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Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol)

Overview

Too drastic, too crazy, too "out there," too early, too late, too damaged, too much—Valerie Solanas has been dismissed but never forgotten. She has become, unwittingly, a figurehead for women's unexpressed rage, and stands at the center of many worlds. She inhabited Andy Warhol's Factory scene, circulated among feminists and the countercultural underground, charged men money for conversation, despised "daddy's girls," and outlined a vision for radical gender dystopia.

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Overview

Too drastic, too crazy, too "out there," too early, too late, too damaged, too much—Valerie Solanas has been dismissed but never forgotten. She has become, unwittingly, a figurehead for women's unexpressed rage, and stands at the center of many worlds. She inhabited Andy Warhol's Factory scene, circulated among feminists and the countercultural underground, charged men money for conversation, despised "daddy's girls," and outlined a vision for radical gender dystopia.

Known for shooting Andy Warhol in 1968 and for writing the polemical diatribe SCUM Manifesto, Solanas is one of the most famous women of her era. SCUM Manifesto—which predicted ATMs, test-tube babies, the Internet, and artificial insemination long before they existed—has sold more copies, and has been translated into more languages, than nearly all other feminist texts of its time.

Shockingly little work has interrogated Solanas's life. This book is the first biography about Solanas, including original interviews with family, friends (and enemies), and numerous living Warhol associates. It reveals surprising details about her life: the children nearly no one knew she had, her drive for control over her own writing and copyright, and her elusive personal and professional relationships.

Valerie Solanas addresses how this era changed the world and depicts an iconic figure whose life is at once tragic and remarkable.

Breanne Fahs is an associate professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University, a practicing clinical psychologist, and the author of Performing Sex and The Moral Panics of Sexuality.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/24/2014
Fahs (Performing Sex), director of Arizona State University’s Feminist Research on Gender and Sexuality Group, offers a straightforward, engaging, and comprehensive biography of Valerie Solanas, author of the SCUM Manifesto and notorious as the woman who shot Andy Warhol. Rather than focusing on the Warhol shooting, Fahs gives a refreshing degree of weight to not only SCUM Manifesto—and its contribution to the birth of radical feminism—but also to Solanas’s earlier writings and creative pursuits, such as her playwriting and attempts at publishing in periodicals. Fahs, who interviewed her subject’s family, friends, enemies, as well as Warhol associates, doesn’t shy away from how hated and feared Solanas was by many feminists of the era, such as Betty Friedan, but she portrays Solanas as melancholy, warm, and emotionally broken, as well as violent and combative. While some characters pop up and drop away depending on their relevance to Solanas’s life in the moment, giving a disjointed feel to the narrative, Fahs ably fills a notable gap in feminist history with this accessible volume. 36 b&w photos. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

Valerie Solanas finally provides an in-depth, decade-spanning history of Valerie’s life, including mid-teen pregnancies, anti-essentialist college newspaper rebuttals, SCUM lectures, Up Your Ass casting calls, transience, letters of grammatical corrections to Majority Report, a continual emphasis from various sources on Valerie’s intelligence, radicalism, humor, comedic improve timing, and intensity, and thorough discussions of her work dismantling and repudiating sexuality, gender, morality, marriage, the money system, and the patriarchical status quo.”
—Natt Ann Carrera, singer/musician

“This compelling biography shows the complexity of Valerie Solanas, placing her in the context of so many later-twentieth-century cultural realities-the commodity explosion of the art world, nuclear family damage and dysfunction, emergent baby-boomer generation narcissism, and the complicated internal struggles of the feminist movement.”
—Catherine Morris, Sackler Family Curator at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art

“Valerie Solanas was an enigma, an outsider even among misfits, and one of the most shocking radicals in a decade teeming with them. Breanne Fah’s book is a long overdue excavation of the obsessions, paranoia, and rage that fueled both Solanas’s visionary manifesto and her appalling attempt to murder Warhol.”
—Cynthia Carr, author of Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnariowicz

“This is an astonishing book about an astonishing life. It is a stark epic of a woman who was a symbol in and of an era. Valerie Solanas tells us many of the brutal facts of Valerie’s existence, both before she exploded onto the scene in New York in the mid to late 1960s, as well as afterward. She was larger than life: a genuinely heroic figure. What I appreciate most about Fahs’s biography is that Valerie Solanas emerges with a dignity that escaped her in life.”
—Ti-Grace Atkinson, author of Amazon Odyssey

“Finally, a biography of Valerie Solanas that does justice to her brilliant SCUM Manifesto and tragic life. In this narrative, Andy Warhol no longer defines who Valerie was. Breanne Fahs has written a compelling masterpiece sure to become a classic.”
—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Outlaw Woman

“Breanne Fahs delivers the crucial backstory behind the deadly yet relevant aims of premier cultural deviant, Valerie Solanas, whose often indefensible edges, war cries, and logic of injury continue to haunt our era of desperate justice.”
—Avita Ronell, author of Crack Wars

“There’s no question that Solanas’s belief in the necessaity of theorizing “from the gutter” would have her denouncing today’s inclusive, increasingly professional landscape of feminism. But perhaps she can rest easier (if not in peace) knowing that Fahs has painted a sympathetic portrait of her uncompromising life that — for better and worse — wears its powerful ugliness on its sleeve.”
—Andi Zeisler in LA Review of Books

“Solanas was a revolutionary artist, and the more time passes, the more significant and prescient her revolution appears to have been, which is in many ways all she ever cared about. How magnificently powerful, to maintain humor, insight, and self-confidence in the face of so much violence. A biography of Valerie Solanas then, hell yeah. You should go read her manifesto and then you should go read this.”
—T. Clutch Fleischmann in The Brooklyn Rail

"Rather than focusing on the Warhol shooting, Fahs gives a refreshing degree of weight to not only SCUM Manifesto—and its contribution to the birth of radical feminism—but also to Solanas’s earlier writings and creative pursuits, such as her playwriting and attempts at publishing in periodicals. Fahs, who interviewed her subject’s family, friends, enemies, as well as Warhol associates, doesn’t shy away from how hated and feared Solanas was by many feminists of the era, such as Betty Friedan, but she portrays Solanas as melancholy, warm, and emotionally broken, as well as violent and combative. While some characters pop up and drop away depending on their relevance to Solanas’s life in the moment, giving a disjointed feel to the narrative, Fahs ably fills a notable gap in feminist history with this accessible volume."
—Publishers Weekly

"Valerie Solanas is a biography of a compelling, charismatic, contemptible, and incorrigible woman. It is a biography of the effects of class in the United States on one woman’s life. It is also the biography of an artist. Fahs ends with Solanas’s own words from her 1977 corrected SCUM Manifesto: 'The true artist is every self-confident, healthy female; and in a female society, the only Art, the only Culture, will be conceited, kookie, funkie females grooving on each other, cracking each other up, while cracking open the universe.'"
—Julie R. Enszer for The Lambda Literary Review

Kirkus Reviews
2014-02-13
A sympathetic biography of a troubled and troubling woman. On June 3, 1968, Valerie Solanas (1936–1988) shot Andy Warhol, almost fatally wounding him. That act and her writing of a feminist manifesto titled SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) made her a cult heroine in her own time. Fahs (Gender Studies/Arizona State Univ.; Performing Sex: The Making and Unmaking of Women's Erotic Lives, 2011, etc.), believing Solanas to be a brilliant and "startling prescient," faced considerable challenges in working on this biography: Solanas' mother burned her daughter's papers after Valerie died, and many who knew her refused to talk with Fahs. "Valerie famously rejected, alienated, and repeatedly threatened to kill nearly every friend she had," writes the author. A polarizing figure, Solanas was championed by such feminists as Ti-Grace Atkinson and Florynce Kennedy, the lawyer who defended her for attempted murder, but was reviled by others. The National Organization for Women, founded in 1966, was divided about associating itself with her. A radical faction interpreted Solanas' act as revolutionary, "a symbol of women's rage." Liberal feminists, focused on abortion rights reform, saw the enraged, violent Solanas as "NOW's worst nightmare." For her part, Solanas vehemently rejected expressions of solidarity. "SCUM is for whores, dykes, criminals, homicidal maniacs," she wrote to Atkinson, who had praised the manifesto. "Therefore, please refrain from commenting on SCUM + from ‘defending' me. I already have an excess of ‘friends' out there who are suffocating me." Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic after the shooting, Solanas descended ever more deeply into madness, spending her last 20 years in and out of mental hospitals. She claimed that a transmitter had been planted in her uterus and that an entity she called "the Mob" was after her. She died impoverished and alone. As Fahs portrays her, Solanas emerges less as "a woman who detected a spirit of collective anguish" than as a woman destroyed by her own overpowering demons.
Library Journal
03/01/2014
Fahs (director, Feminist Research on Gender and Sexuality Group, Arizona State Univ.) has written a well-researched, wrenching biography of Valerie Solanas, author of SCUM Manifesto, but perhaps best known as the woman who shot Andy Warhol. SCUM, the Society for Cutting Up Men, was the brainchild of Solanas, a brilliant but unstable protofeminist who influenced the Sixties radical scene in New York. An "out" lesbian and victim of childhood sexual abuse, she was a passionate walking contradiction, advocating elimination of men while, at times, sharing loving relationships with boyfriends. Incontrovertibly, though, Solanas identified with her manifesto, revising it for years, as she ranted against deceitful conspirators impeding publication of its "correct" version. Homeless and penniless for much of her life, Solanas eventually descended into paranoid madness, dying alone in a San Francisco flophouse 20 years after her assault on Warhol. VERDICT A good companion to the 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol, directed and written (with Daniel Minahan and others) by Mary Harron, this title will be of interest to feminist historians. Generally, this is a sad, riveting, and important political biography of a significant early fringe feminist.—Lynne Maxwell, West Virginia Univ. Coll. of Law Lib., Morgantown
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781558618480
  • Publisher: Feminist Press at CUNY, The
  • Publication date: 5/13/2014
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 691,928
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Breanne Fahs is an associate professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University, where she specializes in studying women's sexuality, critical embodiment studies, radical feminism, and political activism. She has a BA in women's studies/gender studies and psychology from Occidental College and a PhD in women's studies and clinical psychology from the University of Michigan. She has published widely in feminist, social science, and humanities journals and recently published her book Performing Sex with SUNY Press (2011) and The Moral Panics of Sexuality (forthcoming with Palgrave in October 2013). She is the director of the Feminist Research on Gender and Sexuality Group at Arizona State University, and also works as a private practice clinical psychologist specializing in sexuality, couples work, and trauma recovery.
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