Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It All Makes Sense To Me Now

While reading my recent Wikipedia link to the book Harriet The Spy, I found this little note: One of Harrison Withers's cats is named Marijane, presumably for Fitzhugh's friend Marijane Meaker, who wrote under the pen name M. E. Kerr.

Because M.E. Kerr was my longtime-favorite kid's book author (I was OBSESSED with her in fifth and sixth grade, and could even be found reading some of her books as recently as a few years ago), I clicked on, astonished that I had never thought to check her out on Wikipedia.

As an aside, one of the reasons I loved her was that I didn't know until later that she was a woman, and this was shocking because many of her adolescent novels are written beautifully from the male's perspective. Another reason was her willingness to take on big topics like the Holocaust and AIDS for a young-adult forum.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about M.E. Kerr:

According to her autobiographical young adult book ME ME ME ME: Not a Novel (1984), Meaker began her professional writing career by posing as a literary agent, whose "clients" consisted of her own pen names.

Early writings were published under the pen names Vin Packer, Ann Aldrich, and M. J. Meaker. The Packer and Aldrich pen names were used for works in the lesbian pulp fiction genre. These novels were required by the publisher to have "happy endings" -- endings in which the protagonist either discovers she is not lesbian or "converts" to heterosexuality -- in order to avoid having book shipments thrown away by the Postal Service as obscene or indecent literature. (Writer Ann Bannon has credited her beginnings as an author of lesbian fiction to discovering the Vin Packer novels in the 1950s.[2]) However, Michelle Koh notes that after Spring Fire -- identified by various sources as the first American novel with lesbian themes -- all Packer books were suspense novels, and only two had gay characters. Koh cites Meaker's reasoning for switching to suspense as being that "she wanted to be reviewed and knew that paperback mysteries were reviewed along with the hardcover titles."[3]

In the 1990s, Meaker added the pen name Mary James for a series of novels aimed at younger readers than the Kerr readership; it was not until 1994, after the publication of the third Mary James novel, that the covers indicated that the author was also known as M. E. Kerr.[4] Mary James books include Shoebag, The Shuteyes, Frankenlouse and Shoebag Returns.

Meaker also was a companion of author Patricia Highsmith for many years. She wrote about this relationship in the 2003 non-fiction memoir Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950's and discussed it and her own pulp-fiction novels in interviews around the time of the book's release.

As of 2006, Meaker was living in East Hampton, New York, where she taught writing classes at the Ashawagh Hall Writers' Workshop. Her workshop experiences led to the nonfiction instructional book, Blood on the Forehead: What I Know About Writing (1998).

1 comment:

Polly P said...

Well buh-low me down! I made it through many a long car ride hunched down in the back seat with my tattered, much-read copy of Harriet the Spy, for I'm sure identical reasons as you. Finally! Someone who feels like me! Thank you for the insight into her rich literary life!