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The writer Ann Weldy (1932) grew up in Hinsdale with her mother and stepfather. It was Weldy’s responsibility to take care of four younger siblings, due to the family’s financial difficulties.
Weldy studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign; she belonged to the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority where she befriended a beautiful older sorority sister. Weldy witnessed a younger sorority sister's unabashed infatuation with this older sister. She recalls it was an awkward situation, even though the older sorority sister was 'unfailingly gracious' to the younger one. In recognising the younger woman's attractions, she began to suspect her own sexuality: 'I saw a lot of it happening and I didn't know what to make of it. I don't even know how to put it—I was absolutely consumed with it, it was an extraordinary thing.' Another one of her sorority sisters was a physically remarkable woman: very tall—almost 6 feet (1.8 m), with a husky voice and boyish nickname; Weldy was fascinated by her, and imagined her as a blend of the Austro-Hungarian-American competition swimmer Johnny Weissmuller and the Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman. She recalled an incident in the communal restroom, seeing her, 'both of us in underwear, and experiencing a sort of electric shock’, trying not to stare at her. In 1954, she graduated with a degree in French and soon married an engineer whose job required them to relocate frequently.
Weldy was 22 years old when she began writing her first pulp novel as Ann Bannon. She was influenced by the only lesbian novels she ever read ‘The Well of Loneliness’ by Radclyffe Hall (1928) and Vin Packer's Spring Fire (1952). These books influenced her in different ways: she was unable to relate to the dismal tones in Hall's novel, but as a sorority girl was more familiar with the plot and circumstances of ‘Spring Fire’. Bannon said, 'Both books completely obsessed me for the better part of two years.' Although recently married and with two children, she found the books struck a chord in her life and recognised emotions in herself that compelled her to write about them. In the beginning of her marriage she was alone quite a lot and said, 'I was kind of desperate to get some of the things down on paper that had been consuming me for a long time.'
This resulted in six lesbian pulp fiction novels, known as The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, written between 1957 and 1962. Her subsequent books featured four characters, reappearing throughout the series, including her eponymous heroine, Beebo Brinker, who came to embody the archetype of a butch lesbian. She remembered, 'I put Beebo together just as I wanted her, in my heart and mind ... She was just, quite literally, the butch of my dreams.' The majority of her characters mirrored people she knew, but their stories reflected a life she did not feel she was able to live. Despite her traditional upbringing and role in married life, her novels defied conventions for romance stories and depictions of lesbians by addressing complex homosexual relationships.
That Bannon found a publisher for the first book of the series was a small miracle. At the time Gold Medal was publishing ‘pulp fiction’, a new kind of book; cheap, easy reading that could be discarded at very little cost to the customer. In 1952 they published 'Spring Fire' by Vin Packer (who’s real name was Marijane Meaker), it sold nearly 1.5 million copies. Gold Medal Books was overwhelmed with letters from women who identified with the lesbian characters. One of these letters was from Bannon, asking for professional assistance in getting published: 'To this day I have no idea why she responded to me out of the thousands of letters she was getting at that time. Thank God she did. I was both thrilled and terrified.' Bannon visited Meaker and was introduced to Greenwich Village, which made a significant impression: she called it 'Emerald City, Wonderland, and Brigadoon combined—a place where gay people could walk the crooked streets hand in hand'. Meaker set up a meeting with Gold Medal Books editor Dick Carroll, who read Bannon's initial 600-page manuscript. It was a story about the women of her sorority whom she admired, with a subplot about two sorority sisters who fall in love. Carroll told her to take it back and focus on the characters with the affair. Bannon claims she went back, rewrote the manuscript, delivered the draft to Carroll and it published without a single word changed.
While raising two young children, Bannon lived in Philadelphia and took trips to New York City, staying with friends and visiting Greenwich Village. She wanted to be like the women she saw in the Village: 'I wanted to be one of them, to speak to other women, even if only in print. This would lead to the story 'Odd Girl Out'.'
Although her husband was aware of the books she was writing, he showed no interest in the subject. He was interested enough in the money she made from them, but had forbidden her to use her married surname, not wishing to see it on a book cover with art of questionable taste. She took the name 'Bannon' from a list of his customers; she liked it because it contained her own name ‘Ann’. She continued to experience difficulty in her marriage.
In 1961 and 1962 Bannon also contributed several articles to 'ONE, Inc.', the magazine of the Mattachine Society, a homophile activist organisation in Southern California. One of her contributions was a chapter that had been cut from the final draft of ‘Women in the Shadows’. She was invited to speak at the Mattachine Society in the early 1960s, but her husband's stern disapproval of her activities began to take its toll. She stated later, 'It began to be very painful. Every time I would start to reach out to the lesbian/gay community, I would get struck down ... In my own life, I couldn't operationalize my feeling that gays should end the secrecy and take more pride in themselves and their lives. I couldn't find a way.'
Her books shaped lesbian identity for lesbians and heterosexuals alike, however Bannon was mostly unaware of their impact. She stopped writing in 1962; she earned a doctorate in linguistics and became an academic. She endured her difficult marriage for 27 years before separating from her husband in the 1980s. In this same year her books were republished and she was stunned to learn of their influence on society. They were released again between 2001 and 2003 and were adapted as an award-winning Off-Broadway production. They are taught in Women's and LGBT studies courses, and Bannon has received numerous awards for pioneering lesbian and gay literature. She has been described as 'the premier fictional representation of US lesbian life in the fifties and sixties'.
See also Marijane Meaker, Radclyffe Hall and Barbara Grier.
‘Ann Bannon', Wikipedia, retrieved 11 October 2014
‘Ann Bannon', Ann Bannon, retrieved 12 October 2014
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