12-28-2004

Susan Sontag portrait by Annie Leibovitz

SUSAN SONTAG, American writer died on this date (b. 1933); American essayist, novelist, filmmaker, and activist. Sontag had committed relationships with photographer Annie Leibowitz, choreographer Lucinda Church, writer Maria Irene Fornes, and other women. In the early 1970s, she was romantically involved with Nicole Stephane (1923-2007), a Rothschild banking heiress turned movie actress.

Many of Sontag’s obituaries failed to mention her significant same-sex relationships, most notably with photographer Leibowitz. In response to this criticism, The New York Times Public Editor, Daniel Okrent, defended the newspaper’s obituary, stating that at the time of Sontag’s death, a reporter could make no independent verification of her romantic relationship with Leibovitz (despite attempts to do so). After Sontag’s death, Newsweek published an article about Leibovitz that made clear reference to her decade-plus relationship with Sontag, stating: “The two first met in the late ’80s, when Leibovitz photographed her for a book jacket. They never lived together, though they each had an apartment within view of the other’s.”

Sontag was quoted, “I grew up in a time when the modus operandi was the open secret’. I’m used to that, and quite OK with it. Intellectually, I know why I haven’t spoken more about my sexuality, but I do wonder if I haven’t repressed something there to my detriment. … Maybe I could have given comfort to some people if I had dealt with the subject of my private sexuality more, but it’s never been my prime mission to give comfort, unless somebody’s in drastic need. I’d rather give pleasure, or shake things up.”