Human Sexuality Collection

#7627 - Valerie Taylor Papers

Biographical Note
Collection Description
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vt7.jpg (12523 bytes)  


Valerie, 1977.
Photo by Tee A. Corinne.
Online Photo Album


Lesbian novelist, poet, feminist, and social activist, Valerie Taylor always combined literary production with the passion and commitment of the activist. Born Velma Nacella Young in Aurora, Illinois, on September 7, 1913, she started using the pen name Valerie Taylor in the 1950s and 1960s to publish lesbian novels that became classics in the United States. She is prominent among the authors of lesbian mass market paperbacks (or pulp novels) of that era. This genre of fiction, and the lives of its authors, provide valuable glimpses into lesbian and gay culture, identity, and politics in years before the emergence of a defined and visible gay liberation movement (often marked by the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969).

Taylor went on to write popular novels until the 1980s, was also a prolific poet, and was among the promoters of the first Lesbian Writers' Conference in Chicago in 1974. She never failed to promote gay and lesbian rights, and for many years spoke publicly as a gay Grey Panther. Her broad social concerns always informed her literary work. Her novels reflect her concern for the aging, the disadvantaged, and the poor. Her commitments spanned feminism, gay and lesbian rights, the peace movement, and volunteer work in favor of the less fortunate. She was also involved in organizational work as a Quaker. A mother and grandmother, she has been referred to as everyone's favorite lesbian grandmother.

The collection documents well all these multi-faceted aspects of her personal and professional life. It includes personal records detailing her life and social commitments, correspondence with lesbian writers and friends as well as her publishers, and manuscripts of several of her published and unpublished works. The collection is of value to all interested in doing research on the development of lesbian literature, small press publishing, and activism for peace, lesbian and gay rights, women's rights, and social justice.

Special thanks are due to Tee Corinne, executor of her Literary Estate, and to James Tate, Valerie Taylor's son, for the help they provided in sorting, identifying, and describing the materials in the collection. Marie Kuda kindly provided a detailed chronology. Their careful attention to the process of preserving a record of Valerie Taylor's life will be appreciated by researchers in years to come.

Patrizia Sione
September 1998


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Born September 7, 1913, in Aurora, Illinois, Velma Nacella Young received a two-year scholarship to attend Blackburn College, in Carlinville, IL, in 1935. There, she met Ada Mayer and her husband Hank, a socialist labor organizer. They introduced her to grassroots activism and became lifelong friends.

Velma Young taught a various country schools in Illinois from 1937 to 1940. In 1939, she married William Jerry Tate and took the name Velma Tate. They had three sons, Marshall in 1940 and twins Jerry and Jim in 1942. In 1953, she divorced Jerry Tate and worked to support her sons. The same year, she published her first novel, Hired Girl. She published her first lesbian novel, Whisper Their Love, in 1957 using the pen name Valerie Taylor and came to be known widely by that name. Whisper Their Love was followed by numerous pulp fiction classics published during the 1950s and 1960s, including: The Girls in 3-B, Stranger on Lesbos, A World Without Men, Unlike Others, The Secret of the Bayou, Journey to Fulfillment, and Return to Lesbos.

She also contributed stories, reviews and criticism to The Ladder, a national lesbian magazine that debuted in 1956. She published poetry under the name Nacella Young, as well as Valerie Taylor, and romance stories under the name Francine Davenport. Her writing became her career and her means of supporting her family.

Taylor had at least fifty poems published in a variety of venues before Womanpress published Two Women Revisited in 1976, presenting her poetry along with works by Jeannette H. Foster. She continued to write novels and poetry into the 1990s. Banned Books published a revised and expanded version of Two Women Revisited in 1991. Her more recent books include Love Image, Prism, Ripening, and Rice and Beans. Her writing appears in numerous anthologies including Intricate Passions and The Poetry of Sex: Lesbians Write the Erotic. Studs Terkel included an interview with Taylor in his 1995 book Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century By Those Who've Lived It.

An activist for peace and justice, Taylor was a co-founder of Mattachine Midwest in 1965 and of the Lesbian Writers' Conference in Chicago in 1974. She moved to Tucson in 1978 and became active in a Quaker meeting, environmental activities, and advocacy for the elderly. She had also taken part in grassroots organizing of seniors during her years in Margaretville, NY (1975-1978).

In the 1980s and 1990s, although afflicted by health problems, she kept giving public talks and lectures and released several interviews. In 1992, she was inducted into the City of Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. She enjoyed the love of several grandchildren.

Taylor was 84 years old when she died on October 22, 1997 in Tucson, Arizona.


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1913 Born in Aurora, Illinois, on September 7, the daughter of Elsie M. Collins and Marshall J. Young
1935 Is granted a two-year scholarship at Blackburn College, in Carlinville, Illinois. She meets Ada Mayer and her husband Hank, a socialist labor organizer, with whom she will develop a life-long friendship. They introduce her to grassroots activism.
1937-1940 Teaches country school in several Illinois school districts.
1939 Marries William Jerry Tate on May 13. With him, she will have sons Marshall in 1940 and twins Jerry and Jim in 1942.
1952 Lives in Oswego, IL, where she works at Pictorial Paper Package Co. as a switchboard operator.
1953 Divorces Jerry Tate.
1953 Universal publishes her first novel, Hired Girl, later republished as The Lusty Land.
1957-60 Lives with her sons at "The Colony" in Chicago.
1957 Fawcett publishes her first lesbian novel, Whisper Their Love, in paperback.
1956-1961 Works at the publishing house Henry Regnery & Sons, Chicago, as Assitant Editor.
1959 Fawcett publishes The Girls in 3-B. Spearman (London) issuesWhisper Their Love in hardcover.
1960 Fawcett publishes Stranger on Lesbos. Spearman issues it in hardcover.
1961 Travels to Spain aboard the Saturnia. Intended to relocate to Tenerife, write, and sell novels through an agent in the United States.
1962 Returns to the United States from Spain aboard the Begona.
1962-1975 Writes for Specialty Salesman to support herself while writing and engaging in social and political activism.
1964 JeannetteH. Foster and Hazel Toviner visit Taylor in Chicago, dine at Allerton Hotel (Tip Top Tap gay water-hole at Allerton).
1963 Midwood-Tower publishes A World Without Men and Unlike Others.
1963-4 Begins a ten year old relationship with Pearl Hart, a feminist lawyer.
1964 Midwood-Tower publishes Journey to Fulfillment.
1964-1965 Contributes poems and short story to The Ladder
1965 Co-founder with Pearl Hart and others of Mattachine Midwest
1964-1974? Moves to 540 W. Surf St., the heart of the" gay ghetto" of Chicago at that time, to be close to Pearl Hart. Meets Marie Kuda at the Mattachine Midwest Newsletter meeting in 1968.
1967 Ace publishes her first gothic novel under the name of Francine Davenport, The Secret of the Bayou, reprinted in The Netherlands in 1967, and in Paris in 1968.
1972 Organizes picket against landlord Goulitis.
1974 With Marie Kuda, Susan Edwards, and others founds the first Lesbian Writers Conference held annually for five years, in Chicago's Hyde Park area. Valerie Taylor is first keynote speaker.
1975 Pearl Hart dies in February.
1975 Received the Paul R. Goldman award from the Chicago Chapter of One, Inc.
1974-5 Moves to 3356 N. Claremont Ave, Chicago.
1975-78 Moves to Margaretville, New York, in October 1975 to be near friends Hank and Ada Mayer's Catskills farm. Returns to Chicago annually for the Lesbian Writers Conference. Begins writing The Prism.
1976 Womanpress publishes Two Women: The Poetry of Jeannette Foster and Valerie Taylor.
1977 Naiad publishes Love Image.
1977 Visits New York City as guest of K. Seelman.
1978 In May, Roland Keith Lancaster, a friend from the days of Mattachine Midwest in Chicago, commits suicide.
1978 On December 27 falls on ice and breaks an ankle.
1979 Moves to Tucson, initially at the guest house of Casa Nuestra, a private lesbian club.
1979 Presents a series of eight lectures on Lesbian Literature, "Our Lesbian Roots," at Casa Nuestra.
1980 Moves to 3751 E. Grant Road in Tucson, where she lives until hospitalized after a fall on October 10, 1997.
1980 Initiates a "Sisterhood Fund" to aid Jeannette Foster.
1981 Naiad publishes Prism (which she later called her "geriatric novel").
1982 Has a new lover. Naiad reprints in Volute editions A World Without Men, Return to Lesbos, and Journey to Fulfillment.
1988 Banned Books publishes Ripening.
1990 Son Jerry Tate dies.
1989 Arny Christine Straayer videotapes her remeniscing about Lesbian Writers Conferences with Sandy Szelag. Shown in Chicago at the 15th anniversary party for Lesbian Writers Conference in December.
1991 Banned Books publishes Two Women Revisited, with photos and additional poetry of hers.
1992 Inducted in the City of Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in absentia by Mayor R.M. Daley.
1993 In March falls, breaks right shoulder and damages left leg. Author and columist Lee Lynch launches a fund for her through Antigone Books, Tucson.
1994 Goes through recovery and therapy. Has all her teeth removed, and gets dentures with fund money.
1995 Contributes essays on May Sarton and poet Denise Levertov for the reference book Feminist Writers.
1995 Interviewed by Studs Terkel for inclusion in his book Coming of Age.
1997 On October 10, falls. Found by son Jim seventeen hours later, she is hospitalized.
1997 Dies on October 22 in a Tucson hospice.

(Based on a chronology compiled and kindly made available by Valerie Taylor's biographer Marie Kuda).


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The Valerie Taylor Collection comprises 8.8 cubic feet and spans the years 1923-1997, with the bulk of the materials in the 1980s and 1990s. It consists mainly of literary manuscripts and correspondence, but includes also materials relating to her personal life, drafts of speeches, book reviews, and news stories. Unpublished materials represent the vast majority of the literary manuscripts. The collection is also a rich source for poets who were friends of Valerie Taylor's and sent her their works. Will Inman's works form the bulk of such materials, but there are also unpublished poems by Jeannette Foster. The collection is complemented by audio and visual materials, in particular recordings of Valerie Taylor's appearances on television shows and of lectures and interviews. Materials on tape have been described and listed in various sections according to the nature of their contents, and a cross-reference has been provided to Series X, which lists all the tapes. For conservation reasons tapes have been separated from the papers and placed in a separate location. The collection is organized in ten series: I. Personal Records; II. Correspondence; III. Literary Manuscripts; IV. Lectures, Interviews, and Speeches; V. Literary, Social and Political Activities; VI. Public Reception; VII. Writings By and About Friends; VIII. Photographs; IX. Memorabilia; X. Audio and Video Tapes.

Personal records in Series I span the years 1923-1997. They include certificates, legal documents, and medical and financial records that detail Valerie Taylor's personal life. The business records in the Series include contracts with publishers and a notebook in which Ms. Taylor recorded the submission of her literary manuscripts to publishers. The Series also includes biographical publications prepared by Tee Corinne, which are placed at the very beginning of the collection and provide an useful introduction to the life of Valerie Taylor.

The correspondence in Series II spans the years 1956-1997, with the bulk of the materials from the 1970s to the 1990s. It is organized in two categories: Incoming Correspondence, which is arranged alphabetically by the last name of the correspondent, and Outgoing Correspondence, which is arranged chronologically. The Incoming Correspondence includes the vast majority of the materials in the Series. It is further subdivided into four categories: Family, Business, and General Correspondence, and Fan Mail. The family correspondence is mostly from Taylor's grandchildren and from her son Marshall and his wife Penni. Many of the business letters are from Naiad Press, the publisher of many of Valerie Taylor's works. Other correspondents are personal friends and fellow authors, including poet Will Inman, Lee Lynch, Jean Sirius, May Sarton, Tee Corinne, and Elsa Gidlow. Also among the correspondents are author Dorothy Canfield Fisher, social activist and feminist Ruth (Travis-Best) Dreamdigger, and Ada and Clarence Henry (Hank) Mayer, the latter a labor activist. The Outgoing Correspondence comprises Business and General Correspondence. The bulk of letters are addressed to Jean Sirius.

The materials in Series III, Literary Manuscripts, span the years 1950-1996, but most are undated. They are organized in two categories: Published and Unpublished Materials, each of which comprises Book-Length Works; Short Stories; Poems; and Articles and Essays. The materials are in alphabetical order by title for undated materials; in chronological order and then by title for dated materials. Whenever a name other than "Valerie Taylor" was used to sign literary works, the occurrence was noted.

The materials in Series IV, Lectures, Interviews, and Speeches, span the years 1974-1991 and are arranged in chronological order. They are in a variety of formats: paper (transcripts and drafts), and audio and visual recordings. They include the key-note address "For My Grand-daughters..." delivered before the 1st Annual Lesbian Writers Conference in Chicago, on September 13, 1974. Also included is a tape of the Phil Donahue television show in which Valerie Taylor appeared, approximately in 1982.

The materials in Series V, Literary, Social And Political Activities, are mostly undated, but they were probably created in the 1980s and 1990s. They comprise announcements, leaflets, and newsletters by organizations Valerie Taylor was active in or subscribed to. They are organized by the general type of activity.

The materials in Series VI, Public Reception, span the years 1960-1998 and are arranged chronologically. They include: Awards; Book reviews; News stories; Publishers' book catalogs; Ads and announcements (of Valerie Taylor's books or lectures); and Other materials, such as a blurb and published photographs in which she appears with Del Martin and by herself.

The materials in Series VII, Writings By and About Others, span the years 1967-1997, although many are difficult to date. They include writings by Valerie Taylor's close friends Will Inman and Vera J. Terrell, as well as by others whom Taylor admired. This series also includes unidentified writings.

The materials in Series VIII, Photographs, include all the photographs found among the papers and others which were taken and generously donated by Tee Corinne. Several photographs in the correspondence, that do not portray Valerie Taylor, have been left with the letters they came with. The materials span the years 1920s to 1997, and include early photographs of Valerie Taylor at home on the farm with her family, other family photographs, and photographs taken in Chicago, Margaretville, and Tucson, AZ. Several are the photographs of friends, including Pearl Hart, Will Inman, and Tee Corinne.

The materials in Series IX, Memorabilia, span the years 1975-1992 and consist of artifacts. They include a plaque for the Paul R. Goldman Award, a paperweight commemorating the induction in the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1992 in Chicago; and two poems by Will Inman mounted on boards.


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The Valerie Taylor Collection was donated in December 1997 by Tee A. Corinne, executor of the Literary Estate of Valerie Taylor.

2000, Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library