Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
Let’s begin, where I began, in the UK in the 1980’s, as a geeky teenager, standing awkwardly at the reception desk of my local library. I had secretively ordered a copy of the lesbian romance novel, Annie on My Mind, through inter-library loan. To this day I cannot decide whether it was indigestion or disgust betrayed on the librarian’s face, as she reluctantly handed the book over to me.
For this was, of course, the 1980’s – where brave campaigning for gay rights took place in a climate of fear. The terrible outbreak of AIDS cast a stigmatising, uncertain shadow, and there was something decidedly sinister about the passing of Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality in schools. If this wasn’t enough, if you were gay you were considered to be ill (it was not until 1993 that the Government removed homosexuality from its list of psychiatric disorders in England and Wales). This notion was underlined in the few visible gay films and literature, where, more often than not, the tormented gay characters met an unfortunate end.
It is to the immense credit of the teenage magazine Mizz, therefore, that amidst all this hostility, it published a thoughtful, positive article titled ‘Homosexuality’, which recommended Annie on My Mind to its teenage readers. I cannot remember how many times I must have read that article; suffice to say there was more ink on my thumbs than on the page. I was simply enthralled that someone had written about ‘me’ and even more amazed that there was a novel with characters like me I could ‘meet’.
So, I’m back from the library, having, in retrospect, engaged in my first act of LGBT defiance, although it felt nothing like defiant as I read Annie on My Mind, anxiously, under the cover of my duvet. Because that’s how I felt, like I should be ashamed, as if my curious, questioning thoughts, and imaginings about my sexuality must remain hidden, unspoken, suppressed.
But there, under torch light, with each turned page, my feelings were revealed, spoken, my desires expressed in the words and emotions of two teenagers Liza Winthrop and Annie Kenyon.
Set in 1980’s New York, Liza and Annie are the heroines of Annie on My Mind, falling in love, bravely facing ignorance and prejudice, and imagining a future together. I breathlessly followed every word, every scene recollected through Liza’s eyes.
What made Annie on My Mind so special was that author Nancy Garden refused to let her two heroines struggle alone. They received the support of friends and family, and moreover the affirmation of positive role models in the form of two lesbian teachers, Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer. Despite enduring false claims and dismissal, the teachers remained unbroken and defiant. The message to readers was clear and summed up poignantly in the rallying words, “Don’t let ignorance win,” said Ms. Stevenson. “Let love.” 1
Nancy Garden was determined that young gay people should have access to a narrative of teenage gay love with a positive message, and a happy ending. In a 2007 interview with Kathleen Horning, of the Cooperative Children’s Book Centre, University of Wisconsin, Nancy stated that the motivation to write Annie on My Mind came from, “my desire to tell the truth about gay people – that we’re not sick or evil; that we can and do fall in love and lead happy, healthy, productive lives.” 2
It is Nancy Garden’s rich and heartfelt characters, and her message of love, that I treasure and remember now, and always.
You dedicated Annie on My Mind “For all of us”, but this “Thank you” is for you, Nancy Garden, from the bottom of my heart.
Nancy Garden (May 15, 1938 – June 23, 2014)
- p232, Annie on My Mind, 2007 Edition, FSG
- p247, A Conversation with Nancy Garden, interview with Kathleen Horning, Annie on My Mind, 2007 Edition, FSG