MAKERS Profile

Rita Mae Brown

Author & Activist

In this video

Rita Mae Brown on getting the women's movement to accept lesbians and writing Rubyfruit Jungle.
Rita Mae Brown is an activist and author best known for her first novel Rubyfruit Jungle. She has written thirteen literary novels, more than two-dozen mysteries and several books of poetry and non-fiction.   Brown was born in 1944 on a farm in Hanover, Pennsylvania. She briefly attended the University of Florida before being expelled (allegedly for her participation in the civil rights movement but more likely for being openly gay). In 1964, she hitchhiked to New York City and initially lived out of her car. She earned a scholarship to New York University, where she studied classics and became deeply involved in the civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and anti-war movements.   Shortly after taking an administrative position at the National Organization for Women, Brown was forced to resign by founder Betty Freidan, who called Brown and other lesbians the “Lavender Menace,” fearing their participation would be used against the women’s movement by outsiders. Brown then became involved with the radical women’s liberation groups forming, which called for the inclusion of lesbians. In 1971, she co-founded The Furies, a lesbian-feminist women’s house and collective in Washington D.C. that published a monthly newspaper.   In 1973, Brown published Rubyfruit Jungle, a coming-of-age tale that shocked many at the time with its frank and explicit depictions of lesbianism. Despite having been published on a small label without a marketing budget, the book became a smash success and is now considered a classic. Brown has been writing novels, screenplays and essays ever since. Some of her notable publications include the 1983 novel Sudden Death, a fictionalized account of her relationship with the tennis star Martina Navratilova, and the Mrs. Murphy series of mysteries, which she “co-authors” with her cat, Sneaky Pie.

More From Rita Mae

Coming Out to Mom
Brown talks about her mother's fairly liberal attitudes toward gay and straight relationships and the limits to her acceptance.

Lesbians Took Their Energy Elsewhere
Brown describes what happened to the women's movement when lesbians were excluded.

Society’s Contempt
Brown speaks about the contempt she endured as an out gay woman, and how the worst offenders were closeted gay people.

Body Hair & Birkenstocks as Politics
Brown lays out how and why women's appearance played a role in the early feminist rebellion.

Gender Differences are a Lie
Brown argues that gender stereotypes are false and can be destructive, especially to heterosexual relationships.

The Furies & Women-Only Spaces
Brown reflects on starting the "The Furies" house in D.C. and the value of other women-only environments in the 70s.

Respect for Betty Friedan
Despite being mistreated by Betty Friedan, Brown explains why she respected her.

Gloria's Kindness and the Women's Movement
Brown argues that Gloria Steinem was the best thing that could have happened to the women's movement and its public image.

Consciousness Raising Contagion
Brown on the wildfire spread of consciousness-raising groups and its pros and cons.

Women Shying from Power
Brown observes women's uneasy relationship with power, its causes and the brave women who do put themselves out there.

AIDS Widows
Brown gives voice to the effect of the AIDS crisis on gay women.

Never in the Closet
Brown explains why she never hid the fact that she was gay and the importance of giving others the benefit of the doubt.