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born in 1933 in Cincinnati, Ohio
Feeling that she was lesbian by age 12, Barbara Grier researched the topic at the library before coming out to her mother. This positive experience of self-knowledge, research, and openness characterizes Grier’s entire life.
At 18 she met and fell in love with Helen Bennett, with whom she had a 20-year relationship she calls a marriage. Both worked in libraries, where Grier continued to explore her interest in literature with lesbian characters. She soon discovered The Ladder, a publication of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), founded in San Francisco as a social organization in 1955. Grier began writing short book notes, then articles and short stories, under the name Gene Damon as well as other pseudonyms (also writing for other early homophile publications). DOB quickly realized they needed a broader mission, embracing the task of educating lesbians and the public and engaging in research. Grier strongly supported this agenda as poetry/fiction editor from 1966–1968, then as general editor. In 1970, DOB dissolved, and Grier, in a controversial move, took The Ladder in a more activist direction, publishing until 1972.
Grier continued writing and editing, beginning with The Lesbian in Literature (with Lee Stuart, 1967), inspired by Jeanette Foster’s 1956 Sex Variant Women in Literature. By 1973 Grier and her new partner, Donna McBride, saw the need for a lesbian-oriented publishing house and formed Naiad Press. It published novels, mysteries, nonfiction, and several volumes of articles drawn from The Ladder. Lesbiana, a collection of Grier book reviews, was published in 1976; she edited collections of short stories, poetry, erotica, and essays.
Grier was awarded the Gay Academic Union’s President’s Award for Lifetime Service in 1985. In 1991 she and McBride won the Lambda Literary Award for Publisher’s Service, and in 2002 The Lambda Literary Pioneer Award. She and McBride planned for their retirement and the closing of Naiad Press by transferring their publishing rights to Bella Press, which won the contracts for many of Naiad’s authors and keeps some of its catalog in print.
Grier and McBride donated their huge collection of books, monographs, manuscripts, photos, and memorabilia, the Naiad Collection, to the James Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library. There is an enormous difference between what a young lesbian or gay boy could find in a public library in 1945 and today, both in terms of volume and sympathetic, affirming content. Barbara Grier, believer that “lesbians will inherit the earth,” has made that possible.
“Barbara Grier.” San Francisco Public Library, 14 December 2007, http://sfpl.org, 30 October 2009.
“Barbara Grier – Naiad Press Collection 1956 – 1999.” The James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center of the San Francisco Pulic Library, 2003, http://sfpl.lib.ca.us, 30 October 2009.
“Lambda Literary Awards 2002.” Lamda Literary Foundation, http://www.lambdaliterary.org, 24 April 2010.
Rapp, Linda. “Grier, Barbara (b. 1933).” glbtq: The Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture, 20 October 2005, http://www.glbtq.com, 30 October 2009.
Featured GLBT Ohioans
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