toni mcnaron's garden


into the paradox by toni mcnaron

Into the Paradox: Conservative Spirit, Feminist Politics
Hurley Publications, 2013

Contradictions can be “decided,” one way or the other—it either is raining or it is not raining; it cannot be both raining and not raining. Paradoxes, on the other hand, cannot be resolved one way or the other. We must simply try to accept them and live within the uncomfortable mystery they create.

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I dwell in possibility by toni mcnaron

I Dwell in Possibility: A Memoir, 2nd edition, The Feminist Press, 2002

One house, a hedge, and an unpaved alley from where I grew up was the “colored section” of town, popularly known as the “quarters” or “nigger town.”  The former term recalled the plantation days of slavery, while the latter reflected more contemporary race hatred.  The world across that alley fascinated me.  When I was three and four, I would sit by my bedroom window and look over at unpainted wooden houses where people lived who were supposed to be different from me.

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poisoned ivy by toni mcnaron

Poisoned Ivy: Lesbian and Gay Academics Confront Homophobia, Temple University Press, 1996

In 1964, when I began work at the University of Minnesota, there simply were no publicly defined lesbian or gay faculty. Perhaps faculty were able to declare their sexual orientation on a few campuses in California or NewYork City. In the overwhelming majority of cases, however, such faculty were silent, reluctant to risk credibility and jobs by announcing their sexual identities.

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the new lesbian studies by toni mcnaron

New Lesbian Studies: Into the 21st Century, The Feminist Press,1996

When I consider the next generation of lesbian and gay faculty, teaching, publishing, writing dissertations, and organizing conferences, I feel a rush of excitement. But I also feel a little like Thomas Gray, the late 18c. English poet, who wrote about his feelings as he stood on a rise overlooking students at his old school, Eton. From his point of view, their flamboyant play was shadowed by knowledge gained from bitter experience. I want to warn my colleagues that our gains are dangerously fragile, that history can repeat itself unless we all work very hard to prevent it.

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The Sister Bond by toni mcnaron

The Sister Bond: A Feminist View of a Timeless Connection, Pergamon Press, 1983

Any social grouping that does not include at least one male figure tends to cause questions, uneasiness, even fear. A culture dependent upon everyone’s accepting male superiority cannot handle maleless relationships calmly. This potential threat partially explains the distorted depictions, by women and men alike, of sisters as yipping shrews or colorless maidens.

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voices in the night by toni mcnaron

Voices in the Night: Women Speaking About Incest, Cleis Press, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1988

We believe that there is not a taboo against incest; merely against speaking about it… if we begin to speak of incest, we may realize its place as a training ground for female children to regard themselves as inferior objects to be used by men, as training that females cannot trust other females (our mothers usually didn’t stop the behaviors and often passively acquiesced). Incest is an early and very effective behavioral training in powerlessness and subservience.

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“Mirrors and Likeness:  A Lesbian Aesthetic in the Making,” in Sexual Practice, Textual Theory:  Lesbian Cultural Criticism, ed. Susan Wolfe and Julia Penelope, Blackwell, Oxford, UK, 1993, pp. 291-306.

To make the claim, “I like you” suggests some degree of personal pleasure in the presence of another and so may already carry a sexual potential. Why else has it been so fraught for heterosexuals to try and have friends of the opposite sex? 


“Raked with Wonder:  A White Instructor Teaches Sula,” in Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison, ed. Nellie McKay and Kathryn Earle, Modern Language Association, New York, 1998, pp. 38-50.

I relate my experiences here to point out to other white instructors that it is simply not enough to “add and stir” when we formulate syllabi.  We have to familiarize ourselves with the cultural terrains of writers of color before we can hope to achieve academic rigor in teaching or researching their work.  New criticism by any more current name does particular disservice to representational fictions that portray cultures different form our own.