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Conversations with Dorothy Allison

Conversations with Dorothy Allison

Edited by Mae Miller Claxton
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 208
  • Book Info
    Conversations with Dorothy Allison
    Book Description:

    Since the publication of her groundbreaking novel, Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), Dorothy Allison (b. 1949) has been known--as with Larry Brown and Lee Smith--as a purveyor of the "gritty" contemporary South that, in many ways, is worlds away from prevailing "Southern Gothic" representations of the region. Allison has frequently used her position, through passionate lectures and enthusiastic interviews, to give voice to issues dear to her: poverty, working-class life, domestic violence, feminism and women's relationships, the contemporary South, and gay/lesbian life. Often called a "writer-rock star" and a "cult icon," Allison is a true performer of the written word.

    At the same time, Allison also takes the craft of writing very seriously. In this collection, spanning almost two decades, Allison the performer and Allison the careful craftsperson both emerge, creating a portrait of a complex woman. The interviews detail Allison's working-class background in Greenville, South Carolina, as the daughter of a waitress. Allison discusses--with candor and quick wit--her upbringing, her work in a variety of modes (novels, short stories, essays, poetry), and her active participation in the women's movement of the 1970s.

    In the absence of a biography of Allison's life, Conversations with Dorothy Allison presents Allison's perspectives on her life, literature, and her conflictions over her role as a public figure. Linking her work with African American writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, Allison pioneered the genre of working-class literature, writing a world that is often overlooked and under-studied.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-287-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xvi)

    Dorothy Allison is keenly aware of her public and private roles as a bestselling writer. A veteran of the early days of the women’s movement, she maintains her political roots as a lesbian activist. As an extremely successful writer, lecturer, and teacher, she has been called a “Writer-Rock Star” and “Cult Icon,” equally at home in a university lecture hall or a small feminist bookstore. In her home in northern California, she occupies yet other important roles as long-time companion to Alix Layman and mother to their son Wolf Michael. She has been compared to Janis Joplin and evangelical southern...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xvii-2)
  5. Moving toward Truth: An Interview with Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 3-16)
    Carolyn Megan and Dorothy Allison

    In March 1993 Dorothy Allison’s novel,Bastard Out of Carolina, nominated for the 1992 National Book Award, had just been published in paperback, and she was at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on a reading tour. She answered the door to her posh suite dressed in T-shirt and jeans saying, “Look at this place! Grace Paley stayed in this room!” Readers were lining up in city after city to hear her read, but she was still becoming accustomed to her fame.

    Her work includes collections of poems,The Women Who Hate Me; stories,Trash; and essays,Skin. A novel,...

  6. Dorothy Allison, Crossover Blues
    (pp. 17-20)
    Blanche McCrary Boyd

    Dorothy Allison and I were on different sides of a political argument in 1974, and we’ve liked each other ever since. When my novelThe Revolution of Little Girlswas published by Knopf in 1991, Dorothy was instrumental in its receiving widespread “crossover” recognition in the gay and lesbian literary community; now her novelBastard Out of Carolinais receiving sensational “mainstream” praise. I called her a few weeks ago to discuss success and its ironies.

    BB: So, how are you feeling about being a crossover artist?

    DA: Hi, darlin’. It’s bullshit. What about all those straight writers who are...

  7. Literary Heroine: Talking with Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 21-25)
    Owen Keehnen

    Dorothy Allison began her writing career with a collection of poetry calledThe Women Who Hate Me. Her next effort, the short story collectionTrash, won two Lambda Book Awards in 1989. In 1992 her first novelBastard Out of Carolinawas a finalist for the prestigious National Book Award. Firebrand Books has just publishedSkin: Talking about Sex, Class & Literature. It is a powerful, passionate, and diverse collection of essays about her upbringing and family, her lifelong feminist activism, her status as a lesbian sex radical, and her life as a writer and a Southern expatriate with attitude....

  8. Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 26-39)
    Minnie Bruce Pratt

    On a cold rainy Boston afternoon in March, I was curled up on Dorothy Allison’s bed, eating chocolate, gossiping, and talking books with this charismatic author, who wrote the award-winning novel,Bastard Out of Carolina, and the short-story collection,Trash. Her most recent book isSkin: Talking About Sex, Class & Literature(Firebrand Books).

    We were in town for the annual Out/Write conference of lesbian and gay writers, and were snatching a few hours to renew a connection that had begun more than ten years ago, when Dorothy was one of the editors of the lesbian-feminist literary journalConditions.


  9. An Interview with Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 40-52)
    Susanne Dietzel and Dorothy Allison

    This interview was conducted as part of the annual Zale Writer in Residence Program at the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women at Tulane University in November 1995. This year the program committee had invited award-winning novelist Dorothy Allison, who is most famous for her novelBastard Out of Carolina, to be the Zale Writer-in-Residence. Dorothy Allison’s work is securely located on the borders of Southernandworking-class literature, with deep roots in feminist and lesbian feminist activism and politics. Dorothy Allison is the author of five books of fiction, poetry and nonfiction and the winner of numerous literary...

  10. “We’re as American as You Can Get”: Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 53-69)
    Michael Rowe

    Hailed as one of the most important new writers in American letters today, Dorothy Allison has written works of poetry, prose fiction, and essays. Her first book,The Women Who Hate Me, was an acclaimed volume of poetry. Her second book,Trash, a collection of short stories, was awarded two Lambda Literary Awards. Allison’s crossover triumph was her 1992 novel,Bastard Out of Carolina, a National Book Award finalist. In 1994, Firebrand published a collection of her essays,Skin: Talking about Sex, Class & Literature. Dorothy Allison lives in California with her lover and young son.

    Michael Rowe: Tell me...

  11. The Roseanne of Literature
    (pp. 70-77)
    Alexis Jetter

    Dorothy Allison writes everything down: dialogue she overhears on buses, the stories of her dead aunts, fragments from old June Carter songs. She takes notes even while talking to friends on the telephone, typing bits of their conversation into her computer. “I have a terrible memory,” she explains, a little defensively, when caught.

    She arches one eyebrow and smiles wickedly, her bad eye squinting to see if I believe her. I don’t. Her closet is lined with red, black, and gray notebooks full of journal entries that became poems, then short stories, and eventually novels. “Watch out,” she tells people,...

  12. Dorothy Allison: A Family Redeemed
    (pp. 78-82)
    Susan Salter Reynolds

    Back in 1992, when Dorothy Allison burst into the literary limelight with her bestselling novel,Bastard Out of Carolina, she dubbed herself the “Roseanne of Literature.” That shocking, autobiographical story of a young girl in the South who is raped and beaten by her stepfather helped open the floodgates to the rush of memoirs that has since poured into American bookstores. Allison’s audience flocked to her in droves, bearing their own stories of prejudice and abuse and poverty. Their heroine, it turned out, was a fast-talking, brash motorcycle mama whose previous books included everything from lesbian porn to feminist theory...

  13. Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 83-92)
    Laura Miller

    It’s a toss-up which quality Dorothy Allison has in greater measure—strength or charm. She’s needed plenty of both to fight her way out of the desperate circumstances into which she was born. Her riveting, semiautobiographical first novel,Bastard Out of Carolina, portrays a dirt-poor Southern childhood in a family notorious for its violent, hard-drinking men and trouble-prone women. For Allison, these crushing circumstances were intensified by a physically and sexually abusive stepfather and, eventually, the discovery that she was a lesbian. She left home and devoted years of her life to feminist activism and collectives, although her refusal to...

  14. An Open Book
    (pp. 93-97)
    David L. Ulin

    Dorothy Allison is telling a story. Sitting at the dining room table of her house in the outer Noe Valley, she sips from a bottle of Diet Pepsi and describes the redemptive power of language, the way words restore us to ourselves. Outside, the streets possess a midafternoon languor: A mother walks her daughter home from school while, down the hill, a streetcar rattles on its track. Here, however, the air is charged with urgency, as if Allison’s story reveals not only who she is, but also how she’s kept herself alive.

    “I try to make a distinction between storytelling...

  15. Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 98-101)
    Renée Klorman

    Dorothy Allison read from her new bookCavedwelleron March 31 at Lammas bookstore in Washington, DC. The intimate audience, predominately women, were instantly charmed by Allison’s Southern accent. What follows is a combination of the reading at Lammas, and her interview withOOBafterwards.

    Cavedwelleris a novel about Delia Byrd,” began Ms. Allison, “a woman who runs off and leaves Cayro, Georgia, about 1971. She climbs on the bus of a rock band passing through. Slightly less than wonderful band. Finds adventure, hard life, drank a little too much, and goes home.” Taking with her Cissy, the daughter,...

  16. Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 102-117)
    Robert Birnbaum

    Dorothy Allison was born in Greenville, South Carolina. She has published two novels,Bastard Out of Carolina—a National Book Award finalist in 1992—andCavedweller. She has also published a memoir,Two or Three Things I Know for Sure; an anthology of essays,Skin: Talking about Sex, Class & Literature; and a collection of poems,The Women Who Hate Me.Trash, featuring some of Allison’s earliest stories, with one additional new story and a new introduction, “Stubborn Girls and Mean Stories,” has recently been republished. She regularly teaches classes, workshops, and seminars at universities around the nation and is...

  17. Writer Out of Carolina: Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 118-121)
    David A. Fryxell

    Dorothy Allison says it’s Okay to hate your characters. “Hating them is almost as good as loving them,” says the best-selling author ofBastard Out of CarolinaandCavedweller(both Plume), her own Carolina drawl honeying her words.

    “I was raised in the South, so I’ve got a weakness for S.O.B.s,” Allison goes on. “S.O.B.s mean the possibility of action. If all of your characters are good girls who go to church on Sunday morning, what can happen?” Her red hair seems almost to flame, and her voice takes on the fervor of the revivalist preachers of her childhood as...

  18. Marina Lewis Talks with Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 122-140)
    Marina Lewis

    A few years ago I was sitting on my couch at eleven p.m. just having finished a novel—I don’t remember which one—when I picked up Dorothy Allison’sBastard Out of Carolina. I’d intended to read the first page or two, go to bed, and continue it the next day. I stayed up until four. As the saying goes, I could not put this book down. What held me, though, was not just the compelling saga of Ms. Allison’s protagonist, Bone, but the novel’s immaculate construction and language, which is not only lush and precise, but utterly without ego....

  19. Lessening the Damage: Interview with Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 141-149)
    Ellise Fuchs and Dorothy Allison

    Dorothy Allison’s saffron-colored hair frames her face. The full color is startling, as if she’s stepped out of her black and white book jacket photo, and you’re Dorothy Gale opening her door onto Munchkinland. Allison has been bringing color and life to her Southern working class background with books ranging from the short story collectionTrashto her best-selling novel,Bastard Out of Carolina, and memoirTwo or Three Things I Know for Sure. Known for her honesty and an in-your-face writing style, she is also committed to teaching. First published in 1988,Trashwas recently translated into Italian by...

  20. An Interview with Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 150-153)
    Jordan Hartt and Dorothy Allison

    Proclaimed “one of the finest writers of her generation” by theBoston Globeand “simply stunning” by theNew York Times Book Review, Dorothy Allison’s first novel,Bastard Out of Carolina, was a finalist for the 1992 National Book Award. Her best-selling second novel, the critically acclaimedCavedweller, won the 1998 Lambda Literary Award for fiction. A chapbook of her performance work,Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, was selected as a notable book of the year by theNew York Times Book Review. Allison’s small press books includeSkin: Talking about Sex, Class & Literature;Trash; and...

  21. Interview with a Master: Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 154-165)
    Kendra Tuthill and Dorothy Allison

    Dorothy Allison, writer-rock star, cult icon, loves music. She listens as she writes, something I might’ve guessed if I’d had the second to think about it, reading breathily through the crescendo ofBastard Out of Carolinaand calming down, enveloped and sweaty-palmed inside the denouement. Closing the book, I heard Bone’s Southern cadence bumping like a dance up my spine. I wanted to have a mama instead of a mother. I wanted to peer out through hard black eyes.

    It’s not that I really wanted to be Bone, of course, but just as music stitches itself to the air, Bone...

  22. Interview with Dorothy Allison
    (pp. 166-174)
    Rob Neufeld and Dorothy Allison

    R: You’re at Davidson now, and you’re coming to WCU (Western Carolina University). You work a lot with young writers?

    D: Yes.

    R: Are there things you look for and approaches you take?

    D: As I talk with people, one of the things that always happens is there will be this big public discussion, and then there will be these kids that hang back, and those are the ones I wait for, the kids that are just too shy or that are too scared or too self-conscious, or feel themselves too embattled, and they’ll hang to the very end, waiting...

  23. Index
    (pp. 175-179)