A Woman to Know: Patricia Nell Warren

I kept thinking to myself, 'There are other people like me out here.' — Patricia Nell Warren

(image via the University of Southern California)

In 1974, Patricia published her second book, a love story about an Olympic athlete and his ex-Marine coach. "The Front Runner" book broke barriers in a myriad of ways: it printed the word "gay" right there on its cover; bookstores shelved the book as a "gay romance," helping readers to find it; and when the novel hit the New York Times best-seller list, it became the first explicitly "gay" work of fiction to do so. Her characters inspired LGBTQ communities to form running groups, and these "Front Runner Clubs" are still active in cities across America.

Patricia herself loved running long distances. She said connecting with a group of gay runners in 1970s New York inspired her to write the book — as well as to divorce her husband and come out as a lesbian.

Patricia wrote other LGBTQ novels and maintained a successful writing career up until her death in 2019. But friends said the strangers who approached her at readings and restaurants would always thank her for writing one book in particular: "The Front Runner." "You saved my life," one remembers a fan telling her.

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