A revolutionary poet, a passionate feminist and a working-class story teller, Dorothy Allison has been successful in widening the horizon for feminist discourse all over the world. In bearing the brunt of sexual abuse and embarking on the voyage of seeking her sexual identity, Allison’s youth was indeed a tumultuous one. An illegitimate child of a mother confined to the clutches of poverty, Allison was repeatedly sexually exploited by her step-father, a memory which scarred her childhood and gave rise to an emotional turmoil which calmed itself only after she picked up her pen. A self-identified femme-lesbian, Allison drew inspiration from the indestructible will of her grandmother and her aunt, two extremely strong women whom she ardently admired and took upon herself to challenge the ambit of the discourse on gender, class, violence and sexual orientation.
So what’s so special about Allison and her works? For one, her works are not even remotely patronizing or preachy in style. Her widely lauded autobiographical work, ‘Bastard out of Carolina’ is a very candid take on her traumatizing childhood, sans any sugar coating. The humorous and lively candour embellishing the text leaves an indelible mark on the reader and the book stays with the reader long after the last pages have been turned.
One of her most controversial works, ‘The women who hate me’, was a compilation of poems which panegyrized promiscuity, sadomasochism, and butch-femme roles. Her take on these issues incited the wrath of the mainstream feminists, which she has been battling ever since. Allison refuses to look at lesbianism through the romantic lens or construct a woman’s attraction for a woman on a rosy mould. She maintains that her purpose in life is to write stories in which lesbians live, and her statement finds its true manifestation in her works. The protagonists of her works often find themselves lost in a labyrinth of socially constructed identities, none of which their hearts and souls would resonate with.
Her writings are also shrewd and unsieved. She describes her works as “shout of life against death, of shape and substance against silence and confusion. Writing . . . is the only way I know to make sure of my on-going decision to live, to set moment to moment a small piece of stubbornness against an ocean of ignorance and obliteration”
Writing about a world that is grossly understudied and often overlooked, Allison feels relying on just the written word wouldn’t be enough to take her to the echelons where she has aspired to be. She often gives stellar spoken word performances and delivers passionate lectures to propagate her radical views while contributing to the ever evolving purview of feminism.