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Barbara Grier (1933–2011) was born in Cincinnati; her parents were Dorothy Vernon Black, a secretary, and Philip Strang Grier, a doctor. Already as a child, Grier noticed her behaviour patterns were different from her friends; she would go to the library to discover more about lesbians. She came out as a lesbian at the age of 12, by telling her mother she was homosexual, her mother replied, 'No, you're a woman, so you're a lesbian. And 12 years old is too young to make such a decision, so let's wait six months before we tell the newspapers.'
Grier would spend her days collecting as much information as possible about female homosexuality. She began collecting books when, at sixteen, her mother gave her a copy of ‘The Well of Loneliness’ by Radclyffe Hall. She described her collection of lesbian-themed books as ‘Lesbiana’, a collection fuelled by a 'love affair with lesbian publishing.'
Shortly after graduating high school in 1951, Grier met a woman named Helen Bennett, in a public library; they fell in love. They would spend 20 years of their life together. First in Denver, Colorado while Bennett went to library school, later moving to Kansas City where both worked in public libraries. After subscribing to ‘The Ladder’ in 1957, Grier soon began writing book reviews for the magazine. ‘The Ladder’ was a publication by the Daughters of Bilitis (the first lesbian civil and political rights organisation in the United States). Grier used multiple pen names for her writings, including Gene Damon, Lennox Strong, and Vern Niven, most to review literature in which lesbians were characters or a plot device. Became editor of ‘The Ladder’ in 1968; she planned to expand the magazine to include more feminist ideals.
After being in a relationship with Helen Bennett for 20 years, Grier fell in love with librarian Donna McBride. She left Bennett for McBride, later claiming it was the only decision she ever agonised about. Grier and McBride began running Naiad Press in 1973, with the support and encouragement of two editors of ‘The Ladder’: Anyda Marchant and Muriel Crawford. Their first published work was ‘The Latecomer’, written by Marchant under the pen name Sarah Aldridge. Both women continued to work full-time until 1982, when they dedicated all their time to the publishing company.
Authors represented by Naiad include Valerie Taylor, Katherine V. Forrest, Jane Rule, Ann Bannon's reprinted Beebo Brinker Chronicles, and Gale Wilhelm, the latter Grier spent several years attempting to locate and bring out of obscurity. One of the most controversial works they published was ‘Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence’, a work of non-fiction that was banned in Boston and criticised by the Catholic Church. The male-porn magazine ‘Penthouse Forum’ ran a series from this book and it made Naiad an internationally known publishing name. By 1994 Naiad Press had a staff of 8 and projected sales of $1.8 million US.
What began, as a personal study became a self-described obsession for Grier. She worked together with Jeannette Howard Foster and Marion Zimmer Bradley to compile the largest collection of lesbian themed books in the English language. They started to call the collection ‘The Lesbian in Literature’, and the books were rated from A to D referencing how important lesbian characters were to the plot, or T, indicating the book was 'trash'. In 1992 Grier and McBride donated Naiad's entire collection to the San Francisco Public Library, it consisted of a tractor trailer full of 14,000 books estimated at $400,000 US.
Barbara Grier died of cancer in Tallahassee on November 10, 2011. She was 78.
See also Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anyda Marchant, Valerie Taylor, Ann Bannon and Radclyffe Hall.
‘Barbara Grier’, Wikipedia, retrieved 9 October 2014
‘In Remembrance: Barbara Grier’, Lambda Literary, retrieved 9 October 2014
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