Mary Wings, Lesfic Pioneer

May 19, 2024 | Sapphic | 1 comment

It sounds incredible now, but back in the dawn of sapphic fiction, likeable books for and by lesbians were virtually non-existent. If you were a lesbian looking for something to read you could personally identify with, it was nearly impossible to find a work of fiction that depicted women-loving-women as ordinary, three-dimensional people (just like yourself), and not as sad stereotypes: either doom-laden depressives destined to die a lonely death, or desperate predators out to race off a straight wife/girlfriend/daughter in bars or—preferably—behind bars, as all those zillions of titles in lez pulp fiction would have it.

Thank the goddess, things began changing for the better in the 1980s. Among the forerunners of positive sapphic books my favorite writers  are (listed in the order I came across their books­): Mary Wings, Val McDermid, Stella Duffy, Manda Scott and Helen Eisenbach.

The first four authors were groundbreakers in writing mystery/crime novels that featured strong, independent, quirky protagonists whose sexuality was just another facet of their life and/or the plot. In other words: these fictional lesbians just *were*; and that’s precisely why coming across them, often by accident, was such a delightful, serendipitous surprise for me. At last, protagonists I could relate to!

Helen Eisenbach is different from the rest in that her book “Lesbianism Made Easy” (1996) is not fiction (much). As one reviewer said, it’s “a hilarious look at lesbian life… an irreverent guide to a female universe where love, lust, and forbidden laughter are just a fingertip away.”  If you’ve ever heard someone complain that lesbians can’t take a joke, just point them to this book. Seriously, it’s LOL funny all the way through (more on this book in another post on my favorite forerunners).

Anyway, back to the first (and only) sapphic fiction forerunner I’ve ever met in real life. I was living in Amsterdam in 1992 when my ex, who was then a manager at Xantippe Vrouwenboekhandel, the famous women’s bookstore, invited me to attend a special book signing event. Mary Wings would be reading from her debut novel, “She Came Too Late”, featuring Emma Victor.  Yes, dear Reader, I came on time, was totally enthralled by Ms Wings (tall, dark and deliciously dykey), reading from her book. And yes, after the reading I, too, queued for an autograph…

I love all of Mary Wings’ books and have collected the lot, including her standalone Gothic novel “Divine Victim”, which won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Mystery in 1994.

Fascinating factoid: Before Mary started writing her series starring Emma Victor (no prizes for guessing which letters of the alphabet this lesbian detective is named after) she made history in 1973 by publishing Come Out Comix, the first lesbian comic book—yes, well before Alison Bechdel began drawing her fabulous strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1983.

Books by Mary Wings
She Came Too Late (1986)
She Came in a Flash (1988)
She Came by the Book (1995)
She Came to the Castro (1997)
She Came in Drag (1999)
Divine Victim (1993) – Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Mystery winner

More info

1 Comment

  1. Renee Schoffelen

    I loved and met Mary Wings as well when she visited de Feeks in Nijmegen❤


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