“We are what we are. We don’t have to define or label it.”
Marijane Meaker was a prolific writer who played a pivotal role in the emergence of lesbian pulp fiction with her groundbreaking 1952 novel, "Spring Fire."
Born and raised in Auburn, New York, Meaker was surrounded by a world of books from a young age. Her penchant for pen names, which began early on, carried through into her adulthood, resulting in a diverse body of work published under various pseudonyms.
In 1943, Meaker attended the Virginia boarding school, Stuart Hall School, but her spirited behavior led to her expulsion. She went on to enroll at Vermont Junior College in 1945, followed by the University of Missouri the next year, where she became a member of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority. During her college years, Meaker sought the company of fellow aspiring writers and started submitting her own work for publication. Her first story was sold to Ladies' Home Journal while she was still a student.
After completing her education, Meaker began her career as a clerk at Dutton Publishing before becoming a proofreader at Gold Medal Books. Under the pen name Vin Packer, she ventured into the world of mystery writing. It was as Packer that she authored "Spring Fire," a novel delving into the love affair between two sorority sisters. The book achieved remarkable success, selling an astounding 1.5 million copies during an era when LGBTQ individuals were largely closeted and stigmatized. This unexpected triumph revealed an enormous appetite for lesbian-themed fiction, prompting Meaker to further explore this newfound genre.
Throughout the 1950s, Meaker pursued relationships with women, most notably the renowned American author Patricia Highsmith, known for her thrillers like "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley." The pair met at a lesbian bar in New York and later shared a home for a period.
In the late 1950s, Meaker assumed the pen name Ann Aldrich to write nonfiction paperbacks about lesbian experiences. In the ensuing years, she also published children's books under the name Mary James. Writing under the moniker M.E. Kerr (a clever play on her own name), Meaker gained acclaim for her young adult novels, which skillfully addressed a range of issues affecting teenagers, including mental health, sexism, and homophobia.
In her later years, Meaker authored several books under her own name, most notably "Highsmith: A Romance of the Fifties" (2003), a memoir recounting her two-year relationship with the esteemed author.
Among her many accolades, Meaker received the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 1993 for her exceptional contributions to young adult literature. In 2013, she was honored with the Trailblazing Award from the Golden Crown Literary Society for her significant impact on lesbian literature.
Marijane Meaker passed away at the age of 95 in Springs, New York. Her obituary was featured in major publications including The New York Times and The Washington Post, paying tribute to her remarkable literary legacy.