Barbara Grier and Donna McBride founded Naiad Press, the nation’s first publisher of lesbian literature, in 1973. The two met in 1967 at a Kansas City library. Grier was known as “that woman” who asked for “those books,” and McBride was a librarian. In Tallahassee, Florida, a few years later, they turned “those books” into a homegrown business on a $2000 loan.
Naiad Press was instrumental in creating an audience for lesbian fiction, particularly pulp fiction romances and mysteries. Initially, Grier and McBride relied heavily on the massive mailing list built by the Daughters of Bilitis (considered the first lesbian civil rights organization) newsletter The Ladder, which Grier herself had helped expand. They published one book their first year and worked out of their home. They mailed out novels and republished out-of-print works by authors like Ann Bannon and Jane Rule.
Naiad Press slowly emerged as a major cultural force within the gay and lesbian community and became a part of the broader movement during the 1970s and 80s. While national politics veered to right, the movement steadily grew, propelled by the bullshit government response to the AIDS epidemic and the military ban on gay enlistment. As gay and lesbian bookstores began to open across the country, Naiad Press found its niche, along with other publishers who had followed their lead. Their first big literary splash was in 1983 with Katherine V. Forrest’s Curious Wine, now considered a classic in lesbian literature. They sold over one hundred thousands copies. Forrest published with Naiad for a decade, and became famous for her lesbian detective novels. They also published works by noted genre authors Claire McNab and Karin Kallmaker.
In 1985, Naiad Press received national attention with the publication of Lesbian Nuns: Breaking the Silence by Rosemary Curb, then professor of English at Rollins College in Florida, and Nancy Manahan from Napa Valley College. In it, fifty-one nuns (forty-two were Roman Catholics and nine were still bound by their vows), openly discussed their sexuality. It was explosive. The authors appeared on Phil Donahue, Warner Books bought the rights, and the city of Boston banned the book altogether. Naiad made millions.
When Grier and McBride retired in 2003, thirty years after they put together the money for their first book, they had impacted the lives of millions of men and women. Recognizing their significance, they donated all of their papers, letters (including correspondence with Rubyfruit Jungle author Rita Mae Brown and Dorothy Allison of Bastard of Carolina fame), and memorabilia to the Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library. The sold the press to Bella Books, also out of Tallahassee, and commenced their post-Naiad lives together.
Barbara Grier died in 2011, survived by her longtime partner in love and love of books, Donna McBride.