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Naiad Press Founder Dies
Anyda Marchant (1911-2006): an appreciation
2006-02-01

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REFLECTIONS by Marie J. Kuda

Anyda Marchant's life had many of the elements of the Romance novels she began to publish in the early 1970s after retiring from a 40-year career in the law. She was born in Rio de Janeiro, raised in Washington, D.C., where she took her degree and spent most of her legal career. In her late 30s she fell in love ( at almost first sight ) with Muriel Inez Crawford, three years her junior, and began a relationship that lasted 57 years, until her death. After they retired in 1971 she returned to her first love, writing, and ( while still in the closet ) founded Naiad Press as sole proprietor, to publish her work. Twenty years later, after an acrimonious separation from Naiad, then a corporation, she and Muriel created a new venture, A&M Books. They came out publicly late in life, and were doyennes of a weekly mini-salon at their home in Rehoboth Beach, Dela., which has been becoming an increasingly gay summer resort.

Legal Career

In the 1930s, Anyda was a very junior assistant to Alice Paul, former head of the Congressional Committee of the National American Womens Suffrage Association, and founder of the militant National Woman's Party, researching data to draft an Equal Rights Amendment. During World War II she worked at the Law Library of Congress, relinquishing the position of department head when the former holder returned from military service. In 1946 she returned to Brazil as attorney for a Canadian power company and served as translator at the 1948 Pan American Union Conference in Bogata, Columbia. Returning to Washington in late 1948, she became one of four women attorneys at Covington and Burling, Dean Acheson's firm. Acheson was later Secretary of State and had a role in the creation of NATO. Muriel Crawford had been working at Covington since 1941, first as a legal secretary and later an administrative assistant; she had had a six-year relationship with another of the firm's women lawyers. Anyda and Muriel marked Thanksgiving, 1948, as the anniversary date for their love.

As Sarah Aldridge, Anyda Marchant would write of lesbians falling in love during the terror and paranoia of McCarthy era Washington in her 1992 novel, A Flight of Angels. In the 1950s Anyda worked in private practice, with the U.S. Department of Commerce for two years, and eventually spent 18 years in the legal department of the World Bank ( the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a UN specialized agency ) .

Author and Publisher

In 1970 Anyda became aware of The Ladder, magazine of the first national lesbian-rights organization, The Daughters of Bilitis, founded by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in 1955. She began corresponding with editor Barbara Grier ( writing as Gene Damon ) , who published Anyda's first lesbian short story, 'Friends,' under her nom de plume, Sarah Aldridge. As related by John D'Emilio in his 1983 book Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, after a political struggle within DOB, Grier and then-president Rita La Porte boycotted the DOB 1970 convention and 'made off with the organization's membership and subscription lists, and began publishing the magazine independently'. Without the magazine, the national organization collapsed into local chapters; and without the support of the membership, The Ladder couldn't sustain itself and after 16 years of continuous publication, tanked in September, 1972. Grier and her new lover and life partner Donna McBride then undertook creation of an Index to the 16 years of The Ladder using a cadre of loyal helpers from around the country to do each of the 16 volumes. Anyda Marchant made a gift of $1,000 towards the publication of the Index. Anyda and Muriel also gave Grier another $1,000 gift towards the publication of a second edition of Grier's bibliography and Lesbiana book reviews. In 1972 Anyda had created The Naiad Press as a sole-proprietorship to self-publish her novels, but soon realized that while it was easy to print a book, distribution was the key element in her dream of reaching lesbian readers. Near their winter home in Florida she had found a printer ( whose only other customer published bibles ) for her first novel, The Latecomer. For distribution advice she turned to Grier, eventually, she said, paying for use of the DOB mailing list at the time of publication of her novel. A Latecomer flyer was included in a Ladder mailing announcing the intended publication of, and requesting donations and/or advance orders for, the second edition of The Lesbian in Literature bibliography ( issued in 1975 under The Ladder imprint ) . In May, 1974 Anyda reorganized The Naiad Press, incorporating in Delaware with herself, Muriel, and Barbara Grier. Eventually there were four shareholders, According to Anyda 'Grier's share in Naiad was an outright gift, as Donna McBride's was later, and had no connection with any other considerations.' But obviously, Grier did bring to the table the opportunity of accessing the DOB mailing lists of just under 4,000 names.

Anyda paid for publication of all the early Sarah Aldridge novels. She said she and Muriel were de facto shipping clerks fulfilling orders for Latecomer and All True Lovers, from stocks in her garage. She also acted as attorney for the Press, drafted the contracts for their publications, and edited many of the early titles, including two by Valerie Taylor. Taylor was the pen name of Velma Tate ( 1913-1997 ) , whose lesbian pulp novels sold millions of paperbacks in the 1960s. Out of gratitude for the name recognition she brought to the nascent Press, Anyda would donate to the fund for Val's care initiated by Tee Corinne in the 1990s. According to Anyda, for the first 10 years of their association, the four shareholders were close friends. The Press did not become self-supporting until after Barbara and Donna moved to Tallahassee and they were eventually able to devote full time to it. Anyda observed that she and Muriel were 'not acquainted with the realities of the gay movement and the people in it.' Grier was her buffer; Anyda was only interested in writing her novels and providing opportunities for lesbian writers who might not otherwise see print.

All that would change with the debacle over the 1985 publication of Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, a collection of true-life stories by 40 former and current nuns, including movement mavens Jean O'Leary and Virginia Appuzo. The book eventually sold over 150,000 copies but aroused a feminist furor when Grier sold serial rights to a men's magazine that published excerpts. The book's editors, Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan, were incensed and felt Naiad had breached their trust. Lesbian and feminist journals raged in print for months about the 'sell-out' decision. Julia Penelope Stanley tore into Naiad, citing a lack of ethics. Anyda was now put forward as Naiad's president and legal counsel; she was forced into taking a more active part in the business. As attorney for the Press, she did her best to defend Grier from threatened legal action over what she privately felt was an 'egregious error.'

Anyda wrote that as they became aware of other actions of 'secrecy', 'duplicity' and 'questionable legality,' a sad disillusionment set in that would lead to her and Muriel separating from Naiad. In 1995, after protracted and bitter negotiations, they withdrew from the corporation with a settlement of $120,000 and the existing stock of all the Sarah Aldridge titles. Anyda wrote that they had never received any profit from their shares and only took royalties on Aldridge books after 1987. The settlement was abrupt, with no access to Naiad's mailing list or notices sent out to individuals or bookstores regarding the separation. But pushing for a more equitable division of the company's assets, Anyda wrote, 'would have entailed real legal confrontations and would have undoubtedly resulted in the destruction of The Naiad Press, which we did not really want to bring about.' They fully credited Grier with the monetary success of the Press. Anyda and Muriel were in their 80s when they began their second publishing venture, and hoped by creating A&M Books it would 'endure long enough to establish the sort of ideals in publishing which we had at the beginning of Naiad.'

Rehoboth Beach Treasure

Anyda and Muriel bought their first home in Rehoboth Beach shortly after they met in the late-1940s and became permanent residents in 1965. Over the years the little ocean-side community has become increasingly 'gay'. In the 1990s the closet doors for these very private women began to swing wide open. They knew a few other couples, were long-standing members of the local Episcopal church, and had a weekly 'Happy Hour' sipping their scotch while conversing with friends and visitors, gay and straight, on the screened-in porch of their second cottage. They watched the bars come and go, saw the resort town swell with gay tourists in summer, and eventually became a part of the evolving open community. Anyda's 'coming out' began with a public appearance at Lambda Rising Bookstore in 1991; three years later she was back autographing her novels and consenting to be interviewed in the Delaware News Journal, a decision that gave Muriel pause. The couple was in demand to share their 'before Stonewall' stories. Over a dozen articles appeared in New England papers, gay and straight: 'how did you see yourselves then? how did others see you? how did you handle the workplace? dates with men?' Eric Marcus interviewed them for his book Together Forever: Gay and Lesbian Marriage published the year of their 50th Anniversary, 1998. Eighty friends showed up at All Saints Episcopal parish house on Halloween to help them celebrate. Others solicited letters from friends and fans all over the country to be presented to the ladies at a 'Surprise Card Shower' on their actual anniversary, Nov. 23 that year.

Anyda made a rare public appearance on a panel at the 3rd International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal. Three years later, in an International Women in Print Newsletter distributed at the 6th IFB Fair in Melbourne, she consented to an interview on her version of the beginnings of Naiad Press. Thereafter she availed herself of every opportunity to counteract in print the misinformation that she felt was circulating about Naiad's founding. She wrote letters after publication when she could, but once something was said in print it became 'history' and was accepted as fact ( without vetting ) by the new gay and lesbian scholarship turning out encyclopedias, almanacs, and literary reference books. Often entries on Grier note her as co-founder of Naiad, but the general perception is that McBride was the other co-. The entry in Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia ( 2000 ) , edited by the respected academic and former Chicagoan Bonnie Zimmerman, declares that Naiad Press was co-founded by Grier and McBride after receiving 'seed money' from Marchant and Crawford.

Neither of the ladies was ever robust in health, but every account held that their minds were always sharp. It would be good to set the record straight while Muriel is still with us. She would wish it for her life partner. Grier's contribution to the community and credentials are unassailable. It's not too late to be generous with the truth. No matter how you slice the cheese, Naiad Press would not have come into existence, nor persevered intact, were it not for Marchant.

A&M Books published a number of Aldridge novels, a memoir of Rehoboth Beach by Faye Jacobs, and a new novel by Ann Allen Shockley whose 1974 book, Loving Her, was the first novel to portray a mixed-race lesbian relationship. Marchant died at home in Rehoboth Beach Jan. 11, 2006 just 16 days shy of her 95th birthday. Muriel was by her side. Years earlier they told Eric Marcus that they had talked of the probability that one or the other of them would be staying on alone given their age and history of health problems, but imagining life without each other was incomprehensible.

Copyright 2006 by Marie J. Kuda


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