1927-05-27

MARIJANE MEAKER is an American novelist and short story writer in  several genres using different pen names. From 1952 to 1969 she wrote twenty mystery and crime novels as Vin Packer, including Spring Fire, which is credited with launching the genre of lesbian pulp fiction (although few of Packer’s books address homosexuality or feature gay characters). Using her own observations of lesbians in the 1950s and 1960s, she wrote a series of nonfiction books about lesbians under the pen name Ann Aldrich from 1955 to 1972. In 1972 she switched genres and pen names once more to begin writing for young adults, and became quite successful as M.E. Kerr, producing over 20 novels and winning multiple awards including the American Library Association’s lifetime award for young-adult literature, the ALA Margaret A. Edwards Award. She was described by The New York Times Book Review as “one of the grand masters of young adult fiction.” As Mary James, she has written four books for younger children.

In her early life, Meaker admits to dating men because it was expected of her. She said of meeting the expectations of her family and friends despite knowing she was a lesbian: “I dealt with it by playing the game: dating, going steady with a serviceman I really liked, but not ‘that way’ and in general coping as we all had to do by behaving like everyone else.”

Meaker was involved romantically with author Patricia Highsmith for two years. She wrote about this relationship in the 2003 nonfiction memoir, Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s, and discussed it and her own pulp fiction novels in interviews around the time of the book’s release. Meaker explained her reasons behind writing about their relationship: “I knew Pat when she was young and not yet so jaded and bigoted. The internet is filled with stories of her meanness, and prejudice, and also of her introversion, of her being a loner. I met that Pat many years after we broke up.”

As of 2006, Meaker was living in East Hampton, NY, where she taught writing classes at the Ashawagh Hall Writers’ Workshop. Her workshop experiences led to the nonfiction instructional book, Blood on the Forehead: What I Know About Writing

Regardless of genre or pen name, Meaker’s books have in common complex characters that have difficult relationships and complicated problems, who rail against conformity. Meaker said of this approach, “I was a bookworm and a poetry lover. When I think of myself and what I would have liked to have found in books those many years ago, I remember being depressed by all the neatly tied-up, happy-ending stories, the abundance of winners, the themes of winning, solving, finding — when around me it didn’t seem that easy. So I write with a different feeling when I write for young adults. I guess I write for myself at that age.”