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Lesbian publishing house founder Grier dies at 78

By Bill Kaczor
Associated Press / November 10, 2011

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Barbara Grier, a founder of what once was the world's largest publishing house of literature about gays and lesbians, has died. She was 78.

Her partner in life and business, Donna McBride, said Grier died of cancer on Thursday at a hospital in Tallahassee, Fla.

Tallahassee-based Naiad Press was best known for publishing "Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence" in 1985. Fifty-one former or current nuns contributed to the book. It described relationships in their religious communities that sometimes turned into love affairs.

"It was her belief that through literature she could make lesbians feel good about themselves and find a happy life," McBride said from her home in nearby Carrabelle, Fla.

Naiad was publishing 36 books a year before she and Grier sold the company to Bella Books, another publisher of literature about lesbians in Tallahassee, and retired in 2003, McBride said.

Grier was "a savior to isolated lesbians all over the world, many of whom feel intense gratitude," author Karin Kallmaker told The Associated Press. "I have no doubt that books save lives and Barbara put books into the lesbian universe at a rate no one in that era matched."

Kallmaker's first novel was published by Naiad Press in 1989 and she's now editorial director of Bella Books.

Grier was born on Nov. 4, 1933 in Cincinnati and realized at an early age she was a lesbian, according to the Ohio Historical Society's Gay Ohio History Initiative. She began writing for The Ladder and later became the editor of the San Francisco-based lesbian magazine.

She met McBride, then a librarian, in 1967 while living in Kansas City, Mo. They launched the publishing house with two other women in 1973 with a $2,000 investment, keeping their regular jobs and working on Naiad from their home after hours. Most of their titles were romances and mysteries, McBride said.

They moved to Florida and had their first big success when they published in 1983 Katherine Forrest's first novel, "Curious Wine." It sold more than 400,000 copies.

"It would be hard to imagine a more significant figure in the growth and development of lesbian publishing in the 20th century than Barbara Grier," Forrest told the AP. "Or a more towering and central figure in lesbian culture."

Grier explained the reasons for their efforts in a 1993 interview with The Associated Press.

"We're doing this because of commitment as well as money," Grier said. "We're getting to live our lives exactly as we want to -- and make a living. We're getting rich and we're happy and what more can you ask for?"

McBride said their happiest moment together was on Sept. 5, 2008, when they wed in California after same-sex marriages were legalized there.

Grier's body was cremated and there will be no funeral service, McBride said. She said she'll probably scatter her ashes in the Bahamas, Grier's favorite place.


Associated Press writer Karen Sloan contributed to this report from London.