Remembering the Magic of Elana Dykewomon
By Julie R. Enszer
Elana Dykewomon, a Jewish lesbian-feminist activist, award-winning author, editor, and teacher, died on August 7, 2022. Dykewomon often described herself simply as “a radical Jewish dyke.” Her debut novel, Riverfinger Women
(published in 1974), was chosen for The Publishing Triangle’s list of 100 best lesbian and gay novels
. She also published two other novels, Beyond the Pale
(1998, winner of the Lambda Literary
and Ferro-Grumley Awards for Best Lesbian Novel
) and Risk
(2009, a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Novel); the short story collection Moon Creek Road
(2003); and numerous collections of poetry, including What Can I Ask: New and Selected Poems 1975-2014
, published by Sinister Wisdom
. Dykewomon was a prodigious writer who published essays, poems, and fiction in a variety of places, as well as an impressive builder of lesbian communities and lesbian friendships. Her published work will endure as well as her magical community creations and conjurings.
Dykewomon often described herself as a culture worker. This work began in western Massachusetts where she not only completed her first novel but was involved in the creation of a variety of lesbian communal formations, including the Women’s Film Coop, Lesbian Gardens, and Maegara Press. Throughout her life she engaged in the production and promotion of lesbian culture.
Dykewomon edited Sinister Wisdom
from 1987 through 1994; between 1991 and 1994, she co-edited Sinister Wisdom
with Caryatis Cardea. During the eight years of her editorial and organizational leadership, Dykewomon brought together communities of writers, readers, volunteers, and literary activists to produce the journal. She published issues on the topics of class, race, resistance, and religion. She worked with women to create “The 15th
Anniversary Retrospective of Sinister Wisdom
,” published in the summer of 1991, which gathered some of the most influential pieces published to date. Each issue that Dykewomon published demonstrates care and commitment to lesbians, to lesbian literature, and to lesbian ideas. Every page of every issue that Dykewomon published is evidence of her love for and belief in lesbians. On January 1, 1995, Dykewomon continued the tradition established by the founders of Sinister Wisdom
, Harriet Desmoines and Catherine Nicholson, and gave Sinister Wisdom
to three new editor-publishers, Akiba Onada-Sikwoia, Kyos Featherdancing, and Janet Wallace.
Dykewomon’s association with the journal did not end in 1995, however. Her lover and spouse Susan Levinkind remained the administrator for the journal keeping the books, filing taxes, handling subscriptions, and mailing out back issues on request until 2015 when she was unable to do it any longer. Susan died on October 29, 2016. In 2015, Sinister Wisdom
published a Sapphic Classic of Dykewomon’s poetry, What Can I Ask: New and Selected Poems 1975-2014
, and in 2021, Dykewomon and Judith Katz edited Sinister Wisdom 119: To Be a Jewish Dyke in the 21st Century
In addition to her creative output and editorial work, Dykewomon was an innovative and practical theorist of lesbian-feminism, notably through her articulation of and commitment to building practices that centered lesbians, lesbian ideas, and lesbian lives. In the early 1980s, she forged a practice of publishing for womyn-only and reading for lesbians-only audiences to give the “gift of attention to women,” to insist on open communication among lesbians and to encourage lesbian network building. Her ideas and their practical implications were not easy and caused conflict in multiple communities. The ideas at their core, however, have proven over time to be life-giving and valuable.
Dykewomon continued the relentless work of analyzing and confronting her life in playwriting. In late July and August, The Playwrights Foundation of San Francisco staged a reading of Dykewomon’s play, How to Let Your Lover Die
, about Levinkind’s illness and death. Dykewomon died shortly before the final reading, which was broadcast on zoom. Over 150 supporters of Dykewomon’s work joined a live audience for this broadcast and learned of her passing at the end of the play.
Dykewomon was working on exciting projects until the end. In addition to her play, she had in mind a memoir about being locked up as a teenager for being a lesbian and fat, as well as a collection of essays.
will co-host a celebration of Elana Dykewomon’s life and work with her lesbian cousin, Jennie Brier. The celebration
will be on zoom
on Sunday, September 18, 2022, at 4 P.M. PT (7 P.M. ET). All are invited to join this celebration.
At the celebration, friends and members of Dykewomon’s beloved community will read from her work and speak about her life. The chat will be open for all to share stories and memories.
is planning a special tribute to Dykewomon in the journal. All are invited to submit writing, art, and poetry that celebrates Elana. Send your tributes to Julie@SinisterWisdom.org
by Friday, September 9. After that date, submit through the general Sinister Wisdom
submittable system available at sinisterwisdom.org/submit
Elana Dykewomon is beloved to the Sinister Wisdom
community. We are so sad about her passing. We invite everyone to read her work during the next days, weeks, months, and years so that it endures and blesses us all.