Rita Mae Brown

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Rita Mae Brown
Born (1944-11-28) November 28, 1944 (age 78)
Hanover, Pennsylvania, U.S.
  • Novelist
  • poet
  • screenwriter
  • activist
EducationUniversity of Florida
Broward College
New York University (BA)
School of Visual Arts
Union Institute and University (MA, PhD)
Literary movementLGBT rights, lesbian movement, feminism

Rita Mae Brown (born November 28, 1944) is an American feminist writer, best known for her coming-of-age autobiographical novel, Rubyfruit Jungle. Brown was active in a number of civil rights campaigns and criticized the marginalization of lesbians within feminist groups. Brown received the Pioneer Award for lifetime achievement at the Lambda Literary Awards in 2015.


Early life[edit]

Brown was born in 1944 in Hanover, Pennsylvania to an unmarried teenage mother and her mother's married boyfriend. Brown's birth mother left her at an orphanage. Her mother's cousin, Julia Brown, and her husband, Ralph, retrieved the newborn Brown from the orphanage,[1] and raised her as their own in York, Pennsylvania, and later in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.[2] Julia and Ralph Brown were active Republicans in their local party.[3]


Starting in late 1962, Brown attended the University of Florida on a scholarship.[4] In the spring of 1964, the administrators of the racially segregated university expelled her for participating in the civil rights movement.[4] She subsequently enrolled at Broward Community College[5] with the hope of transferring eventually to a more tolerant four-year institution.[6]

Early career[edit]

Brown hitchhiked to New York City and lived there between 1964 and 1969, sometimes homeless,[7] while attending New York University[8] where she received a degree in Classics and English. In 1968, she received a certificate in cinematography from the New York School of Visual Arts.[9]

Brown received a Ph.D. in literature from Union Institute & University in 1976 and holds a doctorate in political science from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.[10]

Brown wrote for Rat, an alternative bi-weekly that eventually became New York City's first women's liberation newspaper.[citation needed]

Later career[edit]

In 1982, Brown wrote a screenplay parodying the slasher genre titled Sleepless Nights; retitled The Slumber Party Massacre, the producers decided to play it seriously, and it was given a limited release theatrically.[11] Brown is featured in the feminist history film She's Beautiful When She's Angry.[12][13]

Philosophical and political views[edit]

In the spring of 1964, during her study at the University of Florida in Gainesville, she became active in the American Civil Rights Movement. Later in the 1960s, she participated in the anti-war movement, the feminist movement and the Lesbian Liberation movement.[14] She was involved with the Student Homophile League at Columbia University in 1967 but left it because the men in the league were not interested in women's rights.[15]

She was involved in the Redstockings, but also left the group because of its lack of involvement in lesbian rights.[15] She then went on to join the Gay Liberation Front, where she suggested the formation of an all-lesbian group, since many of the women felt excluded from the feminist movement and the male-led gay liberation movement.[15]

Brown took an administrative position with the fledgling National Organization for Women, but resigned in January 1970 over comments by Betty Friedan seen by some as anti-lesbian and by the NOW's attempts to distance itself from lesbian organizations.[16] Brown claimed that lesbian was "the one word that can cause the Executive Committee [of NOW] a collective heart attack."[17]

Brown played a leading role in the "Lavender Menace" zap of the Second Congress to Unite Women on May 1, 1970, which protested Friedan's remarks and the exclusion of lesbians from the women's movement.[18][19] Brown and other lesbians from the Gay Liberation Front created The Woman-Identified Woman, which was distributed at the zap. The group that wrote the manifesto then went on to become the "Radicalesbians".[15]

While doing work for the American Civil Rights Movement, Brown was introduced to consciousness-raising groups, which she incorporated into the organizations she created and the ones she worked in.[20][17]

In the early 1970s, she became a founding member of The Furies Collective, a separatist lesbian feminist collective in Washington, DC that held that heterosexuality was the root of all oppression.[18] The women wanted to create a communal living situation for radical feminists. The group purchased two houses, where they lived together and used consciousness raising techniques to talk about things like homophobia, feminism, and child rearing.[17] They believed that being a lesbian was a political act, not just a personal one. Brown was exiled from The Furies after a few months[15] and the group dismantled in 1972, a year after its inception.[17]

When asked if she had ever really come out, she told Time in 2008,

I don't believe in straight or gay. I really don't. I think we're all degrees of bisexual. There may be a few people on the extreme if it's a bell curve who really truly are gay or really truly are straight. Because nobody had ever said these things and used their real name, I suddenly became the only lesbian in America. It was hysterical. It was a misnomer, but it's okay. It was a fight worth fighting.[21]

Brown also does not consider herself a "lesbian writer" because she believes art is about connection and not about divisive labels.[17] In a 2015 interview for The Washington Post, Brown was asked if she thought awards in gay and lesbian literature were important; she replied:

I love language, I love literature, I love history, and I'm not even remotely interested in being gay. I find that one of those completely useless and confining categories. Those are definitions from our oppressors, if you will. I would use them warily. I would certainly not define myself — ever — in the terms of my oppressor. If you accept these terms, you're now lumped in a group. Now, you may need to be lumped in a group politically in order to fight that oppression; I understand that, but I don't accept it.[22]

Honors, decorations, awards and distinctions[edit]

Brown received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Arts Council to publish her novel Six of One.[23]

In 1982, Brown was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program for I Love Liberty,[24] and again for the ABC mini-series The Long Hot Summer in 1985.[25]

She was co-winner of the 1982 Writers Guild of America Award for I Love Liberty,[25][26] and the recipient of the New York Public Library's Literary Lion award of 1987.[26]

In 2015, Brown was presented the Pioneer Award for lifetime achievement at the 27th Lambda Literary Awards.[27]

In addition, Brown was nominated for an Audie award, and won both AudioFile Earphones and Publishers Weekly Listen-Up awards.[28]

Brown received an honorary doctorate from Wilson College in 1992.[26]

Personal life[edit]

Starting in 1973, Brown lived in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles.[29] In 1978, she moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where she lived briefly with American actress, author, and screenwriter Fannie Flagg, whom she had met at a Los Angeles party hosted by Marlo Thomas. They later broke up due to, according to Brown, "generational differences", although Flagg and Brown are the same age.[30][31][32]

In 1979, Brown met and fell in love with tennis champion Martina Navratilova.[30] In 1980, they bought a horse farm in Charlottesville where they lived together until their breakup, over Navratilova's then concern that coming out would hurt her application for U.S. citizenship.[30] Brown still lives on the estate in Charlottesville.[33][34]

Published works[edit]



  • Rubyfruit Jungle (1973) ISBN 0-553-27886-X
  • In Her Day (1976) ISBN 0-553-27573-9
  • A Plain Brown Rapper (June 1976) ISBN 0884470113
  • Southern Discomfort (1983) ISBN 0-553-27446-5
  • Sudden Death (1984) ISBN 0-553-26930-5
  • High Hearts (1987) ISBN 0-553-27888-6
  • Venus Envy (1994) ISBN 0-553-56497-8
  • Dolley: A Novel of Dolley Madison in Love and War (1995) ISBN 0-553-56949-X
  • Riding Shotgun (1996) ISBN 0-553-76353-9
  • Alma Mater (2002) ISBN 0-345-45532-0

Runnymede books[edit]


Mrs. Murphy Mysteries

The Mrs. Murphy Mysteries include "Sneaky Pie Brown" as a co-author.[36]

  1. Wish You Were Here (1990) ISBN 978-0-553-28753-0
  2. Rest in Pieces (1992) ISBN 978-0-553-56239-2
  3. Murder at Monticello (1994) ISBN 978-0-553-57235-3
  4. Pay Dirt (1995) ISBN 978-0-553-57236-0
  5. Murder, She Meowed (1996) ISBN 978-0-553-57237-7
  6. Murder on the Prowl (1998) ISBN 978-0-553-57540-8
  7. Cat on the Scent (1999) ISBN 978-0-553-57541-5
  8. Pawing Through the Past (2000) ISBN 978-0-553-58025-9
  9. Claws and Effect (2001) ISBN 978-0-553-58090-7
  10. Catch as Cat Can (2002) ISBN 978-0-553-58028-0
  11. The Tail of the Tip-Off (2003) ISBN 978-0-553-58285-7
  12. Whisker of Evil (2004) ISBN 978-0-553-58286-4
  13. Cat's Eyewitness (2005) ISBN 978-0-553-58287-1
  14. Sour Puss (2006) ISBN 978-0-553-58681-7
  15. Puss n' Cahoots (2007) ISBN 978-0-553-58682-4
  16. The Purrfect Murder (2008) ISBN 978-0-553-58683-1
  17. Santa Clawed (2008) ISBN 978-0-553-80706-6
  18. Cat of the Century (2010) ISBN 978-0-553-80707-3
  19. Hiss of Death (2011) ISBN 978-0-553-80708-0
  20. The Big Cat Nap (2012) ISBN 978-0-345-53044-8
  21. Sneaky Pie for President (2012) ISBN 1410450244/ISBN 0345530470 — Not a Mrs. Murphy mystery
  22. The Litter of the Law (2013) ISBN 978-0-345-53048-6
  23. Nine Lives to Die (2014) ISBN 978-0-345-53050-9
  24. Tail Gait (2015) ISBN 978-0-553-39236-4
  25. Tall Tail (2016) ISBN 978-0-553-39246-3
  26. A Hiss Before Dying (2017)[37]
  27. Probable Claws (2018)[38]
  28. Whiskers in the Dark (2019)[39]
  29. Furmidable Foes (2020)[40]
  30. Claws for Alarm (2021)[41]
  31. Hiss and Tell (2023)[42]

"Sister" Jane Mysteries

  1. Outfoxed (2000) ISBN 0345484258
  2. Hotspur (2002) ISBN 0345428234
  3. Full Cry (2003) ISBN 0345465202
  4. The Hunt Ball (2005) ISBN 0345465504
  5. The Hounds and the Fury (2006) ISBN 0345465482
  6. The Tell-Tale Horse (2007) ISBN 034550626X
  7. Hounded to Death (2008) ISBN 0345512375
  8. Fox Tracks (2012) ISBN 0345532996
  9. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (2014) ISBN 055339262X
  10. Crazy Like a Fox (2017)
  11. Homeward Hound (2018)
  12. Scarlet Fever (2019)
  13. Out of Hounds (2021)
  14. Thrill of the Hunt (2022)
  15. Lost and Hound (2023)

Mags Rogers Mysteries

  1. A Nose for Justice (2010) ISBN 978-0-345-51182-9[43]
  2. Murder Unleashed (2010) ISBN 978-0-345-51183-6



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cogdill, Oline H. (14 October 1997). "The Making Of Writer Rita Mae Brown". The Sun Sentinel. Archived from the original on 9 December 2015. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  2. ^ Brown, Rita Mae (1997). Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser. Bantam Books. pp. 1–2. ISBN 9780553099737.
  3. ^ "Novelist Rita Mae Brown on the Peculiar Pleasures of Train Travel". Wall Street Journal. 11 February 2015. Retrieved 6 May 2016. While I was enchanted by the animals, mother was often more taken with the people. She was active in the local Republican party and knew everyone. Of course, it's easy to know a lot of people in a small place. Dad was also involved in politics. Cigar in hand, a big smile on his handsome face, he would chat up the town's men as he walked me down to the horse car.
  4. ^ a b Brown, Rita Mae (1997). Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser. Bantam Books. pp. 183–184. ISBN 9780553099737.
  5. ^ Brown, Rita Mae (1997). Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser. Bantam Books. pp. 144–149. ISBN 9780553099737.
  6. ^ Brown, Rita Mae (1997). Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser. Bantam Books. pp. 186–189. ISBN 9780553099737.
  7. ^ Brown, Rita Mae (1997). Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser. Bantam Books. pp. 200–201. ISBN 9780553099737.
  8. ^ Brown, Rita Mae (1997). Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser. Bantam Books. pp. 209–210. ISBN 9780553099737.
  9. ^ Nelson, Emmanuel S. (2009). Encyclopedia of Contemporary LGBTQ Literature of the United States. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood Press. p. 95. ISBN 9780313348617.
  10. ^ Related by Brown in her autobiography Rita Will and Starting from Scratch.
  11. ^ Brown, Rita Mae (1997). Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser. Bantam Books. pp. 298–299. ISBN 9780553099737.
  12. ^ "The Women".
  13. ^ "The Film — She's Beautiful When She's Angry". Shesbeautifulwhenshesangry.com. Retrieved 2017-04-28.
  14. ^ Jacob Wheeler (20 August 2014). "An Evening with Rita Mae Brown". Retrieved April 25, 2018.
  15. ^ a b c d e Faderman, Lillian (2015). The Gay Revolution: The Story of Struggle. Simon and Schuster. p. 232.
  16. ^ Brownmiller, Susan (1999). In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution. Dial Press. ISBN 0-385-31486-8.
  17. ^ a b c d e Hogan, Steve; Hudson, Lee (1998). Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia. New York: Henry Holt.
  18. ^ a b Related by Brown in her autobiography Rita Will.
  19. ^ Davies, Diana. "Photograph". New York Public Library Digital Collections. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  20. ^ "Author and Activist Rita Mae Brown". Retrieved 6 May 2016.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ Sachs, Andrea (18 March 2008). "Rita Mae Brown: Loves Cats, Hates Marriage". Time Magazine. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  22. ^ Burns, Carole (May 30, 2015). "Rita Mae Brown, awarded as pioneer of lesbian literature, scoffs at the term". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  23. ^ Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 9, 1978: Interview with Rita Mae Brown. WHYY-FM. October 9, 1978. OCLC 959925415. Scroll down to 'View online' to hear the audio of the interview.
  24. ^ "34th Primetime Emmys Nominees and Winners". emmys.com. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  25. ^ a b "Brown, Rita Mae 1944- | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  26. ^ a b c International Who's Who in Poetry 2005. Taylor & Francis. 2004. ISBN 9781857432695.
  27. ^ "Opinion | Rita Mae Brown 'not interested' in being gay". Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights. 2015-06-12. Retrieved 2019-09-22.
  28. ^ "The Sand Castle (MP3 CD) | Politics and Prose Bookstore". www.politics-prose.com. Retrieved 2019-09-22.
  29. ^ Brown, Rita Mae (1997). Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser. Bantam Books. pp. 288–289. ISBN 9780553099737.
  30. ^ a b c Mansfield, Stephanie (13 August 1981). "Rita Mae Brown, Martina Navratilova &". The Washington Post. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  31. ^ Foster, Steven (1 November 2009). "Rita Mae Goes to the Dogs". OutSmart Magazine. Archived from the original on 30 July 2017.
  32. ^ Bernard, Marie Lyn (28 October 2013). "15 Lesbian Couples Time Forgot". Autostraddle. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  33. ^ Brown, Rita Mae (1997). Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser. Bantam Books. pp. 322–329. ISBN 9780553099737.
  34. ^ "Rita Mae Brown". 2013-05-15. Archived from the original on May 15, 2013. Retrieved 2019-01-29.
  35. ^ Sisterhood is powerful : an anthology of writings from the women's liberation movement (Book, 1970). [WorldCat.org]. OCLC 96157.
  36. ^ "Mrs. Murphy Series". Penguin Random House.
  37. ^ "A Hiss Before Dying by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown - PenguinRandomHouse.com". Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  38. ^ "Probable Claws by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown - PenguinRandomHouse.com". Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  39. ^ "Whiskers in the Dark by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown - PenguinRandomHouse.com". Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  40. ^ "Furmidable Foes by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown - PenguinRandomHouse.com". Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  41. ^ "Claws for Alarm by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown - PenguinRandomHouse.com". Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  42. ^ "Hiss and Tell by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown - PenguinRandomHouse.com". Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  43. ^ "Rita Mae Brown books in order". Retrieved 4 April 2023.

External links[edit]