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Even her titles assault: "The Women Who Hate Me," "Trash" and "Bastard Out of Carolina." Yet she writes with unparalleled tenderness toward those she says we are trained to despise.
"She has an all-encompassing knowledge of what it's like to be the other, the outsider," says Studs Terkel.
I'm liable to pour gravy on you." And then there's revenge, "the thing that no one ever talks about," she says, with mock conspiracy and very real class rage. At 46, Allison is a plump woman with long, gleaming red hair, a velvety voice and an aura of raw pain that lingers even when she laughs.
Part country preacher, part Janis Joplin, she defies easy categorization -- and she likes it that way.
But Allison appeals to an unusually broad spectrum -- from readers of Southern fiction to incest survivors and lesbian sex radicals.
Allison takes great pride in her "white trash" roots; for her the ultimate tribute is that her books are on sale at Costco, the giant of warehouse clubs.
Even the post-punk group Sonic Youth has taken note: its song "Bone" pays homage to Bastard's heroine, Bone Boatwright, a young girl who is sexually abused by her stepfather.
Other lesbian authors have received national attention -- Audre Lorde, the late black poet; Jeanette Winterson, the British writer, and Lisa Alther, the comic Southern novelist, among others.
Until recently, that work was published primarily by small lesbian presses and alternative magazines.Ruth Gibson Allison instilled in her daughter a defiant pride; her aunts passed along their leathery, randy humor and animated language, and her grandmother contributed an ornery insistence on telling the family stories any old way she liked."I made a career out of hiding out under the porch, so I could listen to them," Allison says."I have a terrible memory," she explains, a little defensively, when caught.
She arches one eyebrow and smiles wickedly, her bad eye squinting to see if I believe her. Her closet is lined with red, black and gray notebooks full of journal entries that became poems, then short stories and eventually, novels.But Allison is more comfortable being compared to Roseanne.