The passion of lesbian writer Jeanette Winterson
In 2006, novelist Jeanette Winterson was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for “services to literature.”
A prolific writer, Jeanette has written and published a great number of works: novels, children’s books, TV and theater adaptations, scripts, and reviews.
Aside from the OBE, she’s also won a lot of awards, including being cited as one of 20 “Best of Young British Writers” in the 1980s by the literary magazine Granta and the Book Marketing Council.
But what makes Jeanette great is her ability to infuse her writing with her passion as a lesbian and a feminist.
Jeanette Winterson: The basis of her writing
Jeanette was born in Manchester, England in 1959. She was adopted by Constance and John William Winterson on January 21 the year after, and grew up in Accrington, Lancashire.
Raised under strict Pentecostal Evangelist upbringing, she was supposed to become a Pentecostal Christian missionary and began writing sermons at the age of six.
However, she came out as a lesbian at the age of 16 and left home. Supporting herself through odd jobs, she attended Accrington and Rossendale College, and graduated from St. Catherine’s College in Oxford.
Afterwards, she moved to London where she worked as assistant editor at Pandora Press.
Jeanette Winterson: Her award-winning books
Her background as a Pentecostal Evangelist featured prominently in her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which was published in 1985.
This novel won her the 1985 Whitbread Prize for a First Novel. She later adapted this for television in 1990, and earned the BAFTA Award for Best Drama for it.
Aside from her first novel, she wrote the following: Boating for Beginners (1985); The Passion (1987), which won the 1987 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize; Sexing the Cherry (1989); Written on the Body (1992); Art and Lies (1994); Gut Symmetries (1997); The World and Other Places (1998), a collection of short stories; The PowerBook (2000), which she later adapted for the National Theatre in 2002; and Lighthousekeeping (2004).
She wrote a series of children’s books as well: The King of Capri (2003), Tanglewreck (2006), and The Battle of the Sun (2009). In 2011, she had her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, published.
Aside from her novels, she’s also a regular contributor of reviews and articles to newspapers and journals. Likewise, she has a regular column in The Guardian.
Jeanette Winterson: Writing about LGBTQ
Jeanette’s novels deal with a lot of topics, including gender polarities and sexual identities. Likewise, she drew a lot from her own life and her love for women.
Aside from the aforementioned Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, she got inspiration from her affair with her literary agent, the late Pat Kavanagh, when she wrote The Passion.
She also won the Lambda Literary Awards twice for Written on the Body (Lesbian Fiction, 1994) and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Lesbian Memoir or Biography, 2013).
When she broke up with theater director Deborah Warner in 2007, she spoke about it in The Guardian.
“I thought of suicide. I rang up friends saying, ‘I think I need to kill myself.’ I saw myself between two dark spaces. One dark space was suicide. The other was pretending to myself there was nothing wrong and carrying on my life without confronting that darkness. I had to be in that space where suicide was really an option for overcoming unbearable mental pain,” she said.
Fortunately, she managed to recover and married psychotherapist Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, in 2015.