Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
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...
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Dorothy Allison was born on April 11, 1949, in Greenville, South Carolina, to a poor, unmarried fifteen-year-old girl. Her mother soon married, and when Allison was five, her stepfather began sexually abusing her. This situation lasted until Allison was eleven, at which time she finally brought herself to tell a relative. Allison's mother learned of the situation and put a stop to it, but the family still stayed together.
At the age of eighteen, Allison left home to attend college in Florida. At school she learned about and came to embrace feminism, finding that it gave her a completely different vision of the world. She lived in a lesbian-feminist commune for a period of time. She later attended graduate school in New York.
Allison began writing seriously in the early 1980s. She published poetry and short stories, many of which dealt with sexuality and sometimes shocking issues of abuse. Her 1983 poetry collection, The Women Who Hate Me, angered mainstream feminists in its praise of sexual promiscuity and sado-masochism. Despite the controversy her work generated, she established a name for herself among writers of gay fiction. Her success was solidified when her 1989 short story collection, Trash, won the Lambda literary awards for best small press book and best lesbian book.
Allison also began work on Bastard Out of Carolina, which has a strong and public autobiographical element. The novel, which was published in 1992, was an immediate success. It was a National Book Award finalist, received much positive criticism, and became a national bestseller. It was also made into a movie by Angelica Houston.
Allison followed up Bastard Out of Carolina with a collection of essays entitled Skin: Talking about Sex, Class and Literature (1994); Two or Three Things I Know for Sure (1995), a memoir of her family that included photographs; and a second novel, Cavedweller (1998). Allison currently lives with her partner and their adopted son in California.