Popsugar Reading Challenge category: A Celebrity Memoir
Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser, by Rita Mae Brown
If it wasn't already, this book makes it clear how much Brown mined her own life for her fiction, especially the early books. Six of One and Bingo are based on the love/hate relationship between her mother and aunt; she even gave the character her mother's name and nickname. Sudden Death is about a lesbian tennis star who bears a suspicious resemblance to Brown's ex, Martina Navratilova. And adoption comes up as a recurring theme in her novels. Brown was adopted in 1944 by her birth mother's cousin, and only learned her birth father's identity after his death.
Celebrity memoirs tend to be wordy; it takes Brown a good 130 pages to even get to high school. The family stories are entertaining, but I got a bit tired of the generalizations about (for instance) her belief that people were "more connected" before television. We get a lot about the cats and horses in her life.
Brown was an activist from an early age; she got kicked out of college for participating in anti-racism protests in the 1960's. In 1973, she published the lesbian novel Rubyfruit Jungle. She was involved in both feminist and LGBT activism, but the early feminist movement was not always friendly to lesbians; NOW founder Betty Friedan famously referred to the "Lavender Menace." Brown is unsparing in her portrayal of Friedan, and also of Billie Jean King, who remained closeted until forcibly outed by an ex. Brown had a relationship with Fannie Flagg, best known as the author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, but Flagg was afraid of even her close friends knowing about them.
Brown is similarly no-holds-barred in her description of the drama between herself, Martina Navratilova, and Judy Nelson. Brown describes Navratilova as a "love junkie" who would fall for a new "great love of her life" every few years. She left Brown for another woman, then left the other woman for Judy Nelson. When that relationship ended, Nelson sued her to enforce their videotaped financial agreement. Brown portrays Nelson as shallow, attention-hungry, and gold-digging - but also acknowledges that Nelson was in the right in the lawsuit. This was prior to same-sex marriage being legalized, and Brown argued that straight people couldn't be expected to take same-sex relationships seriously if same-sex couples did not. Brown tried to mediate, and eventually Navratilova and Nelson reached a settlement. Brown and Nelson had a brief relationship after that; Brown portrays it as her passively acquiescing to Nelson's relentless pursuit. I'm curious as to the exes' versions of the story - especially the incident where a physical fight (which she says Navratilova started) escalated into Brown shooting out the back window of her BMW.
The memoir was written in 1997, when Brown was in her fifties. Feminism and LGBT rights came a long way over the course of her early life, and they've come a long way in the 25 years since then. Brown is still around, so perhaps she'll add another volume, in between the mysteries she's currently co-writing with her cat, Sneaky Pie.