James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Archives: Jean Swallow Papers

Photo: Irene Young
Jean Swallow (1953-1995) was a lesbian writer and editor who lived in North Carolina and the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work includes poetry, novels, essays, and newspaper editing. Her anthology Out From Under was published in 1983 and was the first book by and about lesbians in recovery from substance abuse. Its success led to a follow-up volume, The Next Step, in 1993. The publicity photo at right was taken by Irene Young for The Next Step.

Both books were welcome additions to the literature of lesbians in recovery, as one can see by Swallow's fan mail. Her contributions to recovery literature form a piece of the larger story recounted by Trysh Travis in her book The Language of the Heart: a Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey.

Jean's novel Leave a Light on for Me was published in 1986 and reissued in 1991. In 1995, Swallow completed a book-length draft of interviews with GLBT families. These interviews, and their accompanying photographs by Geoff Manasse, were published under the title Making Love Visible: In Celebration of Gay and Lesbian Families.

Throughout her life, Jean continued to write shorter pieces, poems and stories. She collected some of these in "How (Some of) It Works," "The Star Poems" and "Winter Poems." There are often several drafts for each poem, with changes to specific words and word order. Most edits were made by Swallow, with some by other writers whom she trusted.

Swallow was well-connected to the women's publishing community in the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, she was on the organizing committee for the third Women in Print Conference that met in Berkeley in 1985. Her file for this event includes minutes and organizational material as well as her own notes on several sessions, including one on Barbara Grier's controversial approach to promoting the book Lesbian Nuns (Naiad Press).

Jean Swallow died of an apparent suicide on January 16, 1995 in Seattle, Washington. At the time of her death, she had been clean and sober for 14 years. Her Papers were donated to the San Francisco Public Library in 1998 by Betsy Walker and Marian Michener.

The Jean Swallow Papers contain correspondence with authors and publishers, drafts of books, poems, stories, and talks, copies of published pieces, and publicity materials. In addition, there is background research on various subjects, including Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups that assist people in recovery from substance abuse, and the Green River Murders.

The Jean Swallow Papers (GLC 50) are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.