Testimony by Paula Martinac


At a women’s college in rural Virginia in the 1950s, a deeply-closeted history professor faces an investigation into her private life that threatens her career.


In rural Virginia in 1960, history professor Gen Rider has secured tenure at Baines College, a private school for white women. A woman in a man’s field, she teaches “Negro” history, which has made her suspect with a powerful male colleague. Even while she’s celebrating her triumph, she’s also mourning the break-up of a long-distance relationship with another woman—a romance she has tightly guarded, even from her straight female mentor.

As the fall semester dawns, a male instructor at the college is arrested for having sex with a man in a park. Homosexual panic envelops the college town, launching a “Know Your Neighbor” reporting campaign. The police investigation directly threatens Gen’s friend Fenton, the gay theater director at Baines. But Gen finds herself vulnerable, too, when someone leaves mysterious “gifts” for her, including a suggestive pulp novel and a romantic card.

As Gen tentatively embarks on a new relationship, a neighbor reports she’s seen Gen kissing a woman, and hearings into her morality catch her in a McCarthy-like web. With her private life under the microscope, Gen faces an agonizing choice: Which does she value more, the career she’s scraped to build against the odds or her right to a private life?

“Paula Martinac’s Testimony, vividly imagined and remarkably researched, shines a light on queer lives that have been forgotten by history. The prose is vibrant and intelligent, and the characters are rich and complex. A deeply compelling novel that I couldn’t put down.” —Carter Sickels, author of The Prettiest Star

“In Testimony, Paula Martinac writes with ferocity and compassion about the destructive force of LGBTQ discrimination, which invades even the privacy of home. Our hearts break and rage for Dr. Gen Rider and others whose lives and livelihoods are threatened in this small Southern college town where history feels all too close to the present. At the same time, the novel magnifies the courage of these complex characters, their humor and empathy, and the saving grace of friendship and love.” —Bryn Chancellor, author of Sycamore

PAULA MARTINAC is the author of five published novels and a collection of short stories. Her debut novel Out of Time won the 1990 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, and The Ada Decades was shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley Award. Her most recent novel, Clio Rising, was awarded the Independent Publishers (IPPY) gold medal in Northeast Regional 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. Martinac is a 2019-2020 Artist Fellowship Recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council and in 2019 she received a Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts & Science Council of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County. She teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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