Naiad Press and the Oral History of Lesbians in Tallahassee

Did you know that Tallahassee was once home to the largest and oldest lesbian book press in the world? Run by Barbara Grier and Donna McBride, Naiad Press published a wide range of books written by and for lesbians. Authors published through Naiad Press included Patricia Highsmith, Katherine V. Forrest, Ann Bannon, and FSU’s own Sheila Ortiz-Taylor. Through mail-order catalogues and newsletters, Naiad facilitated a community for queer women nationwide.

The Special Collections at FSU has recently acquired several oral histories on Naiad Press, which will be included in the exhibit It’s A Lot Like Falling in Love: Legacies of Naiad Press in the Tallahassee Lesbian Community opening June 9th at the FSU Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibit will feature realia and interviews from Naiad Press, which ran from 1973 to 2003.

Gay/Lesbian Support Services Newsletter: Volume 1, 1985.

In the newly acquired interviews, former employees give an inside look at the company and its strong-willed leader, Barbara Grier. Sometimes called difficult to work with, Grier was known for running a tight ship and holding high expectations for herself and the people who worked for her. One interviewer, Candis Creekmore, commented on the short-lived nature of some employees’ time at the press due to disagreements with Grier and McBride. Still, Creekmore and others discuss the caring and giving nature of their bosses.

Sponsoring women’s baseball games, providing a hub for the community, paying high wages, and providing free healthcare insurance to employees, Grier and McBride made their appreciation for their workers known. Amy McDonald even mentions a time when Grier came to her rescue when she was harassed by bill collectors while at work. “Even if Barbara was having a bad day… Barbara was handing you a free sandwich and making sure that you were okay.”

Southbound and Spring Forward/Fall Back by Sheila Ortiz Taylor, published through Naiad Press, and a Naiad Press business card. All available to view in Special Collections.

Although certainly a hub for the lesbian community, Naiad Press was not on its own in Tallahassee. Rubyfruit Books owned by Joan Denman was dedicated to providing feminist and lesbian literature to Tallahassee. In her interview, Denman discusses her former bookstore and how women would meet each other at the bookstore and through events posted on her store’s bulletin board. “Not only did we provide literature, but we also provided a way to [network]. We had a huge bulletin board on the back wall, and we’d always have all sorts of these posters on that for various community events, not always LGBTQ, but stuff going on in the community.” As a member of the community, and as a personal friend to Grier and McBride, she also talks in her oral history about the more controversial parts of Naiad’s history – namely the publication of the Lesbian Nuns autobiographical stories in Penthouse magazine. Several people in their interviews point out the divisiveness of this decision within the lesbian community both in Tallahassee and on a national scale.

Still, the legacy of Naiad Press is long-lasting. When it closed in 2003, the Grier and McBride sold their entire inventory to Bella Books, a lesbian press which also calls Tallahassee its home. The participants of the Naiad oral histories still look back on their time with the press as transformative and important to the rest of their lives. The movie Carol, even – based on the book The Price of Salt – is owed in part to Naiad, which produced a major reprint of the book in 1982.

To learn more about Naiad Press please be sure to check out the FSU MoFA exhibition opening on June 9th!

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