A few years ago, my aunt asked me whether I’d read Rita Mae Brown’s stunning lesbian coming-of-age story, Rubyfruit Jungle. When I told her I hadn’t, her eyes popped open wide and she rushed to her bookshelf—but her copy was buried behind too many other books. The next time I was at a used bookstore, I found the book with its original cover and ripped through it. I fell in love. Before Fun Home, before Boy Meets Boy, Rita Mae Brown gorgeously expressed the experience of figuring out one’s sexuality. The book takes a stance that is different from many a coming-out novel, beginning with the assumption that there’s nothing wrong or strange about being in love with a person of your gender. For many still, Rubyfruit Jungle is a favorite.
As Rita Mae Brown says below, however, the novel wasn’t written as a discussion of sexuality. She believed when it was first released, as she does now, that one’s sexuality is the least interesting thing about them. But this is one of those cases where the writer’s intentions have ended up mattering less than the work’s impact, since the book is still hailed and loved by LGBTQIA folk, and is important to us. Fittingly, the book is being rereleased tomorrow, during Pride Month. I talked to Brown about the book and its legacy.
What was the process like when you wrote Rubyfruit Jungle? Did you know what you wanted the novel to look like or did it come as you wrote it?
The process for Rubyfruit Jungle was “even blind pig finds an acorn sometimes.” It is a process that still serves me well.
How much of Rubyfruit Jungle is based on your personal experience?
I don’t know. When I write, things just pop up. I expect every writer falls back on experience and observation to some extent, but can’t untangle the web.
The novel is being released with a new cover in June, which used to simply be called Gay Pride Month but now is called LGBT Pride Month (which doesn’t include the QIA or 2S that are often added to that acronym for queer, intersex, asexual and two-spirit). Do you participate in Pride at all and if you don’t, what are you reasons for that?
I live far out on a farm by the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. We set off fireworks for the Fourth of July, that’s about it.
In Rubyfruit Jungle, one of the most striking things for young women like me, as well as my aunt who first referred me to it years ago, is how completely normally Molly treats her own sexuality. From the start, she seems to not really understand what all the fuss is about for other people. Was this your experience or something you wished to portray because it wasn’t?
Your sexuality is the least interesting thing about you or me. When young, the fact that people frothed at the mouth over this surprised and saddened me. Still does. Then again, if one’s life is boring, no doubt some excitement is provided by poking into other people’s and just praying for sexual peccadilloes.
Your story is one of the ultimate coming out stories for women to relate to and read. When you saw the gradual development of this response, how did you feel?
Actually, it was immediately successful. Daughters inc., my small independent publisher, couldn’t keep up with the demand, about 70,000 the first year and all by word of mouth. As to my response to people’s reactions, it’s the same for any of my works. If you don’t like it, there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. If you do, I’m grateful.
For what it’s worth, I don’t expect people to pay attention to me, I don’t expect to be hailed nor to present myself as a literary treasure, and I really don’t think I’m smarter than others. Our concept of writers in America is painfully bourgeois. Actually this applies to our concept of the arts, in general. Lest you think I am being un-American, I am not. We are too young to be a civilization and therefore too young to truly apprehend and utilize the arts.
On a sillier note…Have you watched The L Word, and do you have an opinion on it?
I have not. Being a farmer, what I watch is the Weather Channel. By the time I come inside I’m too tired to watch TV. I hope it’s a good show for the rest of you.
I should say that I am and have been an Emmy judge for years. My category used to be called long-form. I do force myself to watch Wolf Hall, Downton Abbey, etc., usually in May and June when the discs arrive. Much of the work is thrilling: fine acting, writing, directing, producing. My one caveat is: don’t make things too obvious. I and most viewers can figure it out, which is part of the delight.
Rubyfruit Jungle‘s rerelease goes on sale tomorrow, and is available for pre-order now.