‘The Latecomer’ by Sarah Aldridge
Author: Andrea L.T. Peterson
January 21, 2010
When I came out, virtually overnight, at 21, I had no idea what books and movies were or weren’t out there and how they might have portrayed gay and lesbian lives and relationships. But it didn’t take long to find out that books like Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, and movies like Making Love and Personal Best never saw the girl get the girl in the end! Then along came the phenomena know to the world as Sarah Aldridge. Aldridge, aka Anyda Marchant aka Anne Nelson Yarborough De Armond Marchant, together with her life partner Muriel Crawford and another couple, Barbara Grier and Donna McBride founded NAIAD Press in the early 70s and kicked off NAIAD’s illustrious run when they published Marchant’s first lesbian novel: The Latecomer.
Aldridge/Marchant and Crawford, both of whom died within months of each other in 2006—after 57 years together–eventually separated from NAIAD and founded A & M Books, through which they continued to publish Aldridge’s novels as well as the work of other lesbian writers.
I guess I was truly a “latecomer,” having read Aldridge’s books, but not knowing much about their author until I myself attempted an on again off again writing career. It was in the mid-90s that I had the opportunity to review what was then Aldridge’s most recent title (and pretty much every novel thereafter). In addition, I was asked to interview the two women who were so instrumental in the early days and years of NAIAD Press and what can rightly be considered the birth of what we now take for granted: small, independent gay and mostly lesbian presses.
So off to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, my partner and I went to meet these two remarkable women and to interview them. As we sat on their front porch—which had already become a lesbian institution in Rehoboth!!—we talked about how the two women met, how NAIAD came about, and how it was in those first years of lesbian publishing.
With almost a decade of sobriety under my belt at the time, I am sure these two scotch drinking gals were at least a bit skeptical of me—and of my partner who declined alcohol just to support me—when we passed the time with soft drinks in our glasses! But we managed. It was during this interview that I discovered that Marchant had been writing and publishing under a pseudonym. I also learned that as one of the first women to pass the bar and practice in Washington, D.C., in the late 1930s, she had occasion to frequent D.C. law firms, where (in 1947) she met legal secretary, Muriel Crawford.
When Aldridge retired from law for health reasons, she focused of writing lesbian fiction and seeing it published. She told of how the original four (Aldridge, Crawford, Grier, and McBride) found others to hand carry books that had been ordered via the mail to different mailboxes in town and in nearby towns so as not to come under suspicion for distribution of what was at that time clearly considered pornographic materials.
Aldridge was prolific. Her stories were flawless. Her characters were women we easily felt we knew or could know. If a bit long (the price paid for her “preference” to not be edited) her books told of the lives we hoped to live: girl meets girl, girls fall in love, and in the end, the girl ALWAYS got the girl.
Unlike more recent lesbian fiction, Aldridge’s left much, if not most, to the imagination. And that was fine. What she wanted to portray were healthy lesbian relationships, companions who built lives together, and women who were for each other shelters in the storm.
So, now, Marchant and Crawford are both gone. Presumably together forever! And their legacy lives on. Thanks to the labors of Fay Jacobs, Aldridge’s books will be reprinted and made available again, through the rejuvenated A & M Books with Jacobs at the helm.
To kick off the Aldridge revival, it is a thrill to see this amazing 35th anniversary edition of Aldridge’s first published work: The Latecomer and the beginning of The Latecomer Legacy Project—“gathering the words of women who discovered this early lesbian literature and who fondly reminisce about how these words paved the way to positive self images and rewarding lesbian lives.”
Among the contributors are writers, humorists, producers and publishers, musicians—storytellers from all walks of lesbian life! What a rich beginning to what promises to be a truly extraordinary legacy.