Lesbian author and activist Elana Dykewomon dies

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Tuesday August 9, 2022
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Author and activist Elana Dykewomon. Photo: Cathy Cade
Author and activist Elana Dykewomon. Photo: Cathy Cade

Lesbian author Elana Dykewomon died in her Oakland home August 7, just hours before a staged reading of her first play over Zoom. She was 72.

According to an obituary in the Mendocino Beacon, Ms. Dykewomon was diagnosed with esophageal cancer last September, her brother, Dan Nachman, said. The staged play that was to be read, "How to Let Your Lover Die," was about the death of Ms. Dykewomon's longtime partner, Susan Levinkind, from Lewy body dementia, according to an obituary in the Advocate. The play was part of the Bay Area Playwright's Festival, Ms. Dykewomon wrote on Facebook in May.

Julie Enszer, Ph.D., a lesbian who is the editor and publisher of the journal Sinister Wisdom, wrote in a tribute to Ms. Dykewomon that she left a "large body of creative work" and was a model for "how to dedicate ourselves to lesbians and creative lesbian life." Ms. Dykewomon edited Sinister Wisdom from 1987 until 1995.

"I am one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women inspired by Elana's life and work," Enszer wrote. "I first met her through the pages of Sinister Wisdom; I purchased the journal at the feminist bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. With grace and flare, Ms. Dykewomon edited Sinister Wisdom for eight years enabling lesbians to build their own villages within its pages — and inspiring women to create other communities in the world."

Creating communities is one of Ms. Dykewomon's legacies, Enszer added. She nurtured communities, built lasting friendships, and wove kinship networks throughout her life. From the Lesbian Gardens housing community in Northampton, Massachusetts, to a lesbian widows support group, Ms. Dykewomon knit lesbians together to know one another, to support one another, and to create new possibilities for lesbian life and liberation, Enszer stated.

Enszer stated that Ms. Dykewomon was a lesbian separatist and declared herself one in the pages of Sinister Wisdom.

"She articulated a vision of lesbian separatism that centered lesbians and gave attention, time, and resources to lesbians," Enszer stated, "The enactment of this idea was, at times, controversial and polarizing, but Elana taught lesbians throughout her life the importance of lesbians, lesbian communities, lesbian labor, and lesbian projects."

Born in New York City in 1949, Ms. Dykewomon was 24 when she published her debut novel, "Riverfinger Women," in 1974, a coming of age story about lesbian life during the social upheaval of that era, the Beacon obituary noted. As a pre-teenager in the early 1960s, Ms. Dykewomon, then known as Elana Nachman, attempted suicide and was hospitalized. She knew she was somehow different but was told by doctors she couldn't possibly "be homosexual," as she wrote in an essay included in the 2017 anthology, "Dispatches from Lesbian America."

"Elana Dykewomon built a life that centered lesbians, and she dedicated her work to lesbians," Enszer stated. "Her loss is tremendous, but her contributions are extraordinary. To mark her passing and celebrate her life, read Elana Dykewomon's work so that it endures and blesses us all."

Enszer stated that Sinister Wisdom and Ms. Dykewomon's cousin, Jennie Brier, are planning an online celebration of Ms. Dykewomon's life that will take place Sunday, September 18, at 4 p.m. Pacific time. More information is here.

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