During St Georges’ week, a Colour-in-a-Dragon competition was held in our children’s libraries in Kensington and Chelsea. The best pictures from each library were selected, given a small prize and put forward for the inter library prize.
The winners for North Kensington Library were by Sam (aged 4) and Lilah Wilson-Stephens (aged 6). They came and collected their prizes, a craft activity toy, after school on Monday 17 May. They are brother and sister and it turns out their mother is an artist, so they seem to have inherited her talent!
I chose Sam’s picture because he used lots of different colours but all in a similar colour palate, so the effect is pleasing and not messy. Most importantly, he kept all the colours inside the different sections, with very little crossing over the lines. Very good work for a four-year-old!
I chose Lilah’s because she used an excellent golden yellow for the dragon’s body, not a trace of colour crosses over any line, and all the sections are very carefully and evenly filled. Again, very good, precise work for a six-year-old!
Both Sam and Lilah were both very pleased to be the winners. They were also keen to show me their latest gymnastic moves, before heading home for tea and to play with their prizes.
You can select and collect the book or alternatively many are available to download via our new Libby app!
The Hugo Awards was founded by the World Science Fiction Convention back in 1953. It is the oldest type of science fiction award and has is revered amongst the science fiction communities worldwide. The prize was inspired by the Academy Awards but is unique in that there are no written rules as to which works qualify as science fiction or fantasy, and the decision of eligibility in that regard is left up to the voters, rather than to the organizing committee.
The books nominated this year are a splendid mix of the philosophical, otherworldly and a splash of urban fantasy. The finalists for Hugo Best Novel Award contains 3 special titles, N.K Jemisin’s The City We Became is the first in a brand new series about whole cities, literally becoming alive. Susanna Clarke’s Piransei is a richly gothic tale about a mysterious house and its mystical inhabitants and Tamsyn Muir’s Harrow of the Ninth is set in fantastical universe of necromancy and sword-fighting. All three intriguing novels are available to borrow from our collection!
One version of the crime in ‘Troubled Blood’ comes from someone with a very warped perception of what happened. Do crime novels need unreliable narrators?
J K Rowling’s answer was that “crime novels gain from having witnesses who do not perfectly recall, because that’s real life. People tend to remember things that interest them.”
In preparation for the Book of the Week and my presentation of ‘Troubled Blood’, I visited Clerkenwell. For those who have not read the book, yet, Clerkenwell is the most important location for the latest Strike’s investigation. Forty years ago, a doctor, Margot Bamborough, disappeared from her surgery in Clerkenwell. She was supposed to meet a friend, Oonagh Kennedy, at the nearby pub – The Three Kings, but never arrived.
As lockdown is lifting, shops and pubs opening, it would be quite probable that the filming of ‘Troubled Blood’ has started.
True or not true, I do not know, but I can definitely inform you that I recorded some “suspicious” activities in Clerkenwell, in the early afternoon, on Wednesday, 28 April 2021. The Three Kings is still closed. The St James’ Church is under scaffoldings, but a filming on Clerkenwell Green is happening!
Unfortunately, no signs of Tom Burke or Holliday Grainger. Even the location at Denmark Street did not prove productive.
Every time I hear that someone I know has had their Covid 19 vaccination, I feel a sense of relief, and I was delighted to have my own first dose the other day. Though the situation continues to be challenging for us all, and has brought so much sad loss, the vaccine gives us hope.
The history of humanity has been the history of a struggle against infectious disease. Just a generation or two ago, diseases we now know only from history books and period dramas ravaged the population of this country and our lives have been transformed by our access to vaccinations against them. Many of our older books in the Biography Collection still have notices pasted inside about what to do if the books have been exposed to infectious diseases. (Pic 1) (Until last year, these labels seemed like quaint relics of a distant reality – none of us imagined having to put books in quarantine again – but they show the prevalence of many serious contagious diseases not very long ago.) Talk to someone in their 70s or 80s, and the chances are they will recall the death of someone they knew from these once all too common infections. My mother recalls with horror the death of her three year old cousin from diptheria at a time when it killed an average of 3,500 children a year in England and Wales, and my mother-in-law lost her father far too young due to TB (tuberculosis); a generation earlier, two of my grandmother’s siblings died in young adulthood from the same disease. No family was untouched by the tragedies wrought by these lethal infections.
In the Special Collection of Biographies, we can find the stories of many of the people who developed vaccines, thereby saving millions of lives. It would take too long to look at the inventors of all the most important vaccines, but here is a whistle-stop tour of just a few of them:
Edward Jenner was the father of vaccination; in the 1790s he investigated the fact that milkmaids had a far lower rate of smallpox infection than average, and worked out that the cow pox they were catching from cattle was making them immune to the much deadlier smallpox (killer of 10% of the population at the time). He had the revolutionary idea of introducing just the right amount of disease to produce immunity in healthy people. Amongst many books about him, we have the earliest biography, published by his friend John Baron in 1838 (Pics 2 and 3)
Over a century later, Louis Tompkins Wright revisited smallpox vaccination in a military setting and invented the procedure of interdermal vaccination.(Pic 4) He was inspired by his doctor father, Ceah Ketchan Wright, whose achievements would have been impressive in any context, but were particularly remarkable given that he was born into slavery in Georgia. Wright followed his father into the profession, graduating from Harvard in 1915. Serving as an Army Medical Corps Lieutenant in France during the Great War, he perfected the method whereby vaccine is injected into the skin rather than more deeply, which enabled him to vaccinate soldiers quickly and with reduced risk of infection. He was awarded the Purple Heart for his war service, and was subject to poison gas attack which affected his health for the rest of his life, and caused his death aged 61. He became a civil rights activist and was president of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) from 1935 until his death in 1952. As the first African American to serve both as surgeon on the staff of a desegregated hospital (Harlem Hospital, where he eventually became Chief Surgeon) and as a police surgeon, Wright fought racism throughout his career, and protested against segregated medical care. As his father had inspired him, so he inspired his two daughters, who both went on to become ground-breaking doctors and cancer researchers.
Polio was a huge problem in the twentieth century; panic would erupt, and public swimming pools be closed, when the disease went through a community. It could be fatal, and could lead to permanent paralysis, sometimes meaning that the only way the sufferer could survive would be to live inside an “iron lung”, which enabled them to breathe but made any kind of normal life impossible. Jonas Salk, the son of uneducated Russian Jewish immigrants to the USA, developed the vaccination in 1955. (Pic 5) He had previously developed a vaccine for flu, which the pandemic of 1918 had shown was a viral infection rather than a bacterial one, as had been believed. He struggled with the huge fame and adulation he experienced after making his life-saving discoveries.
Many of us will remember having the BCG vaccination against TB as school children – but may not know that the “BCG” stands for Bacillus Calmette Guerin, after Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin, the French immunologists who created the vaccine in 1921 – of whom unfortunately only French language biographies have as yet been published. (Pic 6) Robert Koch had won the Nobel Prize in 1905 for his work identifying the TB bacillus, which made a vaccine possible – it is extraordinary to realise that at one time, 1 in 7 of all deaths throughout the whole of global humanity was caused by this disease. (Pic 7)
At the Michigan Department of Health, Pearl Kendrick and Grace Elderling (pic 8) developed the vaccination for whooping cough (pertussis). It caused violent paroxysms of coughing, with the characteristic sound that gave it its name, which could be fatal, especially in children who were 95% of its victims. Both women had survived the disease as children and were keenly aware of how easily they might not have done. As the Great Depression had led to the department being starved of funds and staff, the women undertook their research unpaid and outside their normal working hours.
Maurice Hilleman grew up on a farm in Montana, and later said that the deaths of his mother and twin sister shortly after his birth made him want to save lives, and that working with the chickens as a boy had led to his interest in biology. (pic 9) He went on to develop an incredible 40 different vaccines, including those for measles, mumps, and hepatitis A and B. It is estimated that his work saves 8 million lives worldwide every single year.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about these people whose discoveries have saved so many lives, and may be inspired to read their stories. Check out our BioEpic podcast available on Anchor, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Pocket Casts and Radio Public for more stories of fascinating people.
You can select and collect the book or alternatively many are available to download via our new Libby app or via Cloud Library.
This year’s longlist honours both new and well-established writers and a range of genres and themes – family (twins and siblings, mother-daughter relationships); motherhood; rural poverty and isolation; addiction; identity and belonging; race, class and gender; grief and happiness; coming-of-age and later life. The novels span a range of different global settings, from South London to Deep South US; Ghana, Hong Kong, Barbados, Brooklyn and a fantasy realm.
*some books will be available soon or are currently on a waiting list.
Shortlist to be announced 28th April Winner announced 7th July
BOOKSELLER “NIBBIES” AWARDS
The Bookseller has shortlisted its books of the year in various categories:
Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell
The Evening and the Morning – Ken Follett
The Lying Life of Adults – Elena Ferrante
The Midnight Library – Matt Haig
The Mirror and the Light – Hilary Mantel
The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett
Exciting Times – Naosie Dolan
Ghosts – Dolly Alderton
Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart
The Girl with the Louding Voice – Abi Dare
Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
Rainbow Milk – Paul Mendez
Fiction: Crime and thriller:
The Guest List – Lucy Foley
Troubled Blood – Robert Galbraith
The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman
The Sentinal – Lee Child
The Patient Man – Joy Ellis
A Song for Dark Times – Ian Rankin
The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman
The Midnight Library – Matt Haig
Troubled Blood – Robert Galbraith
A Promised Land -Barack Obama
Grown Ups – Marion Keyes
Greenlights – Matthew Mcconaughy
Piranesi- Susanna Clarke
Think like a Monk – Jay Shetty
Sandman – Neil Gaiman
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough
Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty
Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day by Captain Sir Tom Moore
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake
Me And White Supremacy by Layla F Saad
Not a Diet Book by James Smith
Skincare by Caroline Hirons
Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain
Think Like a Monk – Jay Shetty
Five Minute Mum: Give Me Five by Daisy Upton
What Mummy Makes by Rebecca Wilson
Check out these great titles from Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea Libraries.
YA (YOUNG ADULT) BOOK PRIZE 2021 SHORTLIST
10 titles have been nominated for The Bookseller’s YA book of the year, with the winner being announced on 6th May 2021 during the Hay festival. Wide ranging subjects feature in the books, and all titles are available from Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea libraries.
Thursday 25 March is the International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The United Nations will commemorate this Day under the theme “Ending Slavery’s Legacy of Racism: A Global Imperative for Justice”.
Today is not a public holiday, but a day for global observance. It gives us the opportunity to honour and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system. It also rises the awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today.
The International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade gives us an occasion to educate ourselves and our children about the effects of racism, slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.
Last August I took my eight- and thirteen-year-old nephews to the National Gallery (and for pizza, of course). While preparing for the outing, two paintings caught my attention – Sir Joshua Reynolds’ ‘Colonel Tarleton’, and ‘The Sharp Family’ by Johann Zoffany. Granville Sharp was a leading British abolitionist and instigator of the first settlement of freed African slaves in Sierra Leone. As well as his campaign for the abolition of slavery, Sharp held other radical political opinions, supporting parliamentary reform and better wages for labourers. These two paintings, displayed close to each other, in Rooms 33 and 35, they talk very different stories of slavery, abolition of slavery and racism.
Thanks to Jason Isaacs’ portrayal of British Colonel Tavington (based on Tarleton)in the film ‘The Patriot’, I was much better acquainted with the “flamboyant and controversial figure” of Sir Banestre Tarleton. He was a cavalry officer, famous for his cruelty during the American war of independence. Tarleton was known as commander of the ‘Tarleton Raiders’, and for ‘Tarleton Quarters’ (shooting after surrender).
Unlike in the film where this odious character was killed on the battlefield, the real Sir Banestre Tarleton returned to Great Britain in 1781 as a hero, at the age of twenty-seven. Moreover, he was elected a Member of Parliament for Liverpool. Given the importance of the slave trade to the British shipping industry in Liverpool, Tarleton strongly supported slavery as an economic means. He was working to preserve the slavery business with his brothers Clayton and Thomas and became well known for his taunting and mockery of the abolitionists.
Whether we are studying, reading, enjoying football matches, working, shopping, travelling, or taking part in the Black Lives Matter movement, we are aware of racism lurking everywhere. Even an innocent visit to the gallery cannot steer clear of these issues. I was disappointed that the information next to these paintings at the National Gallery did not give more, proper insight into the subjects of these paintings. (Luckily, I was ready to step in.) Although I appreciate and like Joshua Reynold’s art, today’s visitors need more honest and critical information and galleries, museums and historic houses must adapt and address the visitors’ needs.
“By the time of abolition, slavery was widely seen as a shameful thing.” Historian David Olusoga comments in the documentary programmeBritain’s Forgotten Slave Owners. “Many slave owners went out of their way to avoid admitting their involvement. But the lure of compensation drew them out of shadows. Every single slave owner who came forward is recorded in the national archives in Kew in London, 46,000 of them. It’s a complete census of ownership, at the point when slavery was taking its last gasp.” The slave owners walked with millions, while the enslaved received nothing.
March 8th is International Women’s Day, and the theme this year is Choose to Challenge. Our Special Collection of Biographies is full of the stories of inspiring and extraordinary women who challenged the norms of the societies they lived in, and improved the lives of their fellow women in vital ways. I have selected three women from very different backgrounds, whose work changed the experience of other women for the better, in three different areas of their lives.
Amelia Bloomer changed the way women dressed. Next time you put on tracksuit bottoms to go for a run (or just to relax on the sofa), spare a thought for Amelia Bloomer. Born in New York, she lived a life that spanned almost the whole of the nineteenth century, becoming the first woman to ever own and edit a newspaper specifically aimed at other women, in 1849. Amongst her lifelong advocacy for women’s rights, she is best remembered for her commitment to the cause of women’s dress reform. Bloomer felt strongly that the restrictive clothing women wore could only impede all aspects of their lives, cause them unnecessary discomfort, and operate as a form of oppression. Well off women were encumbered by elaborately decorative clothing and punishing corsetry. Even poor women were continually hampered by the length of their skirts. It seems amazing now that in the West, trousers for women were not really respectable until the middle of the 20th century, and their previous modes of dress made all kinds of activities from riding bikes to participating in sports to simply running for a (horse drawn) bus impossible. Bloomer championed the idea of loose gathered trousers worn under a shorter dress, allowing women to move more easily – these trousers became known as “bloomers”. A courageous group of like-minded women began to wear them in public, but were often harassed, mocked and even assaulted. But they had begun a century of slow progress towards the time when women could wear trousers without raising an eyebrow, and so be enabled to enjoy the same freedom of movement as men.
Onnie Lee Loganchanged the way women gave birth As Bloomer’s life almost spanned the 19th century, Logan’s did the 20th. In her farming community in Alabama, black women did not have access to clinical maternity care and they were helped to deliver their babies by “granny midwives”, who had no formal training but who were repositories of wisdom passed down for centuries. Logan came from a family where women had been practising as “granny midwives” for generations. Her heritage was both African American and Native American, and when she began to practise midwifery herself, aged 21, she drew on the traditions of both cultures. In 1949 Logan undertook formal training and was licensed by the Board of Health. She was able to give her patients the benefit of a new mixture of modern medical practice and family-centred care based on long experience and first-hand knowledge. These women benefited from as many modern medical safety measures as Logan could provide, while being reassured by the sensitivity of a woman who understood their community and cultural traditions at the deepest level. For a period of half a century, ending in the mid-80s, she is credited with delivering almost every baby born in two black neighbourhoods of Mobile, Alabama. She also delivered the babies of poor white women, and became a beloved figure throughout the community, though her autobiography does not gloss over the virulent racism she encountered. Logan emphasised practices that were still being seen as new and innovative by orthodox midwifery many years later, such as the participation of fathers, the use of relaxation and breathing techniques and the application of oils, and she encouraged women to give birth in different positions rather than flat on their backs, as was the conventional and often damaging expectation. Her autobiography is a fascinating record of a working life that spanned enormous changes – an unsentimental “Call the Midwife” of the Deep South, and a testament to an extraordinarily humane and expert woman.
Caroline Norton changed women’s rights in marriage. Norton left her unhappy marriage in 1836, and her husband sued her friend, the Prime Minister and future close confidante of Queen Victoria Lord Melbourne for adultery, involving all of them in an enormous scandal. Although he lost his case, he refused to divorce Lady Norton, and refused to let her see her sons. At a time when women who left their husbands were generally condemned and when it was perfectly legal for a man to beat his wife, Norton campaigned tirelessly to change the law relating to custody, divorce and property (married women were not allowed to legally own any property until 1870, when an Act of Parliament Norton had campaigned for was passed). A new biography of this courageous woman by Antonia Fraser will be published in May, and we have a clutch of books in our collection from Diane Atkinson’s excellent biography of 2012, to books from the 1940s and 1960s (see the cover illustration so characteristic of that period) – and Norton also makes an appearance in some sumptuous Edwardian collected biographies of “Queens of Beauty” and “Famous Women of Wit and Beauty”, where her celebrated beauty is recorded in wonderful engraved illustrations.
Check out our monthly podcast BioEpic, where we delve into the lives of fascinating people through our Special Collection of Biographies. Available on Anchor, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Radio Public and Breaker.
From Monday 1st to Sunday 7th March, join Beating Eating Disorders UK, to create a future where people experiencing binge eating disorder are met with understanding and compassion.
Binge eating disorder will affect one in fifty of us in our lifetime, it is the most common but least understood. It isn’t about being greedy or lacking in willpower, but a serious mental illness which many suffer with alone, often with the fear of how others might react the reason they don’t reach out for help.
We know the sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full and fast recovery. As well as campaigning to improve the services available, we recognise that we must raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder and encourage and empower people to act now no matter how long their symptoms have been present.
In March, during Eating Disorders Awareness Week you can start to help change that.
Around 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from these illnesses, many in secret. They are of all ages, genders and backgrounds – eating disorders do not discriminate.
Eating disorders include:
binge eating disorder
avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)
other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED),
Anorexia, which tragically has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, though all eating disorders can be deadly.
While this is the worst-case scenario, there are many ways in which eating disorders severely affect the quality of life of both those suffering and those who care about them. They steal childhoods, devastate relationships and pull families apart. But, with the right treatment and support, recovery is possible.
“Only 1 in 4 receive the help and support they desperately need to recover from binge eating disorder. Without it, many struggle to get better and some even blame themselves. Sign up to receive your free fundraising pack to support our service for everyone affected by eating disorders.”
Why Binge Eating Disorder?
This is the first time a specific eating disorder has been chosen as the theme for Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
Binge eating disorder is the most common but often the least understood. It is especially difficult to find treatment and our Helpline Advisors consistently hear that people with binge eating disorder experience significant shame and fear in reaching out for support.
Eating disorders are as diverse as the people they effect, and we are committed to make sure all of our communications and activities represent the broad communities we serve.
In November 2020, 29% of contacts to Beat’s Helpline were about binge eating disorder but only 6% of the media coverage we generated in the last year spoke specifically about binge eating disorder, there is little representation on the ‘your stories’ section on our website, and only 5 of our Ambassadors have lived experience of binge eating disorder. We’ve also never run a campaign that specifically asks for better treatment, despite repeatedly hearing about the particular difficulties people face.
We must challenge the unhelpful and damaging opinions so many people carry about the disorder so people living with this terrible mental illness can find kindness and compassion when they bravely reach out for help. We hope Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2021 will lay the first stone for this to happen.
Beat is a charity registered in England and Wales (801343) and Scotland (SC039309). Beat became our working name in February 2007.
Our legally registered charity name is: Beat (Formerly Eating Disorders Association). Beat is a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales under number 2368495, with registered offices at Unit 1, 19 Rosary Road, Norwich NR1 1SZ. VAT Number: 700 285963.
We understand that research can be a daunting and difficult task, here at Westminster Reference Library, we’ve teamed up with the specialists at London South Bank University to give you some tips, tricks and advice on how to undertake your research and how to best utilise your online software!
An introductory digital skills session into Microsoft Office: including Word, PowerPoint and Excel!
Literature hunting – What is a journal article? How to use Google Scholar & learning how to evaluate information!
IT Security – Protecting your device and your files, avoiding dangerous sites and documents!
These workshops are designed for students, researchers or anyone working on a project that involves searching the internet for information. Whether you’re just starting or a more advanced researcher, we’ve got something for everyone!
Janice Johnson is the Digital Skills Training Manager at the Digital Skills Centre, London South Bank University. She has over 16 years’ experience teaching digital skills to staff, students and professional organisations.
Emma Perry is an Information Skills Librarian within the library at London South Bank University. Having worked there for over 8 years, her main role is to teach students in classes and one-to-ones about research, evaluating information and referencing.
Please note, this will be a Microsoft Teams meeting/Teams Broadcast, and, although you do not have to have Microsoft Teams downloaded to your device, you will get a better experience if you have the app.
***Please avoid using Safari – we have had reports that Safari users have issues accessing Teams live broadcasts. Please try using Chrome or any other browser – most people who experience problems when signing in find them resolved if they try using a different browser. We are really sorry for the inconvenience this may cause and are working on finding a solution.
One of the most exciting things about our Special Collection of Biographies is the opportunity to discover wonderful writers that are often hard to come across in other places. In honour of LGBT+ History Month, I’ll focus on four brilliant autobiographical voices of the mid twentieth century who were once well known but who have sadly faded from view (they should all be household names, in my opinion)! All were gay, and given the times in which they wrote, references to their sexuality are woven through their work in very different ways, from oblique and coded “in jokes”, to more direct engagements with their experiences of relationships against the background of a bigoted society. They would not have wanted their work to be defined soley as representing their sexuality, as would not be the case with heterosexual writers – but they write about their sexuality in ways that tell us a lot about the society they inhabited and the experience of LGBT people within it.
I first discovered Denton Welch’s heartbreaking, hilarious voice in his memoir A Voice Through A Cloud, posthumously published in 1950, which describes his cycling accident aged 20 – he sustained injuries that changed his life and led to his death at 33. In Maiden Voyage and In Youth is Pleasure, Welch smuggles in references to his sexuality which though necessarily hidden in plain sight, are full of joy and a commitment to self-expression. He delights in meeting men under the radar of tediously conventional relatives (and it is important to remember the huge risks men ran at the time, when persecutory laws meant blackmail and prosecution were constant dangers). Under a stylish and often very funny surface is a narrative of courageous self-affirmation: Welch is always uncompromisingly himself. He was also a wonderful painter, and his idiosyncratic voice was admired by figures such as Edith Sitwell, William Burroughs and Alan Bennett. His diaries from 1942 to 1948 are a unique record of a Bohemian world.
R. Ackerley joined the BBC in 1928 and helped set up the influential Talks Department. From 1935 to 1959 he was literary editor of The Listener, the BBC magazine which was a cultural institution.
He was a man of great learning and, like Welch, a wonderful writer. We have volumes of his diaries and correspondence – and the memoirs Hindoo Holiday (1932), describing his time serving as an Indian Maharaja’s secretary and My Dog Tulip (1956) about his relationship with his beloved dog Queenie. We Think the World of You (1960) is a novel, but was based on his own passionate relationship, across the class divide, with a petty criminal who remained married; they were very different characters and significant hearbreak accrued from their irresolvable tensions, but Ackerley writes with subtlety and honesty about their affair, and his surprising friendship with his lover’s wife. He also wrote about the extraordinarily strange story of his father (who had another hidden family – the daughter of this secret menage, Diana Petrie, wrote a fabulous book about it, which we also have in the collection) – as well as a moving memoir of his troubled, exasperating but adored sister.
The American poet and novelist May Sarton wrote 13 volumes of memoir, between 1959 and 1996, all of which we have in our collection (one with a beautiful personal inscription in her handwriting). They are vivid immersions in her experience of the natural world, and in the patterns and processes of her own intellectual and emotional life. Her love for Judith Matlack is a subject she returns to often. Sarton wrote movingly about the courage it took to portray lesbian characters in her novels, which in the 60s were studied by feminist academics. She declared her hope that she not be looked upon predominantly as a lesbian writer, but simply as a writer who engaged with the universal themes of human love. But it is undeniable that her writing about erotic love between women was enormously important in giving it parity with heterosexual love stories and letting tenderness and lyricism challenge concealment and shame.
Lorraine Hansberry is probably the best known of these four writers, due to recent revivals of her seminal play A Raisin in the Sun, with which she became the first African American woman to have a play performed on Broadway at the age of just 29. She was a key figure in the pan-African intellectual movement, and had friendships with other giants of the African-American artistic and political scene such as Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes. James Baldwin was a close friend and devotee and declared her work to be ground breaking, and Martin Luther King was an admirer who expected her to inspire future generations. She inspired Nina Simone with her play To be Young, Gifted and Black, which is also the title of her autobiography.
Hansberry married a man, Robert Nemiroff, and did not reveal her true sexuality due to anxiety about the hostility she might face. However, as she moved into her thirties, she moved towards coming out, describing herself as “committed to this homosexuality thing” – this wasn’t straightforward in the early 60s, but Hansberry had relationships with women and a circle of gay friends. She expressed the resolution to “create my life—not just accept it” – tragically, she shared Welch’s fate of dying in her early 30s. Huge though her achievements were, it is tantalising to think what more she might have achieved, and what her searing intelligence might have added to debates on racial and sexual politics as the decades moved on.
The struggle for equality for LGBT+ people is far from over, and the fight against prejudice must continue. But these four writers shed light on the huge pressures on gay people in the twentieth century to keep their true voices silent and their true loves hidden, and how people of artistic genius negotiated these pressures. I hope you will enjoy getting to know them better through our collection.