Elana Dykewomon - History Month

Elana Dykewomon - History Month

“You can try a hundred things in your life, and … you can still go on trying.”

Elana Dykewomon, formerly Elana Michelle Nachman, left an indelible mark as a feminist advocate and author, renowned for her three widely embraced novels centered on lesbian themes. Her literary repertoire also included five collections of poetry, along with an array of short stories and essays, contributing extensively to various lesbian publications.

Hailing from Manhattan to a Jewish household, Dykewomon held fast to her religious heritage, a facet that grew more significant as she matured. At the age of eight, her family relocated to Puerto Rico, where her father established a legal practice. It was during her preteen years that she began to recognize her own distinctiveness, feeling acutely alienated by the prevailing toxic masculinity and stifling heteronormative environment. After a disheartening encounter with a doctor who dismissed her homosexuality, she confronted a moment of despair that led to a suicide attempt.

Upon her return to the United States, Dykewomon pursued studies in fine arts at Reed College before attaining her BFA in creative writing from the California Institute of Art. Subsequently, she achieved her MFA from San Francisco State University.

In 1974, Dykewomon unveiled her inaugural novel, an audacious coming-of-age tale entitled "Riverfinger Women," published under her birth name. This work marked the first instance of a book being identified as distinctly lesbian by The New York Times. By 1976, when she released her second publication, "They Will Know Me By My Teeth," a compilation of poetry and short stories, she had adopted the pseudonym Dykewoman, eventually modifying the spelling to eliminate the term "man" from her name. In 1981, she presented a selection of her poetry, "Fragments from Lesbos," using the updated spelling.

Assuming the role of editor for the lesbian journal "Sinister Wisdom" in 1987, Dykewomon held this position for over seven years. During this period, her writing appeared in the anthology "Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women’s Anthology," as well as various other lesbian publications.

Dykewomon's second novel, "Beyond the Pale" (1997), a narrative centered on lesbian Russian-Jewish immigrant factory workers, earned her both the Ferro-Grumley Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction. In 1999, the Associated Press recognized "Riverfinger Women" as one of the 100 Greatest Gay Novels.

Continuing to write and publish, Dykewomon also shared her wisdom as a teacher at San Francisco State University in her later years. She resided in California with Susan Levinkind, her wife and companion of numerous years. Following Levinkind's battle with Lewy body dementia and passing in 2016, Dykewomon penned the play "How to Let Your Lover Die."

In her final moments, surrounded by close friends, Dykewomon succumbed to esophageal cancer, just moments before they were poised to watch a live-streamed performance of her play. While she may not have attained widespread commercial acclaim, her body of work remains an integral part of American LGBTQ history.

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