Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Southern Sapphisms: Sexuality and Sociality in Literary Productions, 1974-1997, considers how queer and feminist theories illuminate and complicate the intersections between canonical and obscure, queer and normative, and regional and national narratives in southern literary representations produced during a crucial but understudied period in the historical politicization of sexuality. The advent of New Southern Studies—and its nascent emphasis on sexuality as an organizing principle of social relations—has focused almost exclusively on midcentury texts from the Southern Renascence, largely neglecting post-1970 queer literatures. At the same time, despite these developments in southern studies, most scholarship in women’s and feminist studies continue to ignore the South, or worse, demonize the South as backward, parochial, and deeply homophobic. My dissertation redresses these scholarly lacunae with the first book-length study devoted to southern lesbian literary productions across multiple genres, including fiction, small press newspapers, poetry, plays, and cinematic representations. Analyzing works by some of the most prominent names in American women’s writing and feminist politics since the 1970s, including Dorothy Allison, Blanche McCrary Boyd, Jane Chambers, Doris Davenport, Fannie Flagg, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Shay Youngblood, and the editors of Feminary, this project argues that late twentieth-century southern lesbian writings not only reveal, but also worked at the cutting edge to drive virtually all the major shifts in the discourses and theoretical underpinnings of sexuality studies and in lesbian and gay politics and culture in the nation. Many of the women fighting on the national level for women’s liberation and what we now call LGBTQ rights have either hailed from the South, spent long periods of their lives in the South, or settled in the South. Through both surface and close reading techniques, Southern Sapphisms argues that we cannot understand expressions of lesbianism and feminism in post-Stonewall era American literature without also understanding the explicitly southern dynamics of those writings—foregrounding the centrality of sexuality to the study of southern literature as well as the region’s defining role in the historiography of lesbian literature in the United States.



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Committee Chair

Bibler, Michael