Dorothy Allison

Dorothy Allison2020 Appalachian Heritage Writer in Residence

Dorothy Allison’s Poetry and Prose: The Power of the Story

"I want to break the heart of the world and then heal it."
--Dorothy Allison

Dorothy Allison was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, attended Florida Presbyterian College on a National Merit Scholarship and was a graduate student at Florida State University and the New School for Social Research at NYU. An anthropologist by education and training, Allison has been a nanny, a maid, substitute teacher, and feminist bookstore manager; she is from the working classes and has been their fierce champion. In the 1970s and 1980s she was an activist in the Women’s Movement and editor of a number of feminist journals and publications in Washington, DC, and New York City, gaining recognition as an outspoken feminist and lesbian activist. In 1982, she participated in the Barnard College Feminist Symposium and was caught up in an anti-pornography controversy. The result was her first collection of poetry, The Women Who Hate Me. Three years later she published in the Village Voice a short story called "A Bastard Out of Carolina," (which later became part of the first chapter of her award winning 1992 novel), and in 1988, she published a prize winning collection of short stories called Trash.

In 1992, Allison’s novel Bastard Out of Carolina was published by Dutton Press. The book was selected as a NY Times Notable Book and was a finalist for a National Book Award. It went on to garner an American Library Association Award and the Ferro-Grumley Award, and in 1996 it was made into an award-winning film, directed by Angelica Huston. Bastard Out of Carolina has been translated into more than a dozen languages; its grit and brutal honesty portrayed in rich and lyrical language won national prominence for Allison. Her collection of essays Skin: Talking about Sex, Class & Literature was published in 1994, followed in 1995 by the lyrical and moving Two or Three Things I Know for Sure.

Allison’s second novel Cavedweller was published by Dutton in 1998, becoming a NY Times Notable Book and finalist for the Lillian Smith Prize. It was adapted into both a play and a film in 2003. Allison’s short story "Compassion" was selected for both the Best Short Stories of 2003 and the Best Short Stories of the South. In 2007, Allison received the prestigious Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction. She has taught fiction writing at Colombia College in Chicago, at Emory University (2008), at Davidson College (2009), and at institutions and workshops across the nation. The literary influences on Allison include Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Bertha Harris, and Audre Lorde, among others. Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Allison asserts, taught her to write about incest and to unflinchingly write the truth. For Allison, the power of the story is everything, making possible both social change and change of hearts. Allison’s novel Cavedweller, a book about forgiveness and reconciliation, will be the 2020 West Virginia Common Read Selection in the One Book One West Virginia program. Allison will be the 2020 Shepherd University Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence, and she will receive the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Award, funded by the West Virginia Humanities Council and the Shepherd University Foundation. Dorothy Allison lives and writes today in northern California with her long-time partner Alix Layman.