The Amazon Trail
Lez Lit Heroine:
Katherine V. Forrest
By Lee Lynch
Photo: E. Mulligan
Katherine V. Forrest is the Lambda Award-winning author of the best-selling lesbian romance Curious Wine, her first novel, published by Naiad Press in 1983. A wonderful lesbian romance and portrayal of lesbian eroticism, it has sold over half a million copies, and is considered a classic of lesbian fiction. In 1994 it became the first audio book, other than those produced by Womyn's Braille Press, based on a lesbian novel.
Katherine wrote sci fi novels Daughters of a Coral Dawn, Daughters of an Amber Noon and Daughters Of An Emerald Dusk. She has published eight mystery novels featuring lesbian LAPD Detective Kate Delafield, a former Marine and Vietnam vet. Her most recent mystery, Hancock Park, features Delafield.
Amateur City, the initial Kate Delafield book, was the first lesbian police procedural to come out, but it was much more than that. Delafield was a daring fictional model no one had seen before. She was larger than life, leading the way, as her creator has, for so many real-life lesbians, and addressing a multitude of social issues as she did.
In her books Katherine portrays lesbians as community -- and lesbians in all our diversity. Her stories embrace and strengthen us, and give us permission to live our lives fully just as we are. Plus they are always good reads. At the same time, because her books reached non-gay readers through her mainstream publisher, she educated a whole new audience to see lesbians in a whole new light. Katherine is one of our crusaders, wielding a sword made of words.
The first time I met Katherine Forrest, we were hawking books at the Naiad Press booth at a National Women's Studies Conference in Columbus, Ohio. Little did I know that she would be a keeper, a sister author whose life would bump up against mine, very pleasantly, for decades to come.
My initial take on Katherine was of a quiet woman with great dignity and a ready smile. She had an authority about her. Later I would learn that she had an amazing amount of knowledge about the craft of writing and a generous spirit.
I have a vivid memory of that mid-1980s conference: a dormitory room packed with literary lesbians: Ann Bannon, Barbara Grier, Donna McBride, Carol Seajay, Tee Corinne, and Katherine Forrest, all of us trying to decide if Naiad Press dared title my first volume of short stories Old Dyke Tales.
It seems that I have always spent time with Katherine in unlikely places. I remember talking books at a lesbian campground in deeply rural, aggressively conservative Southern Oregon and I have photographs of us and our partners high above volcanic Crater Lake.
We met again in Huntington Beach, California, where Katherine sat over a borrowed dining room table with me, helping me bring one of my books to life. Most recently, I got to hang out with her at the desert dude ranch where the Golden Crown Literary Society held its conference this year.
In all the time I have known her, I have seldom met anyone as unwaveringly supportive, kind and helpful about my work. Katherine was my editor for a time at Naiad Press. I am a terrible student: I fight learning new things tooth and nail. Somehow, this gentle, soft-spoken woman managed, without forcing me, to share her craft in a way that I could learn a few things without bruising my pride. To this day, I continue to use the many lessons she taught me and I think of her each time I do.
Katherine was the 1998 recipient of the Lambda Literary Foundation's Pioneer Award, is a four-time Lammy winner (in mystery and science fiction), and currently serves on their board of trustees. She has been inducted into the "Saints and Sinners Literary Hall of Fame." She has edited several anthologies of lesbian fiction. Her 1987 Delafield novel Murder at the Nightwood Bar has been optioned for film.
Chicago reviewer Marie Kuda wrote that Katherine's novel Flashpoint "revivifies the impact of living gay from Stonewall to the present...no little feat."
Katherine also put together a holiday anthology, All In the Seasoning, and an important retrospective of early lesbian writing: Lesbian Pulp Fiction, A Review of Lesbian Paperback Novels from 1950 to 1965. Mysteries Liberty Square and Apparition Alley, are being reissued by Spinsters Ink. Bywater Books has republished Dreams and Swords, which features Katherine's erotic novella O Captain, My Captain.
She spent a decade editing at Naiad Press, currently is Editorial Supervisor for Spinsters Ink and continues to write, teach and lecture around the country. And she's done all this only since she started writing at age 40 - not that long ago!
Katherine added a "Goldie" to her wealth of awards this year when she received both the Golden Crown Literary Society Trailblazer Award and the Lesbian Anthology (Non-Erotica) Award for her most recent effort, Love, Castro Street: Reflections of San Francisco, a collection she edited with Jim Van Buskirk.
One of our most loved and accomplished writers, Katherine V. Forrest inspires awe in readers, respect in writers and a well-deserved devotion in Lesbian Nation, which has long needed kind, stable, bright, talented, informed and caring heroes like her.
© Lee Lynch 2008
Lee Lynch, Author of Sweet Creek from Bold Strokes Books
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