The Ada Decades by Paula Martinac


Over the course of seven decades, one woman reaches her own form of Southern womanhood—compassionate, resilient, principled, lesbian.


Join Ada Shook as she reaches her own form of Southern womanhood . . .

A girl from a Carolina mill family isn’t supposed to strive for a career, but Ada Shook graduates from college on a scholarship and lands a plum job as a school librarian. As the 1950s South rocks with turbulence, Ada finds herself caught in the ugly fight to integrate the Charlotte, NC public schools. At the same time, she makes friends with Cam Lively, a teacher who challenges her to reexamine her narrow upbringing. The two young women fall in love and throw in their lot together, despite their underlying fear of being found out and fired.

Over seven decades, Ada is witness to the racism laced through her Southern city, the paradox of religion as both comfort and torment, and the survival networks created by gay people. Eleven interconnected stories cover the sweep of one woman’s personal history as she reaches her own form of Southern womanhood – compassionate, resilient, principled, and lesbian.

Awards and Honors for The Ada Decades

  • Publishing Triangle’s 2018 Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction, Finalist
  • Foreword 2017 INDIES Book of the Year in LGBT Fiction. Finalist


“In this time of America’s seemingly shrinking public heart, comes The Ada Decades, showing us that history is the life of the heart, of a region, of social struggles, of desire trying to surface with dignity. When I turned the last page of this compelling and effortless novel, when I had to say goodbye to Ada and Cam and the North Carolinian streets they walked for over seven decades, I kept hoping there was more. Martinac is a wondrous story teller who does not duck the hard stuff, but finds the grace in her characters that makes all our lives more possible. Eminently readable, historically insightful, realistically romantic. For the new lesbian and the old, for all, Cam and Ada will stay in your hearts. We need them now more than ever, and we need this writer, Paula Martinac.”—Joan Nestle, Lambda Award winning writer and editor, and a founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives

“To have a Paula Martinac novel first thing in 2017 is necessary. Her urbane lesbian feminist fiction keeps us going—and by “us,” I mean queers, dykes, butches, femmes, GNCs, queens, sissies, faggots, bulldaggers, and all the rest who may be under attack in coming four years.” —Cheryl Clarke, poet and author of By My Precise Haircut


“The writing is tight, precise, imparting imagery and metaphor with skill, sprinkling the tale with microscopic descriptions that make it delightfully interesting and never boring. There are no unnecessary words in this masterful work.”—Lambda Literary Review

The Ada Decades is beautifully written. Each story takes us through a different stage in Ada’s life, allowing us to follow her from girlhood to her golden years. At the same time, we see the struggles with racism in Charlotte alongside the difficulties of living as a lesbian in a time when it wasn’t legal. The structure of the book lends itself well to the overall story, with the individual pieces forming a complete narrative, much like The Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro.”— The Lesbian Review

“Martinac’s style made me feel that less is more, that leaving some parts out made the story more powerful. Cam and Ada are well-drawn characters, easy to identify with. This novel will make readers appreciate the difficulties today’s gay and lesbian senior citizens had to go through when they were young. Strongly recommended.”—Historical Novels Review

“A beautifully written account of extraordinary people satisfied with living ordinary lives. Quiet and unassuming, it’s a lovely read.”—Out in Print: Queer Book Reviews

“A work of quiet wisdom”—Q Notes

“Solid storytelling”—Windy City Times

PAULA MARTINAC is the author of three published novels and a collection of short stories. Her debut novel Out of Time won the 1990 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction. She has published three nonfiction books on lesbian and gay culture and politics as well as numerous articles, essays, and short stories. Also a playwright, her works have had productions with Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company, Manhattan Theatre Source, the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, No Name Players, and others. She teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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