Dorothy Allison

Dorothy Allison (born April 11, 1949) is an American writer, speaker, and member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. She was raised in Greenville, South Carolina, the first child of her 15-year-old, unwed mother. She is legally blind in her right eye.


In the early 1970s, Allison attended Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) on a National Merit scholarship. While in college, she joined the women's movement by way of a feminist collective. She credits the "militant feminists" for encouraging her decision to write. After graduating with a B.A. in anthropology, she did graduate studies in anthropology at Florida State University and the New School for Social Research.

Themes in Allison's work include class struggle, child and sexual abuse, women, lesbianism, feminism, and family.

Allison's first novel, the semi-autobiographical Bastard Out of Carolina, was published in 1992 and was one of five finalists for the 1992 National Book Award. Graphic in its depiction of Southern poverty, family ties, illegitimacy, child abuse, and rape, Bastard went on to win the Ferro Grumley and Bay Area Reviewers Award for fiction. A film version, directed by Anjelica Huston, premiered in 1996 on Showtime amid some controversy for its disturbing content. The film was banned by Canada's Maritime Film Classification Board, both theatrically and in video release. The novel has been translated into over a dozen languages.

Cavedweller, Allison's second novel, was published in 1998 and became a New York Times bestseller. It won the 1998 Lambda Literary Award for fiction and was a finalist for the Lillian Smith Prize. Cavedweller has been adapted for the stage and screen, most notably in the 2004 film starring Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon.

Allison founded The Independent Spirit Award (not to be confused with the Independent Spirit Awards) in 1998, a prize given annually to an individual whose work within the small press and independent bookstore circuit has helped sustain that enterprise. The award is administered by the Astraea Foundation, and is designed to encourage people and institutions which are vital to supporting new writers and introducing readers to works that may otherwise go unread.

Allison is a member of the board of International PEN. She serves on the advisory boards of the National Coalition Against Censorship, Feminists for Free Expression, and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award (a prize that is presented annually to a science fiction or fantasy work that explores and expands on ideas of gender).

Allison remains dedicated to small press publishing, safer sex, and is active in feminist and lesbian communities. She is one of the founders of the Lesbian Sex Mafia .

She lives in California with her partner, Alix Layman, and adopted son, Wolf. Allison has been chosen to be Writer in Residence for Columbia College in 2006. She currently serves as the Emory University Center for Humanistic Inquiry’s Distinguished Visiting Professor for the duration of Spring 2008. She is currently working on her third novel, She Who.



  • 2 or 3 Things But Nothing for Sure (1997)


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