A Woman to Know: Marijane Meaker

I decided then and there I would never write an ordinary story again. — Marijane Meaker

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

She wrote under so many names: Ann Aldrich, Mary James, M.E. Kerr. As Vin Packer, she published one of the first-ever lesbian pulp novels, "Spring Fire," in 1952. The book sold 1.5 million copies in a single year, and Marijane's publishers clammered for more. Soon, she was writing a book a month under various pen names, all with wonderfully outrageous titles like "The Strange Path" and "The Evil Friendship" and "We Walk Alone Through Lesbos's Lonely Groves."

But Marijane's life off the page was just as interesting. Her tumultuous affair with writer Patricia Highsmith supposedly inspired "The Price of Salt," Highsmith's most famous work (and the novel behind "Carol"). When she and Patricia weren't throwing martini glasses at one another, Marijane ran around with a pretty crazy gang of lesbian artists, and she wrote about their Greenwich Village lives in a whole other series of books, penned by "Ann Aldrich."

From that crew, her friend Louise Fitzhugh (creator of Harriet the Spy) urged Marijane to ditch the lesbian pulp thing and try writing young adult fiction instead — but in doing so, also infusing her work with themes important to the queer community, like tolerance and diversity and acceptance. That brought about an entire new chapter in Marijane's career. She wrote books like "Deliver Us From Evie," a YA novel all about how families deal with teenagers' sexuality, and "Shockproof Syndey Skate," a young boy's perspective on his mom's gay identity.

Now, at age 90, Marijane is still writing, hard at work on her own autobiography — no word yet on the pen name she'll choose for it.

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