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Dorothy Allison 1949-

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(Full name Dorothy E. Allison) American novelist, essayist, poet, memoirist, and short story writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Allison's career through 2000. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volume 78.

Allison is a highly regarded feminist writer who has garnered a large amount of mainstream recognition. An incest survivor and self-labeled “lesbian-feminist,”Allison heavily incorporates events from her life into her work. Best known for her partially autobiographical novel Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), Allison's work has earned widespread praise for its realism, objectiveness, vivid and multi-faceted characterizations, and laconic prose.

Biographical Information

Allison was born on April 11, 1949, in Greenville, South Carolina, to Ruth Gibson Allison, a fifteen-year-old unwed waitress. Allison's father disappeared before she was born. Four years later, her mother remarried and when Allison was six, her stepfather began to physically and sexually abuse her. The abuse lasted for several years before Allison was able to tell a relative about her situation. The relative informed Allison's mother, who stopped the abuse, but chose not to separate the family from the stepfather. Allison was the first person in her family to receive a high school diploma, and in 1968, she earned a National Merit Scholarship. She left home to attend Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she received her B.A. in 1971. She became active in the feminist movement and edited and wrote for publications that championed gay rights and women's rights. Allison moved into a lesbian collective in Washington, D.C., but found her views conflicted with those of other lesbians, so in 1974, she moved to New York. While there, she received her M.A. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Allison's first two publications, The Women Who Hate Me (1983), a book of poetry, and Trash (1988), a short-story collection, were highly praised—Trash earned two Lambda Literary Awards—but did not receive widespread attention. In 1992, Allison published her first novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, and achieved, almost overnight, a large degree of critical success. Bastard Out of Carolina was a National Book Award finalist and was adapted into a television movie in 1996. Allison divides her time between writing and teaching, and has taught at many universities, including Florida State University, Wesleyan, Rutgers, and the San Francisco Art Institute. She resides near San Francisco with her partner, Alix Layman, and their son, Wolf Michael.

Major Works

In The Women Who Hate Me and Trash, Allison recounted the shame and fear she experienced while growing up as a sexually abused child. The narrative voices in these two works describe attempts to escape painful childhood memories. The incest, abuse, and poverty that Allison suffered as a youngster figure heavily in her novel Bastard Out of Carolina as well, a fictionalized portrayal of a young girl's life in a poor Southern family. The protagonist, Bone, lives happily, surrounded by a family of strong women, until her mother decides to marry. After the marriage, Daddy Glen, Bone's new stepfather, begins to sexually molest her. Bone endures years of abuse before her mother becomes aware of the molestations, but, moved by Daddy Glen's pleas for forgiveness, Bone's mother chooses to stay with Daddy Glen rather than leave him for Bone's well-being. The book concludes with thirteen-year-old Bone abandoned by her mother, trying to reconcile her past and attempting to start a new life. In 1993, Allison's writing style changed with Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, & Literature (1993). Skin is a collection of essays that details her sexual tastes and fetishes and condemn the...

(The entire section contains 1007 words.)

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Principal Works