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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Jane  Bowles

Jane Bowles 1917to –1973

American writer and playwright, author of Two Serious Ladies and In the Summer House. She was born to a Jewish family in New York, and her father died when she was a teenager. Shortly after, she was stricken with tuberculosis of the knee, and she and her mother relocated to Switzerland for treatment. She developed a deep passion for literature while recovering. Upon returning to New York, she began spending time in the bohemian Greenwich Village, where she had affairs with both men and women, eventually meeting Paul Bowles in 1937. The two were married a year later, spending their honeymoon in Central America, then Paris. They had a sexual relationship for about a year and a half, but after that they were happy to remain platonically married while enjoying relationships with others. Both Jane and her husband were bisexual, though her lovers were primarily women. In 1938, they moved to Mexico, where Bowles began an affair with Helvetia Perkins. Her first and only novel, Two Serious Ladies, was published in 1943. Reviews were mixed, but she developed a devoted following among other writers such as John Ashbery, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote. In 1948, the Bowleses moved to Morocco, where she published a few short stories including “Camp Cataract,” and fell in love with a Moroccan woman named Cherifa. Her only play, In the Summer House, was performed on Broadway in 1953, and like her novel, focused on the complicated lives of women. In 1957, at the age of 40, she suffered a stroke that damaged her creativity, though she continued to struggle to write until her death 16 years later in Spain. She never gained widespread popularity, and critics were often divided on her work. But in response to her death, Tennessee Williams declared her “the finest writer of the century in English prose-fiction.”

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