Tuesday, March 19, 2013

From the June Mazer Lesbian Archives: Grier Periodical Collection and Diana Press Records

Over the course of the winter quarter, I had the opportunity to work with two different collections from the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives. The first collection I processed was the Barbara Grier Periodical Collection. Barbara Grier (1933-2011) was a lesbian-feminist activist, writer, and publisher. She is perhaps best known for her work with The Ladder, the monthly magazine published by the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian organization in the United States. Writing under the pseudonyms Gene Damon, Vern Niven, and Lennox Strong, Grier began contributing copy to The Ladder in 1957, and continued until 1968 when she assumed the role of editor, and then publisher, in 1970. In 1973, Grier co-founded Naiad Books, which later became Naiad Press, the preeminent lesbian book publisher that opened up lesbian writing to the world. 

The Barbara Grier Periodical Collection represents a rich assemblage of feminist and lesbian themed newspapers, magazines, journals, and small press publications amassed by Grier over the years. Spanning from 1969 to 1992, the bulk of the material is from the 1980s and features periodicals from large United States metropolitan areas as well as smaller towns. A notable strength of the collection is the range in type of periodical—from ad-heavy weekly LGBT newspapers such as Pittsburgh’s Out to newsletters from organizations like Seattle’s Lesbian Resource Center and from bibliographic resources including the University of Wisconsin’s Feminist Periodicals to personal publications such as Dorothy Feola’s Women’s Network.

The second collection, which is still being processed, is the Diana Press Records. Diana Press was a lesbian-feminist printing and publishing house which was started by Coletta Reid and Casey Czarnik in Baltimore, MD, in 1972, then relocated to Oakland, CA, in 1977. Most notably, Diana Press published titles by such authors as Rita Mae Brown and Judy Grahn and reprinted Jeannette Foster’s pioneering Sex Variant Women in Literature. The press was also plagued by a series of misfortunes including a fire in 1975 and a crippling incident of vandalism in 1977. Economic setbacks, coupled with disagreements amongst the leadership, led the press to cease publication in the late 1970s.

The Diana Press Records contains an assortment of administrative materials, author files, unpublished manuscripts, press materials, and a substantial amount of correspondence. The correspondence is fascinating in terms of its scope and content, documenting everything from simple requests for catalogs to major business-related disagreements with authors. The assemblage of letters of support following the 1977 vandalism of their office is a particular highlight of the collection, featuring letters from feminist luminaries such as Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde. 

Both the Grier Periodical Collection and the Diana Press Records represent narratives that are too often excluded from the historical record. I’m excited to be a part of preserving and making these materials available. 
–Courtney Dean

Courtney Dean is a graduate student in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA.


This research is part of an ongoing CSW research project, "Making Invisible Histories Visible: Preserving the Legacy of Lesbian Feminist Activism and Writing in Los Angeles," with Principal Investigators Kathleen McHugh, CSW DIrector and Professor in the Departments of English and Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA (on sabbatical from April to June, 2013) and Gary Strong, University Librarian at UCLA. Funded in part by an NEH grant, the project is a three-year project to arrange, describe, digitize, and make physically and electronically accessible two major clusters of June Mazer Lesbian Archive collections related to West Coast lesbian/feminist activism and writing since the 1930s. This project, which continues CSW’s partnership with the June Mazer Lesbian Archives and the UCLA Library, grew out of CSW’s two-year “Access Mazer: Organizing and Digitizing the Lesbian Feminist Archive in Los Angeles” project, which was supported in part by the UCLA Center for Community Partnerships. For information on the project, contact UCLA Center for the Study of Women, csw@csw.ucla.edu

The Mazer Archives is the sole archival repository on the West Coast dedicated to preserving lesbian and feminist history. Its holdings include over 3500 books, 1000 unique video and audio recordings, and close to a hundred unprocessed. This project will process and make accessible paper collections and recordings documenting lesbian political acts and effects in their communities, and materials documenting the lives and literary imagination of this burgeoning community. In addition to providing crucial materials to humanities scholars and historians, the project will also grow the Mazer’s infrastructure, preserving content that exists now while ensuring the future of the Mazer and its collections. Currently, the Mazer does not have the physical space to grow. Moving collections to the UCLA Library gives the Mazer the capacity to collect new materials and will enhance UCLA’s holdings in two significant areas of interest: LGBT archives and Los Angeles collections. Scholars and historians throughout the world will benefit directly from the primary research materials this project will make available.