Clio Rising by Paula Martinac


In 1980s New York City, a newly out young woman embarks on a job as companion to a literary giant of the Lost Generation, a closeted lesbian who accomplished just one great book.


In 1983, Livvie Bliss leaves western North Carolina for New York City, armed with a degree in English and a small cushion of cash from a favorite aunt. Her goal is to launch a career in publishing, but more important, to live openly as a lesbian. A rough start makes Livvie think she should give up and head home, but then a new friend helps her land a job at a literary agency run by the formidable Bea Winston.

Bea hopes Livvie’s Southern charm and “boyish” good looks will help her bond with one of the agency’s most illustrious clients—the cranky Modernist writer Clio Hartt, a closeted octogenarian lesbian of the Paris Lost Generation who has rarely left her Greenwich Village apartment in four decades. When Livvie becomes Clio’s gofer and companion, the plan looks like it’s working: The two connect around their shared Carolina heritage, and their rapport gives Clio support and inspiration to think about publishing again.

But something isn’t quite right with Clio’s writing. And as Livvie learns more about Clio’s relationship with playwright Flora Haynes, uncomfortable parallels begin to emerge between Livvie’s own circle of friends and the drama-filled world of expatriate artists in the 1920s.

In Clio’s final days, the writer shares a secret that could upend Livvie’s life—and the literary establishment.

“Inventive and imaginative, Martinac’s novel draws upon two compelling eras in gay history—the expat Parisian world of Gertrude Stein and the burgeoning gay scene of 1980s New York City.” —MONICA CARTER, Foreword Reviews

“In Clio Rising, Paula Martinac does a delicate dance between the fabulous literary lesbians of 1920s and 1930s Paris and another such group in 1980s New York. Martinac is a true professional whose writing I can trust to be smooth and engrossing. Her story is filled with lesbian herstory from both periods and with talented young women in their formative twenties with their sometimes tragic, sometimes funny, always appropriately tumultuous lives. One central character is Clio Hart, an old lesbian loosely drawn from Djuna Barnes, the eccentric author of the classic novel Nightwood. Yet I’m most grateful for the creation of the minor character Vern, a lovesick African American cartoonist who I won’t soon forget. Martinac’s fictional magic reminds me of why I love lesbian literature.” —LEE LYNCH, trailblazing author of The Swashbuckler

“A wonderful tale of lesbian and literary New York in the 1980s, often funny, sometimes raunchy, sometimes romantic, and always real. Paula Martinac has a gift for bringing different pasts to life. Her portrait of the difficult friendship between two women of contrasting generations is both generous and wise. An exploration of biographical mystery and responsibility, this fine novel is like an American answer to A. S. Byatt’s Possession.” —CHRISTOPHER BRAM, author of Gods and Monsters

Clio Rising is another brilliant novel by Paula Martinac, one of our most gifted writers. This intergenerational page-turner is a vivid portrait of an unusual relationship between two southern women in the literary world of 1980’s gay New York. This wonderful book should be on everyone’s bedside table.” —MADELINE OLNEK, writer/director, Wild Nights with Emily

“I thoroughly enjoyed Clio Rising and being reminded of both the final decades of Djuna Barnes (re-imagined here as Clio Hartt) and of lesbian life in the 1980s, with its lesbian bars, now vanished, as focal points, and the ways in which we became entangled with one another, as lovers, friends, allies, and enemies. The textures of daily life are everywhere in this novel, from the details of job issues and housing problems to the fact that the character with AIDS is no sweet-tempered martyr and Livvie’s care for him is sporadic and imperfect. Livvie’s relationship with Clio, the central one of the book, is also fraught, full of tentative approaches, missed opportunities, and moments of satisfying connection. I only wish we really did have Clio’s collection of short stories.” —AMY HOFFMAN, author of the novel The Off Season and the Lambda Literary Award-nominated memoir An Army of Ex-Lovers

“A deftly crafted and impressively erudite novel by an author with a genuine flair for originality and an exceptionally effective and reader engaging narrative storytelling style, Clio Rising by Paula Martinac is a truly extraordinary and very highly recommended addition to both community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections.” —WISCONSIN BOOKWATCH, Midwest Book Reviews

PAULA MARTINAC is the author of four 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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