Janis Ian Brings a Lesbian Classic to Life

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IT WAS just about fifty years ago that singer–songwriter Janis Ian had her first hit, “Society’s Child” (1967). Nearly a decade later she released “At Seventeen” (1975), which became her signature song. Since then, she has had a multifaceted career as a recording and touring artist, and she is an accomplished writer of essays, science fiction, and an acclaimed autobiography.

Janis Ian. Photo by Gerard Viveiros.
Janis Ian. Photo by Gerard Viveiros.

         Last fall, Ian produced an audiobook version of a queer literary classic, Patience and Sarah, by Alma Routsong, self-published in 1969 under the pen name Isabel Miller. The novel was a historical romance based on a true story of two lesbians in early 19th-century New England, a folk painter and a young woman from a poor farming family who fell unabashedly in love and forged a life together. The book was awarded the first Stonewall Award of the American Library Association in 1971.

         For the audiobook, Ian invited actress Jean Smart (Designing Women) to join her in bringing the novel to life. Ian and Smart alternate reading chapters to echo the dual point-of-view of the narrative. The audiobook was nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award in the Best Spoken Word category. It was Janis Ian’s tenth Grammy nomination (in eight categories).

         This interview was conducted by phone in January.

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