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Ann Bannon Interview - An Interview with Lesbian Pulp Author Ann Bannon

The Queen of Lesbian Pulp Fiction

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Ann Bannon Seated with Odd Girl Out

Ann Bannon Seated with Odd Girl Out

© Jason Ganwich
Updated September 01, 2011
Back in the conservative 1950s it was rare for lesbians to find any mention of themselves in popular culture. When they did, negative images were usually all they found. All that changed with the advent of pulp fiction, throw-away paperback books that could be purchased in drug stores, train stations and bus stops. Along with detective stories, westerns and science fiction, stories of lesbian love and romance were very popular.

Many of these books were written by men under pen names, but a few were written by actual lesbians. Not surprisingly, those books became the most beloved amongst lesbians. Ann Bannon was one of the first lesbian pulp authors and one of the most successful. Although she was married and not quite living a lesbian life when she penned her popular books, Ann Bannon, author of Odd Girl Out, Beebo Brinker, I am a Woman, Journey to a Woman and Women in the Shadows, struggled with same-sex attractions and came out later in life. In fact, she calls her books "love letters to the women I thought I would never get to know."

Her books were condensed into a play, The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, that was produced off Broadway in 2007 and 2008 by Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner.

I had the honor of speaking with Ann Bannon in September 2008, more than 50 years after the publication of her first novel, Odd Girl Out.

Lesbian Life: So what was that like for you, seeing your pulp novel become an Off-Broadway play?

Ann Bannon: Oh, gosh. It was an out of body experience. It was just wonderful. It gave me a chance to meet some wonderful people who had either loved the books for many years or who were just getting acquainted with them and found the whole era that I was writing about so fascinating.

Do you think the play will be revived?

Yes, as soon as they have a chance to get it in print form, it will start to circulate amongst the regional theaters across the country.

Did you have any hand in writing it?

Not in writing the play, no. They are two great women: Kate Moira Ryan and Linda Chapman. I stayed out of it because in the first place, they were doing a brilliant job, but in the second place I thought they knew a heck of a lot more about how to make a story cohere on the stage then would be the case if I tried to barge in. And they were compressing three of the books into one stage piece. There was an awful lot of pruning going on and I thought, well, if I’m there, I’m going to want to protect all those characters.

It was well received. The New York Times was very good to it. We had a terrific cast. It was sort of a revelation to me to see how much insight and energy they were able to put into people and to a time that was so far before the era of their own lives. They did it with a lot of sympathy.

The Repressive 1950s

The problems of the era, the repression, the fear people had, the effort to blend in. The fact that there really wasn’t any good way for people to meet outside of the gay and lesbian bars. It was one of the reasons that the bars were so important. It also concentrated people in Greenwich Village in the evenings and it made them very vulnerable to police raids and exposure. People took terrible risks. But there were no community centers, there were no gay and lesbian bookstores, there were not publications. Later there were two. The women publishing The Ladder and they guys in the Mattachine Society publishing One magazine. But they had such difficulty reaching an audience. The audience that craved that stuff was afraid to receive it.

Lesbian Bars in the 1950s

So the bars played a very central role in the way people managed their social lives. You always walked in those bars and the first thing you wanted to know was, how long has it been since they were raided because there was a kind of a schedule. You were really watching over your shoulder in those places. It was also a lot of fun. It was hard to stay away.

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