“In a 2009 essay for the Boston Review on the poetry of the women’s movement, Honor Moore spoke of hearing Grahn read her epic poem “A Woman Is Talking to Death” in the early 1970s: ‘With this poem the whole political enterprise of feminism was subsumed by poetic means into an understanding of the complexity of the stark power relations that involve gender, race, and sexuality.’”
Judy’s earlier poetry fueled both the Feminist and Lesbian-Feminist movements, in the US and numerous other countries. Her mythic-history Another Mother Tongue (Beacon Press, 1984, 1991) was vital to the Gay movement during the 1980s and 1990s. Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World, (Beacon Press, 1993) has been influential to scholars working on ideas of human origins, and was the subject of a 55 minute film, Poomaram, by notable Indian filmmaker Vipin Vijay. She has presented on this new origin story she calls metaformic theory in Kerala, South India; Santiago, Chile; and London, England.
An award in her name is given every year to a notable Lesbian author. She herself holds over twenty awards, including Lifetime Achievement Awards from Triangle Publishing, Golden Crown Trailblazers Award, and San Francisco Gay Pride Parade Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshall, 2014. In addition she holds two Lambda Literary Awards, two American Book Awards, a Foremothers of Women’s Spirituality Award, a Stonewall Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts Award. Her poetry was recently the subject (with poet Pat Parker) of a dedicated issue of The Journal of Lesbian Studies.
Judy began participating in the developing women’s spirituality movement as early as 1969, with women-centered poetry, reclamation of menstruation as positive, and description of women-centered powers she called “She Who”. In addition she used her poetic voice as a voice for economic and social justice, anti-racism, and ending violence against women. In the lesbian-feminist movement, which she helped to found in late 1969 as “Gay Women’s Liberation,” she published political articles and was first to make a positive public name of both “dyke” and “woman-loving-woman”.
In the 1980s she wrote two book-length poems exploring and making contemporary the myth of Helen of Troy, and conflating her with Inanna. In an essay for Charlene Spretnak’s 1982 anthology The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, Judy declared menstruation a central creator of culture, and later expanded this claim in Blood, Bread, and Roses. From 1981-1986, Judy lived with the Native American critic, novelist, poet, and teacher, Paula Gunn Allen. The two of them held weekly Sunday morning meetings on subjects pertaining to women’s spirituality at Mama Bears Coffeehouse and Bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in north Berkeley.
In 1989 Judy formed classes for women out of her house in Oakland, and called this ‘LavenderRose Mystery School”. She taught writing, poetry, electronic sound poetry, women’s sacred texts, philosophy of Gertrude Stein, and divinatory systems of knowledge.
In the Women’s Spirituality Program at New College of California, and beginning in 1998, Judy taught Metaformic Theory, Women’s Sacred Texts, Spiritual Autobiography, Archaeomythology, Writing, Divinatory Systems of Knowledge, Uncommon Kinship, and numerous independent studies. She also accompanied Dianne Jenett and groups of students to South India for study trips, and taught Cultural Obversity, a part of Metaformic Consciousness. She became director and then co-director in 2001, moving with the program in 2008 to The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, and stepping out in 2014. She held the rank of Full Professor.
Judy Grahn has published thirteen books with several more in process; publications include two book length poems, several poetry collections, a reader, an ecotopian novel, and five non-fiction books. Among them are Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds; Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World; and her memoir, A Simple Revolution: the Making of an Activist Poet.
Judy received her Ph.D. in Integral Studies with a Concentration in Women’s Spirituality in 1999, from the California Institute of Integral Studies. She did her dissertation research in Kerala, India, comparing goddess rituals with menarche rituals. She lives in California with her wife.
Some things you might not know about Judy Grahn:
Judy was arrested, interrogated, and dismissed from the armed forces on charges of homosexuality in 1961, an episode that shamed, angered and ultimately radicalized her. In spring of1965, she picketed with Mattachine Society for Gay Rights in front of the White House, the first such picket, and then began writing and publishing pro-lesbian works.
Judy loves to cook, garden, and play golf. She used to keep cats, a bird, some fish, but now—a dog. Yes, we know, everyone in the house is guardian to the dog. But still—he naps with her.
Judy has won lots of awards, and has been Grand Marshall of two Gay Pride Parades—in Seattle, 1998, and in San Francisco, 2014. The Seattle Parade had as its theme that year Judy’s book, Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds.
Judy’s writing of the 1970s spread around the world, helping to encourage fledgling movements. In 1986, when lesbians in Argentina first began organizing and seeking public presence, a small group of them carried posters in procession at the weekly march of Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, in solidarity with the “Mothers of the Disappeared” whose children were killed during the “Dirty War” of 1976-1983, and calling for broad reforms of Argentinian culture. One of the posters had a picture of Judy on it, as an ikon of Lesbian resistance to the patriarchy.
Through her Scandinavian father Judy inherited a spirit medium, whom she calls “Monique” and accesses through a pendulum.