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Skin: Talking about Sex, Class and Literature

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  2,186 ratings  ·  64 reviews
A fantastic collection of essays, autobiographical narratives, and performance pieces, including updated versions of earlier groundbreaking material with provocative new work by the lifelong feminist activist, controversial sex radical, and Southern expatriate writer with an attitude who brought us Bastard Out of Carolina, Trash, and The Women Who Hate Me. Funny, passionat ...more
Paperback, 261 pages
Published April 1st 1994 by Firebrand Books (first published 1994)
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Average rating 4.22  · 
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 ·  2,186 ratings  ·  64 reviews

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Feb 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
having gone to an undergrad institution that prized itself on the humanities and majored in american literature and womens studies (much to the horror of my parents, who couldnt understand how those degrees would lead to an optometry career), i spent an insane amount of time between the ages of 18 - 21 talking about all the -isms and -obias that plague both this nation and the world. and yet there was a disquieting silence surrounding class, and to this i am not sure if this is because of the cl ...more
Larry Bassett
Jun 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is Ms. Allison’s fourth book. She has been a five star writer for me so far having read two of her books. But, considering her other autobiographical writing, I am interested to see what the Non-fiction label means with Skin. There are 24 “essays, autobiographical narratives and performance pieces” in this book. That’s what they are called on the back cover.

Skin was published in 1994. She was 45 at that time.
The author probes her experience of being a lifelong feminist activist, a controv
Andrew Bishop
Apr 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I would have to say that this is one of the best essay collections I've read. Certainly it stands out in this way among essay collections of lesbian non-fiction writing and radical, class-critical feminism. Allison accomplishes her usual muscular-femme honesty and bullshit-cutting style with a graceful method not unlike her famed novels and short fiction. Here, she addresses arenas of the political-through-the-personal in stories of her life experiences. Perhaps it is the autobiographical nature ...more
Caitlin Constantine
Feb 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
First, don't do as I did and read this all at once. I did, and after a while, I was like, Okay, I get it, you went to a lot of meetings and built bookshelves at the women's center and like butch women who will dominate you. That kind of exasperation isn't really fair, because this is a collection of autobiographical essays written over Allison's career, and as anyone who has ever engaged in autobiographical writing knows, you are kind of limited in your material.

Aside from that I was struck by h
Dec 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anybody who can handle it--it's fantastic
Shelves: 2007
Dorothy Allison published Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, and Literature in 1994, only a couple of years after her amazing first novel, Bastard Out of Carolina. I've read the novel probably three times, but for some reason it never occurred to me to look for further work by Allison. I guess I assumed that she, like Harper Lee, had probably given so much to write that amazing novel that she didn't have any writing left in her.

I was so wrong.

I got an inclination of this a couple of years ago when,
I have read a whole lot of feminist literature, fiction and nonfiction. This book blew my mind open, despite that.

First I experienced some push back - I started to wonder why it seemed every paragraph (a gross exaggeration) was about her being a lesbian. I was like, I get it, you're queer, I don't care if you are or not, that is only a part of who you are.

As I read further, I began to see how important being a lesbian is to her total worldview, and even though I am a woman (a straight but not n
Trixie Fontaine
It's a challenge to find books that are relevant to me as a self-publishing internet sex worker and feminist with white trash roots so this book was a huge find for me. While much of it's written from the rawness of Dorothy Allison's personal experiences, she goes way beyond herself to explore sexual, political and artistic issues in ways that are credible and hook you with intimacy while being rational, complex, and critical.

I have a hard time describing how important this book is to me on a pe
Oct 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing

I don't know how to express what this collection means to me. I don't know how to deal with how much I relate to Dorothy - there are significant differences in our experiences, but such overlap! I love how visceral and aggressive and BRAVE her writing is. It's pretty synchronistic me reading this now - I recently started a women's writing course and have been confronting the fact that I can currently only write about my past traumas, which is difficult but also sinc
Aug 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
i love Dorothy Allison's writing style, and she's a mesmerizing public speaker. i literally couldn't speak when i met her -- i just kept blushing and mumbling. she smiled like she does and said, "you can tell your friends a lesbian flirted with you."

i had to get that out. okay, this book...i'm not the biggest fan of her more fictional stuff. i like Dorothy Allison writing about life and writing and ideas. she makes connections and makes sense like few i've read. and the story called You, Me, and
Aaden Friday
May 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
A great collection of essays and stories. Moving, inspiring, confrontational, beautiful, argumentative, soothing, and raw.
Liss Carmody
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I never can remember where I hear of books like this, or what it was about them that originally led me to put it on a to-read list where I would come back to it three months or three years or seven years later. This collection of essays is like that - nonfiction writing by a lesbian, feminist, working-class, Southern woman that is as much about her upbringing and her childhood sexual abuse as it is about her complicated relationship with her sexuality, her work, and literature itself. Some of th ...more
Laura Fusaro
Sep 04, 2019 rated it liked it
“I need you to do more than survive. As writers, as revolutionaries, tell the truth, your truth in your own way. Do not buy into their system of censorship, imagining that if you drop this character or hide that emotion, you can slide through their blockades. Do not eat your heart out in the hope of pleasing them. The only hope you have, the only hope any of us has, is the remade life.”

Honest, shameless, poignant, true.
Peggy Payne Paustenbach
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A bit of a bumpy ride to read...but some wonderful writing about self perspective, poverty, sexuality, abuse, social class and long range conscious/unconscious internalizing of childhood impressions..specifically as an "other" and as a "less than". Was personally very helpful to me. A remarkable woman.
Rachel Dows
Nov 13, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition


Until the very end, then a touching, engaging short story.

Cut the smut, focus on the story - there is no need for a piece to be so graphic; sex doesn't say anything. Use the characters, not their bodies.

That's just my two cents, for what it's worth.
Florence Benaddi
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So so good. Made me realize of my gayness and love for gays. So smart also on how to write and the power of childhood
Dec 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I'm not sure how I have never written a review of this book before - i've recommended it to so many people!

This is the second time I've read it from cover to cover, though I've dipped in and out of my own highlighted sections a number of times. I'd forgot quite how much about sex it was, which on second reading threw me just as much as it delighted me. It is the bravest book I have ever read with regards how candid she is about her sex life and sexuality. She tells real, mean, hard to handle, h
Allison's essays are passionate and bold, if not a bit earnest. Much of what has been compiled
In this essay collection feels a bit dated, particularly in regard to issues of sex positivity and lesbian identity (I confess to cringing at the first of many mentions of her "lesbian feminist collective" because it all seemed so heavy handed and old school). Allison is probably thrilled that one would feel that because it means progress has been made in the revolution she has so passionately fought fo
Kris - My Novelesque Life
(Reissued from the 1980s)
(Review Not on Blog)

Dorothy Allison's essay collection on sex, class and literature. I will say that this is not a book for everyone. I read Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina for a woman's studies lit course. It is a sad novel but in my opimion is right up there with To Kill a Mockingbird (Although I imagine it would be banned as well). This book looks at Allison's personal world around being poor, working class and a lesbian. She openly talks about her l
May 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book nearly killed me she writes so beautifully. Many of the pieces are about sex, class and literature but she weaves them together so well and writes passionately about the importance of writing what scares you. Her work about her family in south Carolina (pretty much chronicled faithfully in 'Bastard out of Carolina') is so moving when she talks about the lives of her mom, aunts and sisters. She has so much compassion for people and so much pride and love for her family. In her words 'wh ...more
Navya Naik
May 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Such a worthy read.

In wake of Orlando, I wish I were reading a QTPOC novel to honor the fact that so little of my required reading in school included voices of queer folks, women, (or queer women!), and it is a fact like that contributes to the gross marginalization and persecution of qtpoc. Nonetheless, I loved this book, and I loved the frankness with which she writes about desire, lust, memory, and constructing narratives around trauma.

(Rather) tangentially, I am reminded of how much there
Apr 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays, autobiography
Through a series of essays, Allison tells the story of how her own brand of intellect emerged. These wonderful little essays betray a philosophy which is both leftist and pragmatic. Richard Rorty quotes the essay on literature in his "Achieving Our Country" as an example of a philosophy of literature as heartfelt reather than cynical, positive rather than negative, intended toward a working, positive change in the individual.
Elaine Burnes
Dec 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lesbian
Allison is a fascinating person. These are essays, not short stories and most are from the 1980s, many updated (to include Melissa Etheridge among celebrity lesbians, for example). The book came out in the 1990s. She came of age at an absolutely fascinating time—the beginnings of the women’s movement, and was very active in it. Living in a collective, running CR groups. The whole nine yards. What changes we have seen just in her lifetime. A must read!
Amy Wilder
Nov 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Amy Wilder by: Rose Stenglein
Dogeared copy read and reread throughout sophomore year of college. Probably explains why I overthought so many things. But then again, I was already overthinking and part of Allison's point is, you can't think your way through sexuality.
Years later I met her and she looked into my eyes and said "find the people who love you and feed them". I have tried to live by her advice.
Carmen something
May 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
After Bastard..., Skin situated my read. Alison let me have a queerness I hadn't known in my high heels and long hair before; she revealed herself and her work in ways the academy tells us we cannot.
Aug 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
This book has steeped in sociology... so get your boots on to wade through some of it. It's great and i would recommend it to people who like her work, people who read not just to pass the time, people who 'get it'.
Aug 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Dorothy Allison is so cool and fearless, strong and truthful. I love reading everything she writes. Read this again in 2013. Mostly I'm just thinking the same thing, but also wouldn't it be cool if she lived in my neighborhood.
Kerry Drury
Aug 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
I went straight to Powell's Books after hearing Dorothy Allison read one night last year from a piece was was working on and bought this collection of essays, which are marvelous. I'd read Bastard Out of Carolina when it first came out, and thought it was an amazing novel.
Jovida Ross
Aug 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Love me some Dorthy Allison. Funny, no-bullshit, tells it as she sees it. And I often really appreciate the point of view she sees it from. Possibly the best author on class that I've read. But it's also been a long time since I read this one, and I don't remember much more than that.
Nov 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Finished this book and another by Dorothy Allison during our blizzard -- I was trapped in my house for three days. This is a great book exploring the life and views of the author. I really helped be to understand her background, politics and experiences that are portrayed in her novels.

Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This may be one of my favorite books - Allison's writing is just so beautiful, and tackles intense topics in a way I haven't seen before. Definitely a book to lend to friends, and to re-read when the world feels like too much.
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Dorothy Allison is an American writer, speaker, and member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Themes in Allison's work include class struggle, child and sexual abuse, women, lesbianism, feminism, and family.

Allison's first novel, the semi-autobiographical Bastard Out of Carolina, was published in 1992 and was one of five finalists for the 1992 National Book Award.

Allison founded The Independe

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173 likes · 31 comments
“I wanted to start over completely, to begin again as new people with nothing of the past left over. I wanted to run away from who we had been seen to be, who we had been... It's the first thing I think of when trouble comes - the geographic solution. Change your name, leave town, disappear, make yourself over. What hides behind that impulse is the conviction that the life you have lived, the person you are, is valueless, better off abandoned, that running away is easier than trying to change things, that change itself is not possible.” 31 likes
“I have lived my life in pursuit of the remade world...

I believe in truth. I believe in truth denied any use of it can believe in it. I know its power. I know the threat it represents to a world constructed on lies.

I know the myths of the family that thread through our society's literature, music, politics - and I know the reality. The reality is that for many of us family was as much the incubator of despair as the safe nurturing haven the myths promised... But I also believe in hope...

The worst thing done to us in the name of a civilized society is to label the truth of our lives material outside the legitimate subject matter of serious writers...

I need you to do more than survive. As writers, as revolutionaries, tell the truth, your truth in your own way. Do not buy into their system of censorship, imagining that if you drop this character or hide that emotion, you can slide through their blockades. Do not eat your heart out in the hope of pleasing them. The only hope you have, the only hope any of us has, is the remade life.”
More quotes…