Trailblazing lesbian author and activist Elana Dykewomon dies at 72 after cancer battle

Celebrated lesbian author and activist Elana Dykewomon has died at the age of 72 of cancer.

The trailblazing writer died on Sunday (7 August) in Oakland, California. Her brother David Nachman told the Mendocino Beacon that Dykewomon had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in September last year.

A statement from her family, given to the same publication, said Dykewomon’s work addressed themes of “lesbian love, Jewishness and identity, being butch, fat oppression, mental illness and incarceration”.

Prior to her death she shared a note on Facebook talking about her cancer, writing: “I have had a lucky, full, wonderful life. It is highly possible I may recover but I am content either way.”

Dykewomon died just 20 minutes before a performance of her first play How to Let Your Lover Die was due to be live-streamed.

It was written was about her long time partner Susan Levinkind who died from a form of dementia. The play is part of the Bay Area Playwrights Festival.

Jennifer Brier, her cousin and literary executor, told the Mendocino Beacon writing the play resulted in mixed emotions for Dykewomon.

“It was hard to write about Susan’s death, even as it was cathartic,” Brier said.

“I can only imagine how much that changed as Elana was looking at her own death.”

Dykewomon’s brother, cousin and others in her inner circle – who were with her in her final moments – watched the play.

Her brother said: “It was tough. But we wanted to see what she had created.”

Elana Dykewomon sitting on a bench wearing a long sleeve red shirt but over it is a black v-neck sweatshirt

Elana Dykewomon was a pioneer for lesbian literary fiction. (Credit: Facebook)

Dykewomon was a critically acclaimed writer most known for her 1974 debut novel Riverfinger Women, a coming of age lesbian story. Riverfinger Woman was named on The New York Times’ list of 100 Greatest Gay Novels.

Another highly praised work is her 1997 novel Beyond the Pale which won the 1998 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction.

In May the Golden Crown Literary Society, praised Dykewomon’s legacy calling a work an inspiration to lesbians. The organisation said her work depicted “the lives of women and lesbians, both contemporary and historical, allowing us to see our stories on the page long before those stories were widely available”.

In 2017 Dykewomon wrote a series of essays titled Dispatches From Lesbian America, where she detailed her suicide attempt after a doctor told her she couldn’t be gay.