Dorothy Allison

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Dorothy Allison
Allison at the 2011 Miami Book Fair
Allison at the 2011 Miami Book Fair
Born (1949-04-11) April 11, 1949 (age 75)
Greenville, South Carolina, U.S.
  • Writer
  • poet
  • novelist
EducationFlorida Presbyterian College (BA)
Florida State University
The New School for Social Research (MA)
Subjectclass struggle, child and sexual abuse, women, lesbianism, feminism, and family
Literary movementFeminism
SpouseAlix Layman

Dorothy Allison (born April 11, 1949) is an American writer from South Carolina whose writing focuses on class struggle, sexual abuse, child abuse, feminism and lesbianism.[1] She is a self-identified lesbian femme.[2] Allison has won a number of awards for her writing, including several Lambda Literary Awards. In 2014, Allison was elected to membership in the Fellowship of Southern Writers.[3]


Early life[edit]

Dorothy E. Allison was born on April 11, 1949, in Greenville, South Carolina, to Ruth Gibson Allison, who was 15 years old at the time. Her father died when she was a baby. Her single mother was poor, working as a waitress and cook. Ruth eventually married, but when Dorothy was five, her stepfather began to abuse her sexually. This abuse lasted for seven years. At the age of 12, Allison told a relative about it, who told her mother. Ruth forced her husband to leave the girl alone, and the family remained together. The respite did not last long, as the stepfather resumed the sexual abuse, continuing for five years. Allison suffered mentally and physically, contracting gonorrhea that was not diagnosed and treated until she was in her 20s. The untreated disease left her unable to have children.[4]

When aged about 11, Allison moved with her family to Central Florida. Allison found respite from her family life in school. She says she became aware of her lesbian sexuality during her early adolescence.[5]


Allison was the first of her family to graduate from high school.[6]

In 1967, Allison attended Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) on a National Merit scholarship. While in college, she joined the women's movement by way of a feminist collective. She credits "militant feminists" for encouraging her decision to write. Also around this time, Allison severed all ties to her family until 1981.[7] She graduated in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology.[8]

Allison subsequently did graduate work in anthropology at Florida State University, The Sagaris Institute, and the New School for Social Research, where she earned a M.A. in urban anthropology in 1981.[5][9]


Allison held a wide variety of jobs before gaining any success as a writer. From 1973 to 1974, she was the editor of the feminist magazine Amazing Grace, in Tallahassee, Florida. During this time, she was also a founding manager of Herstore Feminist Bookstore in Tallahassee.[9]

She worked as a salad girl, a maid, a nanny, and a substitute teacher. She also worked at a child-care center, answered phones at a rape crisis center, and clerked with the Social Security Administration. In certain periods, she trained during the day and at night sat in her motel room and wrote on yellow legal pads. She wrote about her life experiences, including the abuse by her stepfather, dealing with poverty, and her lust for women. This became the backbone of her future works.[10]

Allison's first book of poetry, The Women Who Hate Me, was published with Long Haul Press in 1983. In 1988, her first short story collection, Trash, was published by Firebrand Books.[6]

Her first novel Bastard Out of Carolina was published in 1992 to great acclaim, becoming a best-seller. It was later adapted as a film of the same name, directed by Anjelica Huston for TNT. The book and film both generated controversy because of the graphic content, and the TV film was aired on Showtime rather than TNT. The Canadian Maritime Film Classification Board initially banned distribution of the film in Canada, but it was reversed on appeal. In November 1997, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a State Board of Education decision to ban the book in public high schools because of its graphic content.[10]

Allison would go on to publish another novel and two collections of poetry and short stories.[11]

In 1998, Allison founded The Independent Spirit Award to support writers who help sustain small presses and independent bookstores.[5]

In 2006, Allison was the writer in residence at Columbia College in Chicago.

During spring 2007, Allison was Emory University Center for Humanistic Inquiry’s Distinguished Visiting Professor.

In the summer of 2007, she was Famosa in residence at Macondo in San Antonio, Texas.

In 2007, Allison announced that she was working on a new novel entitled She Who, to be published by Riverhead Books.[12]

Allison held a three-month residency at Emory University in Atlanta in 2008 as the Bill and Carol Fox Center Distinguished Visiting Professor.[10]

In fall 2009, Allison was The McGee Professor and writer in residence at Davidson College, in North Carolina.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Allison now lives in Northern California, calling herself a "happily born-again Californian". She lives with her late partner of more than 30 years, Alix Layman, and son, Wolf Michael.[13][6]

Allison at the 2008 Brooklyn Book Festival.


Themes in Allison's work include class struggle, child and sexual abuse, women, lesbianism, feminism, and family. French literary scholar Mélanie Grué, describes Allison's work as a celebration of "the vilified transgressive lesbian body."[14] Grué also notes Allison's ability "to make [lesbian] desire and pleasure public" in her writing, in contrast to the second-wave feminist views on "correct expressions" of sexuality.[14]

Allison's first novel, the semi-autobiographical Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), was one of five finalists for the 1992 National Book Award.[15]

Her influences include Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Jewelle Gomez, Toni Morrison, Bertha Harris, and Audre Lorde.[5] Allison says The Bluest Eye by Morrison helped her to write about incest.[16] In the early 1980s, Allison met Lorde at a poetry reading. After reading what would eventually become her short-story "River of Names," Lorde approached her and told her that she simply must write.[10]

Sex and gender activist[edit]

Allison says that the early Feminist movement changed her life. "It was like opening your eyes under water. It hurt, but suddenly everything that had been dark and mysterious became visible and open to change." However, she admits, she would never have begun to publish her stories if she hadn't gotten over her prejudices, and started talking to her mother and sisters again.[6]

Allison has advocated for safer sex and is active in feminist and lesbian communities.[17] She and Jo Arnone cofounded the Lesbian Sex Mafia in 1981, the "oldest continuously running women’s BDSM support and education group in the country".[18][19]

Honors and awards[edit]

Bastard Out of Carolina was a finalist for the 1992 National Book Award in the fiction category.

Publishing Triangle named Bastard Out of Carolina one of "The Triangle’s 100 Best " novels of the 1990s.[20]

In 2007, Allison was elected to the Fellowship of Southern Writers.[21] The same year, she was awarded the Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelists' Prize at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival,[22] as well as the Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction.[23]

In 2018, Allison received the Trailblazer Award from the Golden Crown Literary Society for being, in the words of Karin Kallmaker, "the original firebrand. She didn't write for approval, she wrote to survive. She is a firebrand, truthteller, and trailblazer."[24]

In 2019, the Alice B Readers Appreciation Committee of The Alice B Readers Award bestowed the coveted Alice B Medal and honorarium upon Allison.[25] and the Thomas Wolfe Prize [26]

Awards and honors for Allison's writing
Year Title Award Result Ref.
1989 Trash Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction Winner [27]
Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Small Press Book Award Winner [27]
1992 Bastard Out of Carolina ALA Outstanding Books for the College Bound and Lifelong Learners Selection [28]
1993 Ferro Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction Winner [29]
1995 Skin Stonewall Book Award Winner [30]
Lambda Literary Award for Small Press Book Award Finalist [31]
Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Studies Winner [31]
1996 Two or Three Things I Know for Sure Stonewall Book Award Finalist [32][33]
1998 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir or Biography Finalist [34]
Cavedweller New York Times Notable Book of the Year Selection [35]
1999 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction Winner [36]
2013 Conversations with Dorothy Allison ALA Over the Rainbow Project Book List Selection [37]



  • The Women Who Hate Me: Poems by Dorothy Allison (1983)
  • Trash: Short Stories (1988) ISBN 9780452283510
  • The Women Who Hate Me: Poetry 1980–1990 (1991) ISBN 978-0932379986
  • Bastard Out of Carolina (1992) ISBN 9780452297753
  • Skin: Talking About Sex, Class & Literature (1994) ISBN 9780044409441
  • Two or Three Things I Know for Sure (1995) ISBN 9780006548812
  • Cavedweller (1998) ISBN 978-0452279698
  • She Who (TBA)
  • Conversations with Dorothy Allison (2012) ISBN 9781617032868
  • Jason Who Will be Famous (2009)

Anthology contributions[edit]



In popular culture[edit]

Her name appears in the lyrics of the Le Tigre song "Hot Topic."[38]


  1. ^ Jetter, Alexis (December 17, 1995). "The Roseanne of Literature". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 4, 2020.
  2. ^ Ed. Burke, Jennifer Clare (2009). Visible: A Femmethology Vol. 2. Homofactus Press. p. 44. ISBN 978-0978597351.
  3. ^ "Dorothy Allison". The Fellowship of Southern Writers. Archived from the original on 28 August 2015. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
  4. ^ Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. 2004. ISBN 978-0-7876-3995-2.
  5. ^ a b c d "Dorothy Allison". Retrieved October 1, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Dorothy Allison | Bio". dorothyallison. Retrieved October 1, 2020.
  7. ^ Juncker, Clara (April 15, 2016). "Allison, Dorothy". South Carolina Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 4, 2020.
  8. ^ Anderson, Kelly (November 18–19, 2007). "Voices of Feminism Oral History Project: Interview with Dorothy Allison" (PDF). Smith College Libraries. Retrieved October 4, 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Dorothy Allison papers, 1965-2010 - Archives & Manuscripts at Duke University Libraries". David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Retrieved October 4, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c d Marsh, Janet Z. "Dorothy Allison" in Dictionary of Literary Biography: Twenty-First-Century American Novelists, Second Series (Detroit, MI: Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009), ISBN 978-0-7876-8168-5
  11. ^ "book inner". dorothyallison. Retrieved October 4, 2020.
  12. ^ Hartt, Jordan (March 28, 2007). "An Interview with Dorothy Allison". Centrum. Archived from the original on July 20, 2011.
  13. ^ Kallmaker, Karin (July 15, 2018). "Dorothy Allison: Burning Hot Hope". Retrieved October 4, 2020.
  14. ^ a b Grué, Mélanie (September 16, 2015). "Celebrating Queer Lesbian Desires with Dorothy Allison: From moral monstrosity to the beautiful materiality of the body". Ilha do Desterro. 68 (2): 127. doi:10.5007/2175-8026.2015v68n2p127. ISSN 2175-8026.
  15. ^ "Depth, From The South At Hamilton College, Dorothy Allison Offers Crowd A Sip Of Reality." Laura T. Ryan Staff. The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY). STARS; p. 21, October 22, 2000.
  16. ^ Dorothy, Allison (2012). Bastard out of Carolina. New York: Penguin. pp. Afterword. ISBN 978-0452269576. OCLC 27640153.
  17. ^ Tomaso, Carla (January 1, 1995). "Never the Good Girl : SKIN: Sex, Class & Literature, By Dorothy Allison (Firebrand Books: $13.95, paper; 264 pp.)". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 4, 2020.
  18. ^ Pat Califia (1988). The Lesbian S/M Safety Manual. Lace Publications. ISBN 978-1-55583-301-5.
  19. ^ "About Us – Lesbian Sex Mafia". Retrieved May 3, 2020.
  20. ^ "Best Lesbian and Gay Novels". The Publishing Triangle. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  21. ^ "Dorothy Allison". Fellowship of Southern Writers. Archived from the original on 2015-08-28. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  22. ^ "Saints and Sinners Literary Festival" Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine., May 8, 2007.
  23. ^ "Robert Penn Warren Award". The Fellowship of Southern Writers. Archived from the original on 2022-02-23. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  24. ^ "Golden Crown Literary Society Awards Include Dorothy Allison..." Windy City Times. 6 July 2018. Retrieved 2022-03-01.
  25. ^ "Past Winner Biographies: Dorothy Allison". Alice B Awards. Retrieved 2022-03-01.
  26. ^ "Previous Winners of Thomas Wolfe Prize and Lecture".
  27. ^ a b "1st Annual Lambda Literary Awards". Lambda Literary. 2010-01-13. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  28. ^ "Bastard Out of Carolina | Awards & Grants". American Library Association. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  29. ^ "The Ferro-Grumley Awards". The Publishing Triangle. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  30. ^ "Skin: Talking About Sex, Class & Literature | Awards & Grants". American Library Association. 2011-12-01. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  31. ^ a b Gonzalez Cerna, Antonio (1995-07-15). "7th Annual Lambda Literary Awards". Lambda Literary. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  32. ^ "Stonewall Book Awards List". American Library Association. 2009-09-09. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  33. ^ "Two or Three Things I Know for Sure | Awards & Grants". American Library Association. 2011-12-01. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  34. ^ Gonzalez Cerna, Antonio (1996-07-14). "8th Annual Lambda Literary Awards". Lambda Literary Foundation. Archived from the original on 2012-03-04. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  35. ^ "Notable Books of 1998". The New York Times. 1998-12-06. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  36. ^ Gonzalez Cerna, Antonio (1999-07-15). "11th Annual Lambda Literary Awards". Lambda Literary. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  37. ^ "Conversations with Dorothy Allison | Awards & Grants". American Library Association. 2017-11-14. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  38. ^ Oler, Tammy (October 31, 2019). "57 Champions of Queer Feminism, All Name-Dropped in One Impossibly Catchy Song". Slate Magazine.

Further reading[edit]