Feminist author Dorothy Allison lectures on the intersection of class, race, sexuality and gender

News Editor, Kathryn Nicolai

Feminist author Dorothy Allison presented on the intersectionality of class, race, sexuality and gender to a crowd at 7 p.m. on April 17 in the ELC Forum. The lecture was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Gender and addressed intersectionality through the narratives of Allison’s childhood and journey toward a college degree.

Self-described as a “cross-eyed, working-class lesbian addicted to violence, language and hope,” Allison is a two-time Lambda Literary Award recipient, and was a finalist for the 1992 National Book Award for her first novel “Bastard Out of Carolina.” However, Allison has faced numerous challenges and disadvantages that derived from her difficult childhood.

Being a first-generation college and high school graduate is pivotal to Allison’s identity; however, the term “first-generation” has an extended meaning for Allison. She defines “first-generation” as “those children who look around them and do not want the world they are prepared for.”

“She believes in the idea of a different first generation, one where the individuals inside of it push towards something new because the world we live in now is uncomfortable and embarrassing. To move past such a place would be a dream come true, but perhaps that is what makes me a part of this first generation,” Gray Reid ’20 said.

Throughout her childhood, Allison was recognized by her school teachers for her natural intelligence, but she lacked the necessary resources to pursue her dream of a college education. After a teacher had suggested that she apply for a National Merit Scholarship, Allison was forced to ask her parents for their salaries, and began questioning whether middle-class students faced the same humiliation when applying to college.

She faced backlash from her stepfather when she asked for his salary to include on the forms. In order to submit the papers, she forged her stepfather’s signature with the help of her mother.

“We do not talk about class enough in this country,” Allison said. “Here’s the thing you need to know about class. If you grow up the child of a waitress and a truck driver and all the books you’ve read are the books that you could borrow from the library or that your mother brought home in Reader’s Digest editions, you do not actually know what happens in college. You do not know what is required.”

Allison was granted a National Merit Scholarship, attended Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College), and earned a degree in anthropology.

Professor of English, Saundra Morris said, “Allison emphasized the pain and shame of poverty, and the frequently insurmountable obstacles to overcoming it.  She stressed that those with privilege can hardly understand, but the necessity for them to try.”

Reid praised Allison as a storyteller, discussing her childhood as if she were reading from a book.

“She was, by society’s definition, victim to many experiences, from rape to being held at gunpoint, and yet she never quite viewed it that way. She always viewed things as a driving factor for her to do better with her life, and to me, that spoke immeasurable words,” Reid said.

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