Cornell Library opens papers of noted lesbian writer Valerie Taylor

The papers of well-known lesbian author Valerie Taylor, who died in 1997, have been donated to Cornell University Library's Human Sexuality Collection and are being opened to the public Sept. 22.

Born Sept. 7, 1913, in Aurora, Ill., Velma Tate published her first lesbian novel, Whisper Their Love, in 1957. She used the pen name Valerie Taylor and came to be known widely by that name. Among her numerous classics published during the 1950s and 1960s were: The Girls in 3-B, Stranger on Lesbos, A World Without Men, Unlike Others, The Secret of the Bayou, Journey to Fulfillment and Return to Lesbos.

Taylor continued to write novels and poetry into the 1990s. Her more recent books include Love Image, Prism, Ripening and Rice and Beans. Her writing appears in numerous anthologies, including Intricate Passions and The Poetry of Sex: Lesbians Write the Erotic. Although much of Taylor's poetry is still unpublished, Two Women Revisited (published in 1976) includes her poetry along with works by Jeannette H. Foster. Studs Terkel included an interview with Taylor in his 1995 book Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who've Lived It.

An activist for peace and justice, Taylor was a co-founder of Mattachine Midwest in 1965 and of the Lesbian Writers' Conference in Chicago in 1974. In 1992, she was inducted into the city of Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. She moved to Tucson in 1978 and became active in a Quaker meeting group, environmental activities and advocacy for the elderly. For many years, she did public speaking as a gay Gray Panther.

Taylor was 84 years old when she died Oct. 22, 1997, in Tucson, Ariz. Her executor, artist and author Tee Corinne, decided to place Taylor's papers with Cornell Library's Human Sexuality Collection, an archival program that actively collects material documenting the history of sexual politics at a national level. Cornell provides researchers with access to primary sources about the emergence of the gay liberation movement in America and has a special collecting initiative to improve documentation of the lives, sexuality and sexual politics of bisexual women and lesbians.

Taylor's papers include drafts of her published and unpublished poetry and novels and correspondence from publishers and fans. There also are letters and some unpublished manuscripts from friends and fellow authors, including poet Will Inman, Lee Lynch, Jeannette H. Foster, Jean Sirius, May Sarton, Tee Corinne and Elsa Gidlow. Personal friend Marie Kuda has given Cornell Library copies of her correspondence with Taylor, as well as additional articles and correspondence. The collection as a whole will allow researchers to study both this unique individual and the larger issues in her life, including the development of lesbian literature, small press publishing and activism for peace, lesbian and gay rights, women's rights and social justice over a 30 year period.

Human Sexuality Collection Curator Brenda Marston is enthusiastic about the gift. "What a full picture the papers provide of a remarkable woman's life -- from her childhood through a marriage and divorce, motherhood, pioneering lesbian activism, a literary career and, finally, letters in the last years of her life from her many readers and fans, friends, publishers and her grandchildren," Marston says. "Looking through her papers, one gets an immediate sense of how active Valerie was and how engaged in life."

Taylor's papers will be used at Cornell within an active teaching and research environment. Amy Villarejo, Cornell assistant professor of women's studies, has studied the expressions of incipient gay and lesbian activism evident in Taylor's early works and in other mass market paperbacks of the 1950s and 1960s. Villarejo observes that, "Taylor's papers are a window on that transition from hidden longings to loud protest, and they will prompt us to reconsider the conception of 'progress' that is seen to be inaugurated in 1969 with Stonewall."

Now fully processed, Taylor's papers are available in Cornell's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, housed in the Carl A. Kroch Library on campus. The division is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. -5 p.m., and Saturday, 1-5 p.m. A collection guide to assist researchers will be available in the reference room and also on the web site of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at

Tuesday, Sept. 22, Marston and archivist Patrizia Sione will officially open the collection. People interested in Valerie Taylor, especially those who may want to use her papers for their own research or teaching, are invited to the opening reception, sponsored by Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay Studies, at 4:30 p.m. in the lecture room of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, on the bottom level of Carl A. Kroch Library at Cornell.

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