Dorothy E. Allison was born to a working-class family in the South Carolina town of Greenville, part of the Piedmont region. To escape debt, her family moved to central Florida when Dorothy was in her early teenage years; the terrible poverty and violence of her family and surroundings, together with her teenage recognition that she was a lesbian, contributed to her writings.
In Florida, Allison continued her education, both formal and informal. Formally, she was the first person in her family to finish high school and the first to attend and graduate from college. During those years, she also studied her family—their conflicts, fights, and thwarted desires—and compared their desires with her own. Much of this material would become part of her later writings. As a working-class woman in college during the 1970’s, Allison became an activist in the anti-Vietnam War movement. She was also active in civil rights struggles. Perhaps more important, she was active in the growing feminist movement; it was a movement that helped to make a place for Allison as a writer, lesbian, and working-class woman.
Sexuality, class differences, and identity in the larger societal context underlie much of her writing, as witnessed in her book of poetry The Women Who Hate Me. The title poem deals powerfully with questions of myth and identity in the lesbian experience. It shares with her later work the shocking, brutal style of truth-telling she uses to explore themes of violence, separation from family and place, abuse, and survival as a radical lesbian in an overwhelmingly heterosexual and middle-class world.
A collection of short stories, Trash, opened the door to Allison’s past. In these stories, Allison continued to explore the world of southern families, lesbian relationships, and feminist politics in a vigorous, uncompromising style. The stories are populated by outcasts, radical lesbians, Southern Baptists, and people starved for hunger and love. “River of Names,” the first story in the collection, deals with a series of cousins who died in mysterious bridge accidents, young girls who flee southern towns at thirteen, never to return, and a young boy who douses himself with gasoline and then goes up in flames. Many of these lost, angry, or abandoned souls...
(The entire section is 944 words.)