Holly Hughes (performance artist)

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Holly Hughes
Born (1955-03-10) March 10, 1955 (age 69)
Saginaw, Michigan
EducationKalamazoo College
Notable worksWell of Horniness (1983), Clit Notes (1996)
Notable awards7 grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Obie Award and Lambda Book Award

Holly Hughes (born March 10, 1955) is an American lesbian performance artist.[1][2]

She began as a feminist painter in New York City but is best known for her connection with the NEA Four, with whom she was denied funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, and for her work with the Women's One World Cafe. Her plays explore sexuality, body images and the female mind.[3] She is the recipient of several awards including the Lambda Book Award and an Obie Award. She is a professor of art and design as well as theater and drama at the University of Michigan School of Art & Design.[4]


Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Hughes graduated from Kalamazoo College in 1977 and moved to New York City two years later[1] to become a feminist painter.[5] She worked as a waitress to support herself but felt unfulfilled, later writing: "Why had I moved to New York City to live in an even crummier apartment and do the same things that I was doing in Kalamazoo?"[6] She saw[when?] a poster promoting a "Double X-rated Christmas party" to be held in the basement of a Catholic church. There she found lesbian women stripping, kissing booths, and a highly sexual atmosphere. She eagerly attended many such parties, became involved with the group and began doing theater with them because "that's what they were doing".[6] Hughes' first performance at the Women's One World Cafe (Wow Cafe) in the early 1980s was a piece called "My Life as a Glamour Don't", about various fashion mistakes. She followed this up with "Shrimp in a Basket" and then her breakthrough Well of Horniness (1983).[6] At the WOW Cafe, Hughes felt that she was able to "tell the stories she so desperately wanted to be told as a child."[citation needed]

Hughes wrote, directed and performed in Dress Suits to Hire (1987).[1][7] Critic Stephen Holden commented, in reviewing the play, "While Ms. Hughes's more poetic writing recalls Sam Shepard, the campy B-movie side of her sensibility shows her to be equally in tune with John Waters's movies and Charles Busch's drag extravaganzas."[8] Focusing on the subjects of sexuality, masturbation and Jesus, her plays usually explore issues that she confronted as a young woman in college.[citation needed] In 1990 Hughes earned national attention as one of the so-called NEA Four, artists whose funding from the National Endowment for the Arts ("NEA") was vetoed.[9][10]

In 1996, Hughes released perhaps her most famous and influential performances: Clit Notes. In this piece, Hughes performs several roles: herself at different ages, her mother, and various lovers that she has had.[11] Hughes uses her writing to explore herself and to understand the events that have shaped her life, often using her writing to escape from elements that she perceives as repressive.[12] In 1998, Hughes co-edited an anthology of queer solo performance with David Roman called O Solo Homo:The New Queer Performance, which included her own Clit Notes. A review by Don Shewey in The Advocate noted the cultural and sexual diversity of contributors.[13]

In February 2017 Hughes organized a D.I.Y. style cabaret-style series of performance events protesting newly elected Donald Trump's presidency entitled "Not My President's Day."[1] Archived 2017-02-23 at the Wayback Machine These events which were organized by participants in over sixty cities including Ann Arbor, Brno, Czech Republic, Chicago, Brooklyn, Gateshead, United Kingdom, and San Jose raised funds for organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the A.C.L.U. She "worked with artists across the globe to build a loose network of over 35 Presidents Day events spanning the U.S., Britain and Italy. Most of the events used some variant on the names "Not My President's Day" or "Bad and Nasty" (derived from President Trump's reference to "bad hombres" and his description of Hillary Clinton as a "nasty woman" during the presidential debates)."[14]

Hughes works as a professor at the University of Michigan School of Art & Design.[15] In 2010, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship.[16]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Gianoulis, Tina. "Hughes, Holly (b. 1955)" (PDF). glbtqarchive.com.
  2. ^ Klein, Alvin (25 July 1993). "'Too Shocking' Sends Urgent Messages". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  3. ^ Davy, Kate (1993). "Chapter 2: From Lady Dick to Ladylike: The Work of Holly Hughes". In Hart, Lynda; Phelan, Peggy (eds.). Acting Out: Feminist Performances. University of Michigan Press. pp. 55–84. ISBN 9780472064793.
  4. ^ "Holly Hughes". stamps.umich.edu. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
  5. ^ Schneider, Rebecca (1989). "Holly Hughes: Polymorphous Perversity and the Lesbian Scientist". The Drama Review. 33 (1): 171–183. doi:10.2307/1145952. JSTOR 1145952.
  6. ^ a b c Asnes, Miriam. Interview with Holly Hughes. OCLC 133089381. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  7. ^ Holly Hughes: Polymorphous Perversity and the Lesbian Scientist, interview with Rebecca Schneider, TDR, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Spring, 1989), pp. 171–83
  8. ^ Stephen Holden (February 3, 1988). "Theater: 'Dress Suits'". New York Times.
  9. ^ Wilmoth, Charles M.; Hughes, Holly (1991). "The Archaeology of Muff Diving: An Interview with Holly Hughes". TDR. 35 (3): 216–220. doi:10.2307/1146145. ISSN 1054-2043. JSTOR 1146145.
  10. ^ Anita Gates (May 10, 2000). "Theater Review: A Frontline Soldier in the Culture Wars Lobs Grenades". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Wilkinson, Kathleen (April 1998). "Holly Hughes takes Clit Notes to new heights". Lesbian News. 23 (9): 30.
  12. ^ Hall, Lynda (January 1997). "Holly Hughes performing: self-invention and body talk". Postmodern Culture. 7 (2). doi:10.1353/pmc.1997.0010. S2CID 143902692.
  13. ^ Shewey, Don (September 1, 1998). "O Solo Homo: The New Queer Performance". The Advocate. Regent Media. p. 55.
  14. ^ "Celebrating 'Nasty Women' and 'Bad Hombres'". Detroit News. Retrieved 2017-02-22.
  15. ^ "Holly Hughes". stamps.umich.edu. University of Michigan. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  16. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation - Holly Hughes". www.gf.org. John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 4 February 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gilson-Ellis, Jools. "New women performance writers; Rose English and Holly Hughes." Journal of Gender Studies 5.2 (1996): 201. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.
  • Noriega, Jimmy A. and Jordan Schildcrout. "The NEA Four" in 50 Key Figures in Queer US Theatre. Routledge, 2022, pp. 179-183.