Fellow: Awarded 2012
Field of Study: General Nonfiction
Competition: US & Canada
Alison Bechdel is an internationally recognized cartoonist. For much of her thirty-year career she skulked on the cultural margins, writing, drawing, and self-syndicating the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. The generational chronicle, “one of the preeminent oeuvres in the comics genre, period,” (Ms.) ran regularly in over fifty LGBT publications in North America and the UK. Many award-winning collections of Dykes were published in book form by an independent feminist press, and were translated into several languages.
Bechdel gained wider recognition for her work with the publication in 2006 of her groundbreaking graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Fun Home was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, and in a great moment for graphic narrative, was named Best Book of 2006 by Time Magazine. Time called the tightly architected investigation into her closeted bisexual father’s suicide “a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other.”
After setting aside Dykes to Watch Out For in 2008, Bechdel began devoting herself full-time to autobiographical work. A second graphic memoir, this one about her relationship with her mother, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in May 2012. Kirkus has given Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama a starred review, calling it “a psychologically complex, ambitious, illuminating successor to the author's graphic-memoir masterpiece.”
In her work, Bechdel is preoccupied with the overlap of the political and the personal spheres. Dykes to Watch Out For was an explicitly community-based and politically engaged project. But in her deeply intimate memoirs about her father’s life before the gay-rights movement and her mother’s life before the women’s movement, she turns a microscopic lens on the internal mechanisms of oppression and liberation.
During her Guggenheim Fellowship term, she will be working on her third family memoir, an inquiry into the nature of family itself that will draw on sources from Margaret Mead to Family Systems Therapy to the complex sibling relationships between Alice, Henry, and William James.
Bechdel edited Best American Comics 2011. She has drawn comics for Slate, McSweeney’s, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, and Granta. Her work is widely anthologized and translated.
In the spring of 2012, Bechdel is the Mellon Residential Fellow for Arts and Practice at the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center at the University of Chicago. At Chicago, she is co-teaching a course with Neubauer Family Assistant Professor Hillary Chute called Lines of Transmission: Comics and Autobiography.
Profile photograph by Elena Seibert.
Follow this link to watch a short video interview.
Follow this link to view a recent video interview for the website of the journal Critical Inquiry.