Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Happy Birthday to Writer, Activist Rita Mae Brown

Rita Mae Brown was born today, November 28, 1944. She is a writer, activist, and feminist, and is best known for her first novel Rubyfruit Jungle. Brown is also a mystery writer and screenwriter.

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

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

Brown hitchhiked to New York City and lived there between 1964 and 1969, sometimes homeless, while attending New York University 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. 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, DC.

In the spring of 1964, during her study at the University of Florida at 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 Gay Liberation movement. 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.

She was involved in the Redstockings, but also left the group because of their lack of involvement in lesbian rights. 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.

Brown took an administrative position with the fledgling National Organization for Women, but resigned in January 1970 over Betty Friedan's anti-gay remarks and NOW's attempts to distance itself from lesbian organizations. 

Brown told Time magazine 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 [in the late 1970s] the only lesbian in America." Brown also does not consider herself a "lesbian writer" because she believes art is about connection and not about divisive labels.

Starting in 1973, Brown lived in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles. In 1978, she moved to Charlottesville, Virginia where she lived briefly with author, screenwriter, actor, and Match Game semi-regular Fannie Flagg. They later broke up due to, according to Brown, "generational differences." 

In 1979 Brown met and fell in love with tennis champion Martina Navratilova. 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 US citizenship (according to The Washington Post). Brown still lives on the estate in Charlottesville.

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