Rita Mae Brown, New York University alumnus & former Greenwich Village resident, has achieved great success in the fields of LGBTQ activism and writing. Her most popular work, “Rubyfruit Jungle,” was one of the first books published that went against gay stereotypes and showcased a lesbian character in a positive manner.
Today we look back on her early life, career, and activism to celebrate her work in forwarding the LGBTQ & Femenist movements.
Rita Mae Brown was born November 28th, 1944 in Hanover, Pennsylvania to an unwed, teenage mother who gave her up for adoption at the local orphanage. Her mother’s cousins, Julia & Ralph Brown, adopted her and raised her in York, Pennsylvania. The family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida when Rita was in middle school. Her time in Florida was critical in the development of her as a writer. Brown played on the tennis team at her local high school and started to develop crushes on and romances with other girls.
In 1962, Rita received a scholarship to attend the University of Florida. However, in 1964 she was expelled by the university for participating in the civil rights movement. Brown wanted to be part of a more accepting university community, so she hitched to New York City to attended New York University. While attending NYU, she spent a lot of her time homeless and poor. However, she did graduate and receive a degree in Classics & English.
After graduating from NYU, Brown started writing for Rat, the first New York City-based women’s liberation newspaper. Brown’s writing career advanced quickly, however, after she started to focus on writing novels.
Her first published and most popular novel was “Rubyfruit Jungle.” The novel is based on Brown’s own childhood and growth as a lesbian author. The book follows the life of Molly Bolt who starts developing romantic relationships with other girls in school. The novel also showcases Molly discovering the lesbian communities of New York in Greenwich Village. Due to the risqué topics discussed in the book, no major publisher would touch it at the time. It was published by a small Manhattan women’s collective, Daughters Inc. After it was published in 1973 it sold 70,000 copies, making it an underground phenomenon. Her work is known for being one of the early literary lesbian novels. Many lesbian readers have found Brown’s work relatable to their own experiences and observations.
Some of her other popular works include Southern Discomfort, Venus Envy, & the Mrs. Murphy Mysteries series. She has also produced a number of screenplays including The Slumber Party Massacre, The Long Hot Summer, & My Two Loves.
According to the New York Times, “Brown has long been active in both the women’s and homosexual movements. She was an early member of the National Organization for Women, a founder in 1969 of the radical feminist group Redstockings, and a member from 1971‐1973 of the Furies, a lesbian collective in Washington, which forged a lesbian feminist separatist ideology and began promoting it in a newspaper of the same name.”