Friday, November 11, 2011

Barbara Grier - The Death of a Visionary

Barbara Grier Dies at 78

Barbara Grier, the visionary founder of Naiad Press, died tonight at the age of 78. Naiad Press (sold to Bella Books in recent years) was according to the AP Wire, "the world's largest publishing house of literature about gays and lesbians."

My heart is full over this one and I'm not sure what to write, exactly. For once, this one, although removed, touches me personally in a six-degrees-of-separation way. Before publishing this piece, I spent some time on the phone with a close friend of mine who had a good point about Grier - he said that in a world where it sometimes seems that society is defined by the Kim Kardashians and legions of people that we don't want to resemble, it's nice to find people that we are similar to - and that we want to emulate. I think a part of me wants to be Barbara Grier when I grow up.

I discovered Naiad Press long after it had been sold to Bella Books. I first stumbled upon a fantasy story published through Bella when I was barely eighteen. A decade or so later, I was lucky enough to do some freelance work for Bella.

Barbara Grier gave shape to shadows and brought the light of imagination to the darkness of the closet. The one-time writer for the 1950s periodical The Ladder grew to become the grandmommy of lesbian literature (technically, one of four; she made up 1/4 of the original Naiad founders).  True to her dream, Naiad changed the lives of millions of women.

In the 70s, long before Glee or the It-Gets-Better project, long before the fight for LGBT equality became the civil rights fight of my generation, Grier championed a literature that was uniquely for women-oriented women. She gave lesbians the right and the space to develop their own romances, their own worth. And where worth is found, life will grow. Naiad Press saw the publication of Katherine Forrest's Curious Wine, brought back out of print "pulps" such as Ann Bannon's Beebo Brinker novels, and even (according to Wiki), "acquired rights and brought back into print poems by Gertrude Stein and Renee Vivien."

Not to sound like a gushing schoolgirl, but Gertrude Stein is a really, really, really big deal. A rose is a rose - and a book is book, indeed.

While Grier's lifelong work was for lesbian literature, her advocacy and her passion for knowledge (and for, frankly, damn, damn good books) is universal. Regardless of our orientations, who among us does not yearn to be seen for who we are or to encourage our imaginations to soar? Who does not dream of creating a world of acceptance, where all voices matter enough to be heard, and where every single story matters?

Grier changed her own life - by creating a publishing house that would publish books that she wanted to read - and in doing so, changed history and brought fame to several generations of women who, otherwise, may never have held their published work in their hands. She helped to construct a larger world view.

Thank you, Barbara Grier.

You helped some of us dream when we didn't know there were dreams to be had, and tales to sing when we didn't know we had music to make. Thank you for hearing "yes" when others told you "no," thank you for understanding the power of the written word, and thank you, thank you, thank you for creating a space in the world for women to find their voices.

Image: Wikipedia "Naiad Press"

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