Rita Mae Brown is an activist and author best known for her first novel Rubyfruit Jungle. She has written 13 literary novels, more than two dozen mysteries and several books of poetry and non-fiction.
Brown was born in 1944 on a farm in Hanover, Pa. She briefly attended the University of Florida before being expelled (allegedly for her participation in the civil rights movement but more likely for being openly gay). In 1964, she hitchhiked to New York City and initially lived out of her car. She earned a scholarship to New York University, where she studied classics and became deeply involved in the civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and anti-war movements.
Shortly after taking an administrative position at the National Organization for Women, Brown was forced to resign by founder Betty Freidan, who called Brown and other lesbians the “Lavender Menace,” fearing their participation would be used against the women’s movement by outsiders. Brown then became involved with the radical women’s liberation groups forming, which called for the inclusion of lesbians. In 1971, she co-founded The Furies, a lesbian-feminist women’s house and collective in Washington D.C. that published a monthly newspaper.
In 1973, Brown published Rubyfruit Jungle, a coming-of-age tale that shocked many at the time with its frank and explicit depictions of lesbianism. Despite having been published on a small label without a marketing budget, the book became a smash success and is now considered a classic. Brown has been writing novels, screenplays and essays ever since. Some of her notable publications include the 1983 novel Sudden Death, a fictionalized account of her relationship with the tennis star Martina Navratilova, and the Mrs. Murphy series of mysteries, which she “co-authors” with her cat, Sneaky Pie.