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A Lesbian Archivist Discovers a Hidden Literary Treasure in Southern Oregon

A Lesbian Archivist Discovers a Hidden Literary Treasure in Southern Oregon

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Published by carolyn6302
A Lesbian Archivist Discovers A Hidden Literary Treasure in Southern Oregon
A Lesbian Archivist Discovers A Hidden Literary Treasure in Southern Oregon

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: carolyn6302 on May 04, 2010
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06/28/2012

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Originally published in
The Lambda Book Report,
Spring/Summer 2008
A Lesbian Archivist Discovers A Hidden Literary Treasure inSouthern Oregon
Interview with Linda Long by Carolyn GageLinda Long is the Manuscripts Librarian for the Special Collectionsand University Archives at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Whenshe moved from Stanford in 1996 to take the job, little did she realizethat was sitting on a mother lode of lesbian culture, tucked quietlyaway in the stacks of unprocessed collections and buried deep in thehills of Southern Oregon.
Gage: What was your first clue about the treasure?
Long: Well, it was part of my new duties to familiarize myself with thecollection. During one of my walks through the stacks, I came acrossthirty storage boxes marked “Jean and Ruth Mountaingrove.”
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Intrigued by the last name, I opened one of the boxes. What I sawwas title after title of lesbian and feminist periodicals. Some, Irecognized, but others, I had never heard of— Lesbian Tide, LeapingLesbian, Feminist Bookstore News, Amazon, Lesbian Connection,Lesbian Insider Insighter Inciter, and so on. I took another box downand found more of the same. Suddenly I realized what we had here—a whole grouping of scarce—and possibly some rare—periodicalsthat had been gathered together but not organized for research use.At that moment I had what we archivists and manuscripts librarianssometimes call that “tingly feeling” when we realize we foundsomething special in our collections.
Gage: Do you think that an archivist who was not lesbian wouldhave felt as “tingly?” The reason why I ask is that, as a lesbianplaywright who often works with historical figures, I frequentlyuncover details overlooked or trivialized by heterosexualcultural workers for whom these details have no context or relevance.
Long: Yes, I agree. It’s true that as a lesbian archivist I had contextfor this collection of periodicals. I also had a feeling of urgency to getthese materials available to scholars, and to specifically use the word“lesbian” in the title so that a search of that word in the online catalogwould bring up the description of the collection. The “lesbian”collections that I had discovered in our stacks were in a sensecloseted themselves, and I felt I was on a mission to out them and getthese valuable records available to scholars. I wanted to make themas accessible as possible.
Gage: What was your next step on the treasure hunt?
Long: I found Ruth listed in our donor files, and I called her up. It wasduring our conversations I discovered that Southern Oregon is hometo many lesbian intentional communities, or “communes.” Some of these are collectives, and some are privately owned. Ruth and her former partner, Jean, had published a journal entitled WomanSpiritMagazine while they lived in a gay commune in Southern Oregon andlater while living in their own lesbian land nearby. The periodicals Isaw boxed up in the stacks were exchange copies from other publishers.
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Gage: What was WomanSpirit?
Long: It was the first feminist/lesbian periodical solely dedicated tothe topic of feminism and spirituality, and it struck a chord withthousands of women across the country. The publication of WomanSpirit dovetailed nicely with the rise of the alternative feministpress network that flourished during the 1970s and 1980s in theUnited States, so WomanSpirit was able to reach a large audience of women.
Gage: Goddess imagery and women’s spirituality are practicallymainstream now. It’s easy to forget that the roots of themovement were taboo and counter-cultural, inextricably linkedto lesbian-feminism with its agenda of liberation. One of thethings that struck me as most radical about WomanSpirit washow class-homogenous it was in terms of the contributors.Working-class and academic authors were published side-by-side, voices unedited, because the magazine had a commitmentto egalitarianism.
Long: A colleague and I drove down to Arcata where Ruth is nowliving, and we spent a day and a half with her, talking about her experiences. As I began to get a fuller picture of the development of the lesbian land communities in Southern Oregon, it dawned on methat Jean and Ruth Mountaingrove were only a part—albeit a centralpart—of the story. The settlement of lesbian land communities inSouthern Oregon was a component of the larger Back-to-the-Landmovement of the late 1960s and 1970s when many individualswanted to escape urban life to return to a simpler life on the land,establishing communes and collectives throughout the United States.I started to realize that there was a rich history in these lesbiancommunities—and if there was a history, there had to be documentsthat reflect that history.
Gage: And where did Tee Corinne fit into this?
Long: Ruth had mentioned that Tee Corinne lived in Oregon. Again, Ihad that same “tingly’ feeling of recognition. As a photographer,visual artist and creative writer, Tee’s work was accessible in the
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