The Beebo Brinker Chronicles

Five lesbian pulp novels by Ann Bannon get a deserved second look

In the 1950s and early 1960s, one could wander into practically any American drugstore, dime-store or bus station and purchase a lesbian-themed, mass-marketed paperback novel. It seems almost inconceivable in the era of McCarthy, Red-baiting and Eisenhower, but it’s the truth.

Most of these pulp novels were wrapped in lurid covers designed––theoretically, at least––to appeal to the prurient interests of men. Nearly all of the books portrayed their lesbian characters as desperate and depraved. In the end, the women were either “saved” by heterosexuality or doomed to insanity, a gory death or suicide.

There were, however, a few exceptions to this standard, depressing format. Most notable among them was a series of five novels by a young writer publishing under the name Ann Bannon who allowed her lesbian characters to embrace their love of women, and consequently her books did what the other lesbian pulps did not. They provided lesbians across the nation with a much-needed sense of hope for happiness and companionship.

Gold Medal Books published the first of Bannon’s books, “Odd Girl Out,” in 1957. It is the story of two college sorority sisters, Beth and Laura. Advertising copy perhaps describes the storyline best: “She was the brain, the sparkle, the gay rebel of the sorority, and wonder of wonders, she chose Laura as her roommate. That was how it began.” In the end, Beth commits to a conventional romance with her male sweetheart––a plotline that resembles other lesbian pulps. Laura, however, bravely moves to New York City to live life as she knows it can be lived––a major departure from the usual formula. Bannon’s gambit succeeded, as this book was the second-best-selling paperback original of 1957.

“Odd Girl Out” was followed by “I Am a Woman” in 1959, picking up where its predecessor left off, with Laura in New York City where she meets and falls in love with Beebo Brinker––one of lesbian fiction’s all-time great characters. Beebo, the classic butch, is so memorable a creation that Bannon’s novels are often referred to as the Beebo Brinker Chronicles, this despite the fact that Beebo doesn’t show up until the second book.

Much of “I Am a Woman” is set in Greenwich Village, and many historians believe the work inspired countless thousands of fledgling dykes to move there, enhancing the area’s reputation as a place where gays and lesbians could live and mingle and begin to believe they had a right to exist. Barely a decade later the Stonewall riots occurred––in the Village––and the gay rights movement was born.

To learn more about Ann Bannon’s re-released lesbian titles, visit Cleispress.com

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