Minnie Bruce Pratt, Celebrated Poet of Lesbian Life, Dies at 76

Feminist poet and essayist Minnie Bruce Pratt explores her despair, anger and resilience after coming out as a lesbian and losing custody of her children in her book Crime Against Nature. , won one of poetry’s highest honors and became a target. A far-right conservative woman, she died on July 2 near her home in Syracuse, New York. She is 76 years old.

Her death at a hospice for LGBTQ people was due to glioblastoma, said son Benjamin Weaver.

It was in 1975 that Pratt entered the first gay bar, Otherside, in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Homosexual relationships are still considered a crime in the state, which the law described as a “crime against nature”, so patrons hoped the police wouldn’t have their license plates photographed at a restaurant around the corner. parked. It operated as a private club, so they signed into the place under a pseudonym. (Ms. Pratt often referred to Susan B. Anthony as her.)

As she writes in her memoir S/He (1995), the woman who has been married for almost ten years and has two young sons was the most shocked by the turning point in her life. Like many women of her generation, she was encouraged by her awareness group, which Pratt attended. She campaigned for gender equality as a doctoral student in a university teaching position (learning how to fight back when male colleagues asked her to type papers or grope her body at academic conferences). ), she realized that she loved women.

When her husband, a fellow poet and academic, divorced, her lawyer warned that she would “have no chance of fighting it in court.” He took full custody of his sons and moved out of state. “How could that happen to someone with a Ph.D.?” asked his fellow teacher years later.

Crimes Against Nature was more than a decade in the making when it was published in 1990, making Pratt a literary star. The American Academy of Poets awarded her the Lamont Prize for Poetry, one of the organization’s highest honors. Poet Carol Musquet wrote in The New York Times Book Review that the book was a “publishing event”, that each poem was a “verbal emergency”, and that “the beauty of that unadorned voice I’m surprised,” he said.

One of the poems in this volume, “No Place,” begins with the lines:

One night I was half seated before leaving


Halfway up the stairs he staggered,


Shout, choose, choose. male or female,

her or him

me or the kidsthere was no place

be able to

at the same time or between.upon

the boys slept

Use a night light as a little comfort


Like a starry campion flower, the edge


Her poetry and activism grew out of the Women in Print movement, in which feminist and lesbian poets began handprinting and binding their work, often published as chapbooks, short tracts similar to ZINEs. I was. It was a vibrant community of lesbian and feminist bookstores and gathering places like the basement of a Unitarian church.

As part of an effort to keep the children with her during summer vacations and other school holidays, Pratt toured the South with her father’s permission, reading and visiting the children. I was always on the road.

The movement was at an extraordinary time, said editor and publisher Julie Enzer. evil wisdom, a lesbian literary magazine with a history of almost half a century. By 1985, she said, there were about 110 feminist bookstores in the country. Pratt joined Feminary, a feminist magazine and collective, and founded Night Heron Press with her colleague who was her girlfriend.

So in 1981 she published her first book of poetry, The Sound of One Fork. This is a collection of sensual pieces that recall her childhood in Alabama. Her sons, then teenagers on summer vacation, helped her put together copies of her book. In an essay for the Poetry Foundation, she writes:. She said making them was her fondest memory.

Minnie Bruce Pratt was born on September 12, 1946 in Selma, Alabama. Her father, William L. Pratt her Jr., worked in the lumber industry. Her mother, Virginia Earl (Brown) Pratt, a social worker and teacher, once told her she was disgusted by her daughter’s lesbianism, but she later became her collaborator.

Minnie Bruce was an English major at the University of Alabama when she married Marvin Weaver in 1966. She received her bachelor’s degree in 1968 and was also a Fulbright Scholar. She was working on her PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when her husband took the children after her divorce. She qualified in 1979 for her English.

In addition to her son Benjamin, she is survived by another son, Ransom, and five grandchildren.

Ms Pratt has received many awards and grants. A scholarship awarded to her and two other lesbian poets and Native American writers from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1990. Christos Audrey Lorde drew criticism from ultra-conservative Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who was campaigning for the cancellation of the grant. He said that because the three authors were lesbians, the work was obscene and unsuitable for federal funding. The NEA disagreed with this.

In 1991, the three women won another grant from the Free Speech Foundation for being “targeted by right-wing forces”.

Until her retirement in 2015, Ms. Pratt was a professor in the Writing Program and Gender Studies Department at Syracuse University, where she contributed to the development of the university’s LGBT studies program. She is the author of eight of her poetry collections and her work has been published in many magazines. Her latest book, Magnified (2021), is a collection of love poems to her queer author and activist spouse, Leslie Feinberg, who died of complications from Lyme disease in 2014 at the age of 65. be.

Like Feinberg, whose 1993 novel Stone Butch Blues evoked the complexity of gender and was seen as a touchstone in queer literature, Ms. Pratt is eloquent about what she calls the “in-between” space. wrote to And Feinberg (who mostly avoided gender honorifics) lived as a couple, Butch and Fam.

In S/he, an erotic memoir as well as an exploration of the myriad expressions of gender, Ms Pratt describes her son Benjamin and his girlfriend while the couple were in graduate school. I am writing about a Thanksgiving dinner I attended at a friend’s house. . Mr. Pratt was intrigued because no one was claiming a seat at the front of the table or standing up to carve the turkey. Her son was clearly lagging behind. Pratt crouches to the bathroom and returns to find her spouse sitting next to the first empty chair with a turkey platter in front of her and a chisel in one hand. had.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” Feinberg said, slicing. “It took a lot of courage to pick up that knife,” said Mr. Weaver. And Ms. Pratt took the lead at the table.

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