October 1, 2022

Elana Dykewomon, acclaimed lesbian author, dead at 72

Famous author and lesbian activist Elana Dykewomon has died of cancer at the age of 72.

Dykewoman died Sunday at her home in Oakland, Calif., Mendocino Lighthouse reports. His death came just 20 minutes before a live performance of his first play, How to let your lover die, about the death of Dykewomon’s longtime partner Susan Levinkind of Lewy body dementia. Dykewoman had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer about a year ago, her brother David Nachman told the Tag.

“I know Elana was so excited to have this piece out in the world and these performances,” Jennifer Brier, her cousin and literary executor, told the newspaper. “I like to imagine that she knew we were all here to hear her words and watch the amazing performance. It allowed her to let go. Deep down, Elana was a poet, and yesterday was truly poetic. The play is set to be part of the Bay Area Playwrights Festival.

Dykewomon was known for her important novels about lesbian life such as Riverfinger Women, a coming-of-age story published in 1974 and 1997 Go too far, about lesbian Jewish immigrants from Russia who became involved in movements for social change in New York at the beginning of the 20th century.

Riverfinger Women was appointed to The New York Times‘ list of the 100 greatest gay novels, the Tag notes, while Go too far won the 1998 Lambda Literary Prize for Lesbian Fiction.

Dykewomon also wrote poetry, essays, and other works. Some of his essays collected in his anthology Dispatches from Lesbian America, published in 2017. It included an article about her suicide attempt as a youth after a doctor told her she couldn’t be gay. She was also the editor of an international lesbian feminist journal, sinister wisdom, succeeding Adrienne Rich in the role, and taught at San Francisco State University.

“She taught legions of students, was generous with her editorial mentorship, and she shaped many writers,” Brier told the Tag.

She was born Elana Nachman in New York in 1949. She changed her name after the publication of Riverfinger Women to no longer be defined by men. “I chose ‘dyke’ for power and ‘woman’ for alliance,” she wrote in an essay.

A commemorative event will take place later.