by Kate Ellison, Gainesville community member and participant in Womonwrites
“Although I am a lifelong Southerner, and have been involved in feminism since the 1970s . . . I had no idea of the significance of Gainesville in the women’s movement” says Rose Norman about the project she is involved with, the Southern Lesbian Activist Herstory Project.
The modern feminist movement grew out of the leftist and civil rights movements of the 1960s. Women began to speak for ourselves when we realized we had interests that weren’t being addressed by the rest of the movement. Lesbian feminism grew out of the feminist movement of the late 1960s when we realized we had interests that weren’t being addressed by the rest of the movement. One of the birth-places of modern feminism and lesbian-feminism was Gainesville, where to this day we support one of only a dozen surviving women’s bookstores in the country, Wild Iris Books.
As the stories of modern feminism are told, often they focus on the east coast and the left coast. If you want Southerners included, read the July issue of Sinister Wisdom, #93. Publishing continuously since 1976, the entire 93rd issue is devoted to the beginning of the lesbian-feminist movement in the South, which means there is a lot about Gainesville in this publication. Interviews and contributors include: Barbara Esrig, Pam Smith, Ronni Sanlo, Byllye Avery, Garnett Harrison, Shewolf, Corky Culver, myself, and many other women from all over Florida and the rest of the south. It is available now at Wild Iris. ($12, 168 pages)
Beyond Sinister Wisdom 93, the role of Southern lesbian-feminists in the women’s movement needs to be documented before it is forgotten, and while those activists are still living.
A group from Womonwrites, the Southeast Lesbian Writers Conference, now in its 36th year, intends to collect these stories, focused on the years 1968–1994. This celebration of Sinister Wisdom 93 is also a call for more contributors. There will be two more issues, one on Lesbian Land, and one on Culture and Music.
What doesn’t fit in these issues of Sinister Wisdom will be archived at Duke University, and published in forthcoming books.
Wild Iris Books will present a celebration of the Southern Lesbian Activist Herstory Project with a Release Party for Sinister Wisdom 93, at the Civic Media Center on Friday, July 18, 6–8pm. D