Rita Mae Brown

Start Free Trial

Biography

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 749

Since the publication of her autobiographical first novel, Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown has been an important literary force. She was born on November 28, 1944, in Hanover, Pennsylvania. She was adopted by Ralph Brown and his wife, Julia Buckingham. She attended the University of Florida and received a B.A. degree from New York University in 1968 in English and classics. That same year, she earned a cinematography certificate from the New York School of Visual Arts. From 1969 to 1970, she was employed by Sterling Publishing of New York City as a photography editor. From 1970 to 1971 she lectured in sociology at Federal City College in Washington, D.C. She was a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., from 1971 to 1973, receiving her Ph.D. there in 1976. After settling in 1978 in Albemarle County, Virginia, she shifted her focus from political feminist and lesbian activism to writing works portraying the importance of building communities (such as the one she has found) where creativity can be nourished and barriers of class, race, and sex overcome.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Although Brown had published two books of poetry previously, Rubyfruit Jungle was the work that first attracted widespread attention. After Rubyfruit Jungle was rejected by the major publishing houses, it was brought out by Daughters, Inc., a small company specializing in feminist works. The novel sold a surprising seventy thousand copies, thus encouraging a large firm, Bantam Books, to acquire publication rights in 1977. Another 300,000 copies were printed, and sales eventually exceeded one million.

Rubyfruit Jungle is a picaresque novel whose protagonist, Molly Bolt, has been likened to Huckleberry Finn. Molly is bright, lusty, and lesbian. She is also, like Brown herself, an adopted child who retraces part of the author’s past from Pennsylvania to Florida and New York, flouting conventions, overcoming poverty, and refusing to give in to defeat. Brown’s third novel, Six of One, and its sequel, Bingo, also focus on an adopted child (Nicole Smith), her female relatives and mentors, and her life choices as a lesbian who refuses the role of outsider to assume a central place in her family and community. The setting is Runnymede, on the North-South border, and Brown’s treatment of southern culture and attitudes in this novel, and later in Southern Discomfort, has caused some readers to think of her as a southern writer. (Brown rejects all labels vehemently.) Southern Discomfort ranges farther south, in fact: It is set in Montgomery, Alabama, and treats an interracial and intergenerational love affair and the scandal it causes.

Sudden Death is set in the world of professional women’s tennis. Some have viewed it as a roman à clef based on tennis champion Martina Navratilova and her relationship with Brown. Brown says that her real motivation for writing the novel was a promise exacted from her by a dying friend. Judy Lacy, a sportswriter, had intended to write a novel using professional tennis as a background. In 1980, she was dying of a brain tumor and realized that she would never write the book. Brown reluctantly promised to write the book instead, and Sudden Death, exposing dishonesty and betrayal in the world of professional sports, is the result.

In the early 1980’s, Brown began to devote her energies to screenwriting, an activity she characterizes as totally unlike novel writing. Her work in this field has been diverse. She worked on the script for Norman Lear’s 1982 television special I Love Liberty; her other scripts include the film The Slumber Party Massacre and the television miniseries The Long Hot Summer and Rich Men, Single Women.

Brown has also written the nonfiction A Plain Brown Rapper and Starting from Scratch: A Different Kind of Writer’s Manual; produced the memoir Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser; experimented with mystery writing in Wish You Were Here and its sequels, including Rest in Pieces; and created such historical novels as High Hearts, on women fighting in the Civil War, Dolley: A Novel of Dolley Madison in Love and War, and Riding Shotgun, about a woman who travels to the year 1699. The “Sneaky Pie Brown” listed as her collaborator in her many mysteries is her cat. Rita Mae Brown has won consistent praise for the vitality, wit, and audacity of her fiction. She is extremely versatile. She explains in the introduction to Bingo that she has tried to reach as wide an audience as possible, inspiring their creativity and engaging them (along with her) in the task of building a stronger and more tolerant future.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Next

Critical Essays