Judy Grahn

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Judy Rae Grahn
Born (1940-07-28) July 28, 1940 (age 76)
Chicago, Illinois
Occupation poet
Nationality American
Genre Lesbian Feminism/Poetry

Judy Rae Grahn (born July 28, 1940, in Chicago, Illinois) is an American poet and author. Grahn's work focuses on feminist and lesbian experience.

Personal life[edit]

Judy Rae Grahn was born in 1940 in Chicago, Illinois. Her father was a cook and her mother was a photographer's assistant. Grahn described her childhood as taking place in "an economically poor and spiritually depressed late 1950s New Mexico desert town near the hellish border of West Texas." When she was eighteen, she eloped with a student named Yvonne at a nearby college . Grahn credits Yvonne with opening her eyes to gay culture. Soon thereafter she would join the United States Air Force. At twenty-one she was discharged (in a "less than honorable," manner, she stated) for being a lesbian.[1]

At the age of 25, Grahn suffered from Inoculation lymphoreticulosis, or Cat Scratch Fever, which led to her being in a coma. After overcoming her illness, she realized that she wanted to become a poet. This realization was partially due to the abuse and mistreatment Grahn faced for being openly lesbian.[2] Of the incident, Grahn stated "I realized that if I was going to do what I had set out to do in my life, I would have to go all the way with it and take every single risk you could take.... I decided I would not do anything I didn't want to do that would keep me from my art."[3]

Grahn would move to the west coast where she would become active in the feminist poetry movement of the 1970s. During this period, many rumors surfaced pertaining to Grahn's weight and a possible eating disorder. Grahn attributes her thin frame to poor eating habits, smoking cigarettes, and drinking coffee.[4]

She earned her PhD from the California Institute of Integral Studies.[5] Until 2007, Grahn was the director of the Women's Spirituality (MA) and Creative Inquiry (MFA) programs at the New College of California.[4]

Today, Grahn lives in California and teaches at the California Institute for Integral Studies, the New College of California, and the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology.[5] There she teaches women's mythology and ancient literature, Metaformic Consciousness (a philosophy created by Grahn), and Uncommon Kinship - a course that uses theories from her Metaformic philosophy.[4]


Grahn was a member of the Gay Women’s Liberation Group, the first lesbian-feminist collective on the West Coast, founded in 1969. The group established the first women’s bookstore, A Woman’s Place, as well as the first all-woman press, the Woman’s Press Collective, which strived to devote "itself exclusively to work by lesbians disfranchised by race or class".[6] Grahn’s poems circulated in “periodicals, performances, chapbooks, and by word of mouth, and were foundational documents of lesbian feminism.”[6] Her work did not extend to a commercial audience until the late 1970s; however, it garnered a wide underground audience before 1975. Carl Morse and Joan Larkin cite Grahn’s work as “fueling the explosion of lesbian poetry that began in the 70s.”[6]

Grahn's poetry is at times free verse, covering mainly feminist and lesbian subjects and themes. Her works stay true to her working-class roots, covering racism, sexism, classicism, and the struggles of being female and a lesbian.[4] She uses plain language and what the Poetry Foundation describes as an "etymological curiosity that often eschews metaphor in favor of incantation."[5] Grahn does not limit her work to just written poetry, but also collaborates with other artists such as singer-songwriter Anne Carol Mitchell and dancer and choreographer Anne Blethenthal.[5]

Today, Grahn co-edits the online journal Metaformia, a journal about menstruation and women's culture.[5]


Her first poetry collection, Edward the Dyke and Other Poems was released in 1971, and was combined with She Who (1972) and A Woman is Talking to Death (1974) in a poetry collection titled The Work of a Common Woman in 1978. In 1974 she held a reading of the poetry from the first two books at an event organized by the Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective. On A Woman is Talking to Death Grahn stated that it began "a redefinition for myself of the subject of love."[4] A collection of selected and newer poems, love belongs to those who do the feeling (2008) won the 2009 Lambda Literary Award for lesbian poetry.[5]

Grahn's poetry has been used as a source of empowerment and a way to reestablish possession of words and signs of lesbian culture that are often used as derogatory by outsiders. In a short poem from the She Who collection (1971-1972) she confidently asserts, "I am the dyke in the matter, the other / I am the wall with the womanly swagger / I am the dragon, the dangerous dagger / I am the bulldyke, the bulldagger."[2]

In 1993, Grahn wrote her second book, Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World which focuses on menstrual rituals as the origin of human civilization by using anthropology, history, archeology, myths, and stories.[7]

In addition, lines from her Common Woman collection became "touchstones for the women's movement in the seventies, such as 'the common woman is as common as the best of bread/ and will rise.'"[8]


Margot Gayle Backus cites Grahn’s best work as her poem, "A Woman is Talking to Death". She argues for its "extraordinary impact on its audiences and readers", and attributes this to “Grahn’s assumption of an utterly believable, vulnerable poetic voice that fearlessly and scrupulously speaks the truth to an overwhelming but nonetheless nameable, identifiable, and therefore negotiable power.”[8] Backus argues that Grahn's "prophetic poetic voice" may be attributed to works such as "Lycidas" or that of the poets Shakespeare and Donne.[8] Backus writes that in "A Woman is Talking to Death", “the central themes of the elegy and the love lyric interpenetrate in complex and innovative ways... Grahn thematically consolidates two major canonical poetic genres with deep roots in the historical development of poetic representation in Europe while radically transforming them by introducing into poetic form a broad nexus of trends in twentieth-century lesbian writing.”[8]

Grahn is a chief theorist behind Metaformic Theory, a theory that traces the roots of culture back to ancient menstrual rights. The theory first emerged in her book Blood, Bread, and Roses.[7]

Grahn also interestingly plays with language in her poem “The woman in three pieces”. Lydia Bastida Tullis cites Grahn as emphasizing language’s formal properties “by increasingly straining its ability to make ‘sense,’” and ultimately calling into question “the speaker’s (and reader’s) relationship to language.”[9]


Aside from the Lambda Literary Award, Grahn has been the recipient of other awards for her work. She has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, an American Book Review award, an American Book Award, an American Library Award, and a Founding Foremothers of Women’s Spirituality Award.[5] She received the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from Publishing Triangle in 1994.

Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction[edit]

In 1997, Publishing Triangle, an association of lesbians and gay men in publishing, established the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction to recognize the best nonfiction book of the year affecting lesbian lives.[5]


  • Another Mother Tongue. Boston: Beacon Press (1984). ISBN 978-0807079119
  • with Foreword by Charlene Spretnak. Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World. Boston: Beacon Press (1993). ISBN 0-8070-7505-1[10]
  • with Betty De Shong Meador. Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart : Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess. Austin: University of Texas Press (2001). ISBN 0-292-75242-3
  • with Lisa Maria Hogeland. The Judy Grahn Reader. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books (2009). ISBN 1-879960-80-X
  • with Gina Covina and Laurel Galana. The Lesbian Reader. Barn Owl Books (1975). ISBN 0-9609626-0-3
  • Love Belongs to Those Who Do the Feeling. Pasadena: Red Hen Press (2008). ISBN 1-59709-121-9
  • Mundane's World. Crossing Press (1988). ISBN 0-89594-316-6
  • Really Reading Gertrude Stein: A Selected Anthology With Essays by Judy Grahn. Crossing Press (1990). ISBN 0-89594-381-6
  • The Work of a Common Woman: The Collected Poetry of Judy Grahn 1964-1977. Crossing Press (1984). ISBN 0-89594-155-4
  • A Simple Revolution. Aunt Lute Books (November 27, 2012). ISBN 1-879960-87-7
  • Edward the Dyke and Other Poems. Women's Press Collective (1971).
  • A Woman is Talking to Death (1974)
  • She Who (1977)
  • The Queens of Wands. Crossing Press (1982). ISBN 0-89594-095-7
  • The Work of a Common Woman: Collected Poetry (1964-1977). New York: St. Martin's Press (1982). ISBN 0-312-88948-8
  • The Queen of Swords (1990)
  • Love Belongs to Those Who Do the Feeling (2008) (Winner, 2009 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry)
  • Detroit Annie Hitchhiking (2009)
  • Lunarchy (2010)

Further reading[edit]

  • Dehler, Johanna. Fragments of Desire: Sapphic Fictions in Works by H.D., Judy Grahn, and Monique Wittig. New York: Peter Lang Publishing (1999). ISBN 0-8204-3617-8


  1. ^ Paul Russell (2002). The Gay 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Gay Men and Lesbians, Past and Present. Kensington Books. pp. 341–343. ISBN 978-0-7582-0100-3. Retrieved 29 December 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Susan Padezanin (2003). "Judy Grahn". Biography. Center for Working Class Studies. Retrieved 24 February 2012. 
  3. ^ "Judy Grahn (b. 1940)". Biography. glbtq.com. 2006. Retrieved 24 February 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Judy Grahn in Cyberspace". Biography. Judy Grahn. 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "Judy Grahn". Poems & Poets. Poetry Foundation. 2011. Retrieved 29 December 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c Garber, Linda. "Putting the Word Dyke on the Map: Judy Grahn" in Identity Poetics. Columbia University Press, 2001, p. 32.
  7. ^ a b http://bailiwick.lib.uiowa.edu/wstudies/grahn/
  8. ^ a b c d Backus, Margot Gayle. Judy Grahn and the Lesbian Invocational Elegy: Testimonial and Prophetic Responses to Social Death in 'A woman is Talking to Death'. Signs, Vol. 18, No. 4, Theorizing Lesbian Experience (Summer, 1993), p. 816.
  9. ^ Tullis, Lynn Bastida. "Materiality, Ideology, and Subjectivity in Judy Grahn's 'The Woman in Three Pieces.' Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Sep., 1994), p. 70.
  10. ^ http://bailiwick.lib.uiowa.edu/wstudies/grahn/02forward.htm

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