.E.
Kerr. Meaker has a recent memoir about her two-year affair in the 1950s with
Patricia Highsmith, who also used a pen name, Claire Morgan, to write the 1953
lesbian novel "The Price of Salt." Highsmith, who died in 1995, is best known
as the author of "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," which
were adapted into films. Marijane Meaker's memoir, "Highsmith: A Romance of
the 1950s," is not only about her relationship with Highsmith; it's about
lesbian culture of the '50s. Here's a reading from the opening of the book,
which takes place in a gay bar.

Ms. MARIJANE MEAKER (Author): `Elles was on a little side street in Greenwich
Village, a dark, cozy, lesbian bar. It was the beginning of graciousness in
the lesbian bar world. There was no evidence of Mafia ownership, no men in
baggy double-breasted suits sporting pinky rings guarding the door. In fact,
no men were allowed. The bathroom was clean, the customers didn't seem to be
divided so much into butch and femme. Most looked like young college girls,
well-dressed and without the heavy makeup some habitues wore. Hookers were
often regular customers of gay bars. Their butches waited for them there.
But there was none of that in Elles. The women behind the bar and at the door
were welcoming, the music was mellow, Jeri Southern singing "You Better Go
Now," and Francis Faye crooning "I'm Drunk With Love."(ph)

`A handsome, dark-haired woman in a trench coat drinking gin stood at the bar
while around her there was the buzz that she was Claire Morgan. She was
better known in the outside world as Patricia Highsmith, author of "Strangers
on a Train," but in Elles, Pat was revered for her pseudonymous novel "The
Price of Salt," which had been published in 1952. It was for many years the
only lesbian novel in either hard- or softcover with a happy ending. It stood
on every lesbian bookshelf, along with classics like "The Well of Loneliness,"
"We Too Are Drifting," "Diana" and "Olivia."'

GROSS: Marijane Meaker, what did Patricia Highsmith mean to you before you
actually met her at this bar?

Ms. MEAKER: Well, in the '50s, in the early '50s, we used to play a game of
truth, and I remember one night the question was, `If you could be anyone
besides yourself, a living person, who would you choose to be?' And I actually
said Patricia Highsmith. I loved her writing. I think we shared a common
theme, which was folie a deux, a sort of simultaneous insanity, two people
involved with each other very closely, often in a crime. I think that
was--and her writing, of course, was what drew me to her before I even knew

GROSS: Now you had said that when you played that game of truth, you wanted
to be Patricia Highsmith. Now you had a chance to meet her and to get really
close to her. How did she compare with what you imagined her to be?

Ms. MEAKER: Well, she was everything I imagined her to be. I loved the way
she looked. She looked like a combination of a Prince Charming and Nureyev.
She was very chic with her trench coat and her collar pulled up, smoking
Gauloises and drinking gin straight. She was easy to talk to. I went up and
introduced myself and told her that I was a writer, and we began to talk very
easily. I think we were also drinkers, and that always facilitates

GROSS: You were both popular writers. Who was more out at the time, and were
you out in different ways?

Ms. MEAKER: I was far more out. I was politically active and I was
interested in the new movement for gay rights and in New York. She was not at
all interested in anything like that. She wasn't interested in politics. She
really wasn't very interested in any kind of gay identity. So I was, and we
had a little--we always disagreed on that point. She would say, `We're
just--what we do in bed is nobody's business,' and I would try to remind her
that we were more than horizontal people and that we did have a bit of
entitlement, but that didn't interest Pat.

GROSS: Let's talk more about your life. First of all, when you realized that
it was girls, not boys, that you are attracted to, had you ever heard the word
`lesbian,' or heard that there was such a thing?

Ms. MEAKER: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I went to boarding school deliberately
because I wanted to find out about this world that I knew I was part of. And
I had read that boarding schools were filled with perversion, so I was very
eager to go to boarding school. And I was rewarded. Indeed, the boarding
school was...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, I'm sure you didn't tell your parents, `Hey, I've heard that
there's a lesbian underground on the boarding school.'

Ms. MEAKER: No. No. And I must say, just to save the school's reputation,
that I seem to be the only one that stayed at the dance in my class because I
notice everybody else is married and has children and has settled down to...


Ms. MEAKER: ...the straight life.

But no, I had always--I read everything I could find. The minute I knew
things were wrong with me, I read everything that I could find. Then after
boarding school, when I chose college, I chose deliberately a coed college
because I thought maybe I should cure myself. The one thing I didn't know in
all my readings and studyings about lesbianism was that there isn't a cure.
And in those days, it was considered an illness and you were led to believe
that it could be cured.

GROSS: Now you were among the first lesbian pulp novelists. You wrote for
Gold Medal, which is famous, among other things...

Ms. MEAKER: Yes.

GROSS: ...for first publishing original paperbacks. In other words, these
were books that were never in hardcover.

Ms. MEAKER: That's right.

GROSS: And most of these were pulp novels that were, you know, crime novels
and sex-oriented novels.

Ms. MEAKER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: How did you end up writing lesbian pulp fiction for Gold Medal?

Ms. MEAKER: Well, first of all, pulp isn't really--I know everybody calls it
`pulp.' I call it `paperback.' Pulp, to me, were the wonderful pulp magazines
that paid a penny a word...

GROSS: Sure. Yeah.

Ms. MEAKER: ...and that was pulp.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. MEAKER: But now it's become pulp. You must remember that these
paperback writers were very well-paid, far better paid than you would be in
hardcover. And so you had writers like John MacDonald, Day Keene(ph), Charles
Williams--they were wonderful writers. They wrote everything from Westerns to
mysteries. And there was nothing racy, really, about the Gold Medal line,
except they did start writing lesbian novels thanks to the book I wrote called
"Spring Fire."

GROSS: How did you write "Spring Fire," your first lesbian paperback?

Ms. MEAKER: I became friendly with the editor, Dick Carroll. And he said,
`If you had a story to write, what would you write about?' And I said, `Well,
I just came from college, and before that, I was in boarding school. And I
had a lesbian experience in boarding school, and I think I would write about
that.' And he said, `Oh, that's a wonderful idea, but make it college,
because,' he said, `grade-school people don't read our books. Make it
college.' And so then I wrote "Spring Fire." He called it "Spring Fire"
because James Michener had a novel out called "The Fires of Spring," and Dick
thought, `Maybe people will confuse this with Michener and we'll have double
the sales,' because nobody really thought a book about lesbians was going to
sell anything.

GROSS: My guest is Marijane Meaker. We'll talk more after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Marijane Meaker. In the '50s, she wrote lesbian pulp
novels under the pen name Vin Packer. She now writes books for young adults
under the name M.E. Kerr.

Now one of the things your editor told you at Gold Medal was that you had to
have a happy ending to this lesbian novel. Why did you need that?

Ms. MEAKER: Yes, because these paperbacks went through the mail, and the
mail censored things, and if there was anything that seemed to proselytize for
a vice like lesbianism, why then they would junk the whole shipment.
Everybody's books would go down with yours because they couldn't bother to
unpack and find your books. So we had to have happy endings if we were
writing about, quote, "perversion," unquote. And so that was what I did with
"Spring Fire," and the unhappy endings were hilarious. I mean, I look at
them. I can't believe I wrote them. But...

GROSS: Well, in fact, you brought one of your novels with you, the first one,
"Spring Fire."

Ms. MEAKER: Yes, I have, and this is...

GROSS: Can you read the happy ending for us?

Ms. MEAKER: Here's the happy ending. She's just left her psychoanalyst or
psychiatrist's office, Susan, and she is--and he is saying, `Dr. Peters(ph)
lingered in the hall near the door as Susan Mitchell buttoned her coat and put
her scarf around her head. "Then I'll see you on Tuesday," he said, taking
her hand in a friendly goodbye. "And have a nice weekend, Susan. Any big
plans?" "I'm going on a hayride tonight, Robin(ph) and Tom(ph) and Lucifer(ph)
and me. That's about all I planned." He let her hand go and smiled as he held
the door open. "It sounds like fun," he answered. "Bye, Susan." It was cold
and there was a warning of snow on the fresh sweep of the breeze, as
Mitch'--Mitch is Susan--`as Mitch walked along the path from the hospital.
She had a clean feeling that was there whenever she finished talking with Dr.
Peters, and she knew she was whole now.

`The tower bell struck five times and distant figures of students carrying
books hurried along the far walks, their breaths were frosting faintly in the
cold air. When she went by the auditorium, she could hear the university
choir rehearsing for the Christmas pageant, and the nostalgic strains drifted
out to her. Dusk was dressing the campus, and as Mitch walked with the music
in her heart, she thought of Leda, hazily, as though she were someone she had
known a long, long time ago. She knew that if it had been any other way, if
Leda Taylor could have been helped and could have at that moment walked there,
too, and known the peace in the twilight and the first hints of frost on the
grass and the bushes surrounding Cranston(ph), Mitch would have wanted that,
because it was true what she had told Leda yesterday: She didn't hate her.
She didn't hate her at all, and she knew then that she had never really loved

GROSS: So she has a kind of like heterosexual awakening at the end?

Ms. MEAKER: Oh, she goes to a doctor, and he turns her into a heterosexual.
That's why she says she's going off with these wonderful straight couples for
fun that weekend. Yes. And she realizes not only is she a heterosexual, but
she never really was a homosexual.

GROSS: Right. So this made it safe to travel through the mails. How did you
feel when you were writing this phony ending?

Ms. MEAKER: I laughed. You don't have any--when you're writing these
things, you don't have any vision of the future, of their even being there or
discussed in the future. I was delighted to get my first book published, and
if that was the rule, well, I was willing to follow it.

GROSS: OK. Now we're talking about the kind of happy ending you had to paste
on to your novel so that it wouldn't be censored in the mail. A subsequent
novel that you wrote, also a lesbian novel, called "Whisper His Sin"--I'm
sorry, this was a homosexual novel.

Ms. MEAKER: Yes. Yes. That was actually based on a true murder case, the
Freden-Whetman(ph) murder case. Two young men murdered one of their mothers,
and I just copied that. I mean, I created that book from the news stories. I
made it fiction. These titles were never my titles, either.

GROSS: "Whisper His Sin."

Ms. MEAKER: Yes.

GROSS: Well, the cover copy was, `This is one of the most shocking novels we
have ever published. It deals with the strange way of life that has become
all too prevalent and is still spreading. The book begins in the tormented
mind of a boy and ends in the tormented murder of his parents. Between this
beginning and this end, there was a frightening picture of how the blight of
sexual distortion spreads, corrupts and finally destroys those around it. We
also believe that this is one of the most morally enlightening books you will
ever read.'

Ms. MEAKER: Yes.

GROSS: Was it important in terms of censorship to put all this `morally
enlightening' stuff on the cover?

Ms. MEAKER: Yes, that was all part of it. I think gay people felt--because
we didn't have a sense of entitlement in the '50s, but we felt there are books
about us. Even a book about a criminal case like Freden and Whetman, we were
suddenly there. We hadn't been there before all of this. We didn't exist,
and even if there were a few books about us, they were never reviewed. They
were never put out in the bookstore in the window. You had to somehow find
about them in an underground way. So as we became more open, yes, we had
these cautionary blurbs that our publishers wrote, but still, it was more
important to have us there.

GROSS: Now the books that we talked about, "Whisper His Sin"...

Ms. MEAKER: Yes.

GROSS: ...and "Spring Fire," were both were written under the pen name Vin

Ms. MEAKER: Yes.

GROSS: Your name is Marijane Meaker.

Ms. MEAKER: That's right.

GROSS: Why didn't you use your own name?

Ms. MEAKER: Well, I have always had a reluctance to using my own name. Even
now I still don't write under my own name unless it's something like the
"Highsmith" book where I would have to. I like pseudonyms. I like disguises.
I've always hated the name Marijane, and I think the idea that you can name
yourself is interesting. That Vin Packer, unfortunately, wasn't a very well-
thought-out name. I was having lunch with a man named Vincent and a woman
whose name was Annie Packer(ph), so I put Vin Packer together, never thinking
that there would be any life to this name, but there was a considerable life.
I did 22 books under that name.

GROSS: What didn't work about the name?

Ms. MEAKER: Well, I just thought it was a silly name. It sounded like a
sportscaster, and, I don't know, I might have thought more carefully about it
if I had thought I was going to be with it that long. But I was my own agent.
That was another name for the pseudonyms. I couldn't get an agent, so I
printed stationery up and became an agent, and all of my pseudonyms were me.
All of my clients were me. And I would take people out to lunch and tell them
about my clients, and nobody knew that I was all my clients. And so the...

GROSS: What was your name as an agent?

Ms. MEAKER: Marijane Meaker.

GROSS: Oh, I see. So a lot of people really thought that Marijane Meaker was
an agent who...

Ms. MEAKER: Oh, yes.


Ms. MEAKER: Oh, yes. Even my editor, Dick Carroll(ph), thought so in the

GROSS: You write really well about gay bars in your new memoir about Patricia
Highsmith, and you write how a lot of the gay bars were run by the Mafia in
the 1950s.

Ms. MEAKER: Yes.

GROSS: What were those bars like?

Ms. MEAKER: They were terrible. You would go in, and at the door, there
would be a low man on the totem pole in the Mafia world. He would usually
have a couple of zircons on his little fingers and a double-breasted suit, and
he would smoke cigars and he would watch the door, mainly watch to keep men
out. And he was also the one that told you whether you could cash your
checks. And if they had a system where they tattooed your wrist when you came
in--many did--he was in charge of the tattooing. And they were in all the

And these bars were terrible bars. There was a woman that sat outside the
ladies' room and gave you one piece of toilet tissue at a time, and you went
in single file because they imagined that you would go in there with other
women and do terrible things in the ladies' room. And of course, there were
no men in, so there was no men's room. But the ladies' room was always in
terrible shape. There was always a plunger on the floor somewhere, needed at
some point. They just didn't keep them clean, and they took advantage of the
fact that you were lucky to have any place to go.

GROSS: What are some of the things that happened after Stonewall and after
the start of the gay rights movement that have affected your life that you
thought you would never see?

Ms. MEAKER: The main thing I thought I would never see--And if my parents
weren't dead, it would kill them--is the announcements in The New York Times,
the commitment announcements, along with the wedding pages. That to me is
miraculous and wonderful. And I think, to me, it's the thing that gives me
the most pleasure. That's one thing. And of course, so many changes: the
freedom among the young people to announce that they're gay, the idea that
it's not unusual today for a parent to hear from a child `I'm gay' and to
handle it. And you don't seem to hear anymore about going to an analyst to be
cured. It doesn't exist anymore. And even the psychoanalytic society has
finally taken us off the abnormal list. I see progress everywhere, and it's
thrilling to me.

GROSS: Well, Marijane Meaker, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. MEAKER: Thank you.

GROSS: Marijane Meaker's recent memoir is called "Highsmith: A Romance of
the 1950s." Her best-known lesbian pulp novel, "Spring Fire," was written
under the pseudonym Vin Packer. Our book week continues tomorrow.

Coming up, rock critic Ken Tucker reviews a new CD by the band Hem. This

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Hem's debut album "Rabbit Songs"

The group Hem first released its album "Rabbit Songs" on their own small label
Waveland in June, 2002. It's just been given a wider release by a major
label, DreamWorks, largely due to the support of producer-executive Lenny
Waronker, who championed artists like Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks when he
headed up Warner Brothers Records in the '70s. Rock critic Ken Tucker says
Hem's "Rabbit Songs" is at once an echo of that time and something fresh as

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SALLY ELLYSON (Hem): (Singing) I am holding half an acre

KEN TUCKER reporting:

"Rabbit Songs" sounds so much like the creation of a singer/songwriter, a '70s
throwback working in solitude to eke out the pain and joy of her soul. But
it's somewhat startling to learn that the exact opposite is true. Although
it's the voice of Sally Ellyson that's the most immediately entrancing element
of this music, Hem is actually a band formed by two producers and
multi-instrumentalists, Dan Messe and Gary Maurer. Along with guitarist Steve
Curtis, the three men put an ad in The Village Voice for a singer. Messe, the
group's principal songwriter, apparently didn't place much faith in his own
vocal cords to sell his delicate songs. And one of the responses came from
Sally Ellyson, who sent them a tape of herself singing lullabies a cappella.
Her throat proved to be just the thing for the dry, spare melancholy Messe was
aiming for with Hem.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ELLYSON: (Singing) I should wake up this town, hearts on fire. Main
road, and no one's around as the flames climb higher. I have been here
before, and I know the way. It all seems sweeter enjoyed in the light of day,
in the light of day. So I've arrived...

TUCKER: That's "Leave Me Here." And when Ellyson sings, `I should wake up
this town,' you're likely to fall into a trance. All around her, piano notes
fall like raindrops, even as she sings about the flames of her heart climbing
higher, a heat that makes the rain of the music evaporate into mist. Most of
the time on this album, Dan Messe's language is intentionally open and
allusive. That song could just as likely be about death itself as about
deathless love. But listen to what Sally Ellyson can do when she's given a
lyric that describes a specific life and how it's been lived.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ELLYSON: (Singing) When I was drinking when I was with you, living it up
when the rent was due, with nothing and no one to live up to, you and me dying
on the vine, holding hands and drinking wine. Now I'm not the same girl I
left behind with you.

TUCKER: Although Hem's instrumentation, which includes steel guitar and
violin played as a fiddle, flirts with country rhythms, that song takes one of
country's recurring themes, not just drinking, but alcoholism, and makes it do
the 12-step instead of the two-step. Few songs have made sobriety sound
downright alluring. And again, much of that is due to Ellyson's wistful

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ELLYSON: (Singing) There's a lazy eye that looks at you and sees you the
same as before. When you lay beside me every night, you'll know you were with
me no more. I can still see the hem of your dress and the comb as it's
parting your hair, and the person I held is still there in my lazy eye that
looks at you and sees you the same as before.

TUCKER: There are times when you can pick out Dan Messe's influences. Randy
Newman's certainly on that song, and he's owned up to Laura Nero. But I hear
Joni Mitchell's blue period in this one.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ELLYSON: (Singing) Leave the station where I stood all that I’m good fof is you.
I've got shadows snapping at my tail who say I'm no damn good, but that's just
halfway true. ...(unintelligible)

TUCKER: But transcending those influences, Hem has meshed its origins and
come up with its own hybrid, the country/rock/pop lullaby, one that, if it
does lure you into sleep, will fill your dreams with a vivid intensity.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ELLYSON: (Singing) Blue sky and yellow sun...


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, our book week continues with two novelists who
also write screenplays. Richard Russo's novels include "Nobody's Fool" and
"Empire Falls," which won a Pulitzer prize. Richard Price's novels include
"Clockers," "The Wanderers" and "Samaritan." I'm Terry Gross. Join us for the
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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