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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Common Lives/Lesbian Lives records

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1980-1997
Creator: Common Lives/Lesbian Lives
Extent: 1.00 linear foot.
Collection Number: IWA0102
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: An Iowa-City based lesbian literary journal published all forms of creative expression written by self-defined lesbians.

Access: The records are open for research.

Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to The University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The records (donor no. 900) were donated by Jill Jack in 2003.

Preferred Citation: Common Lives/Lesbian Lives records, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Common Lives/Lesbian Lives (CL/LL), an Iowa City-based lesbian literary journal, was initiated by eight lesbians who were living in the Los Angeles area in the fall of 1980; a co-founder of Sinister Wisdom encouraged the women by stating that more lesbian journals were needed because Sinister Wisdom received more submissions than it could print. Cindy Cleary, Anne Lee, and Tracy Moore took the lead in organizing the journal following their move to Iowa City later that year. Moore had been a member of the collective that published Iowa City's feminist newsletter Ain't I a Woman? from 1971 to 1974, and the existence of both a press (Iowa City Women's Press) and a typesetter (Annie Graham) owned and operated by women made Iowa City an inviting home for the new journal. The first issue of Common Lives/Lesbian Lives was published in 1981.

The purpose of Common Lives/Lesbian Lives was to 'document the experiences and thoughts of lesbians as we claim our past, name our present conditions, and envision our evolving future.' CL/LL published all forms of creative expression including poetry, fiction, essays, drawings, memoirs, letters, photographs, and cartoons. As a matter of policy, all work published in CL/LL was produced by self-defined lesbians. CL/LL was run by a volunteer collective that varied in size from three to eight women. In addition, a significant number of volunteers helped maintain the mailing and subscription list, put out the mailings, and solicited funds. Eventually a part-time staff person was hired to handle the mail and administrative matters. All the women who worked on CL/LL were lesbians.

Common Lives/Lesbian Lives was published quarterly and reached a circulation of about 2500, including individual and institutional subscribers. CL/LL's main distributor, Inland, declared bankruptcy in 1995. Inland owed CL/LL $4,500 at the time, and this debt was never paid. CL/LL was not able to recover from this financial loss. The 1995 fall issue was not published, and eventually Issue 56, which was to be the last, was published as the 1995-1996 issue. Despite efforts to raise money, Common Lives/Lesbian Lives officially closed in 1997.

The Common Lives/Lesbian Lives (CL/LL) records date from 1980 to 1997 and measure 1 linear foot. The records are arranged in four series: Administrative, Correspondence, Controversies, and Publications.

The Administrative series (1980-1997) includes documents related to the founding of the journal such as the transcript of an audiotape made by the women at Sinister Wisdom with advice for the founders of CL/LL, as well as the procedures manual used at Sinister Wisdom. Newspaper clippings from a gay rights rally in Dubuque, Iowa, include a photo showing the Common Lives/Lesbian Lives banner being carried in the march. A smattering of financial records, collective meeting minutes, and mailings to supporters and subscribers are included. The records related to printers and vendors consist largely of invoices, except the Inland folder which contains documents related to Inland's bankruptcy. The submissions databases and journals include the name of each person who submitted work along with the date and the title of the piece submitted. The miscellaneous folder includes a few photos and essays.

The Correspondence series (1980-1997) consists of letters received by the collective from readers across the nation and outside the United States offering praise and thanks, letters from prison administrators refusing to permit certain issues of CL/LL to be delivered to inmates, and correspondence with various archives, including the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York and the Iowa Women's Archives in Iowa City. CL/LL deposited copies of all its submissions with the Lesbian Herstory Archives. The original folder titles in this series have been preserved.

The Controversies series (1982-1993), organized alphabetically, contains documents related to controversies that arose from the collective's policies that only lesbians work at CL/LL and that only the work of lesbians was to be published in CL/LL. These included a complaint filed with the University of Iowa Human Rights Commission by a heterosexual woman who claimed discrimination when the CL/LL collective turned down her offer to be an intern, and a complaint sent to the collective by a bisexual woman whose poetry was not published. In 1982, the University of Iowa printing department refused to print Issue 20 because it contained photographs of lesbians making love. CL/LL sued the University and won. The lawsuit is documented in this series. Feedback from readers on CL/LL's decision to publish two pieces in Issue 30 about sadomasochistic behavior completes the series.

The Publication series (1980-1988) includes a poem by Judy Grahn published by CL/LL in a separate booklet, and a folder containing news and information on other lesbian publications such as a Norwegian journal, Løvetann, and a copy of The La Luz Journal, published in 1980.

Browse by Series:

  • Sub-Series: History
  • Box 1:
  • Formation notes and certificate of dissolution - 1980-1981, 1997
  • Advice from "Sinister Wisdom" - 1980
  • Reviews - 1988-1989
  • Newspaper clippings, undated
  • Photographs, undated
  • Sub-Series: Financial
  • Box 1:
  • Donations - 1993-1995
  • Financial data - 1990-1996
  • Sub-Series: Operations
  • Box 1:
  • Announcements to subscribers, undated
  • Computer purchase - 1987
  • Graphic mock-ups, undated (includes photograph)
  • Meeting minutes - 1993-1996
  • Organizational forms and instructions - 1990
  • Sizing a graphic, undated
  • Volunteer work - 1986
  • Sub-Series: Printers
  • Box 1:
  • Annie Graham - 1988-1997
  • Whitehall - 1988-1996
  • Sub-Series: Submissions
  • Box 1:
  • Graphics journal - 1987-1996
  • Prose log book Issues 22-38 - 1987-1991
  • Prose database - 1991-1993
  • Miscellaneous (includes photographs) - 1984-1985
  • Sub-Series: Vendors
  • Box 2:
  • Bookstores - 1984-1996
  • Bookpeople - 1993-1996
  • Dawson - 1996-1997
  • Ebsco - 1994-1996
  • Faxon - 1994-1997
  • Fine Print - 1993-1995
  • Inland - 1987-1997
  • Box 2:
  • Archives - 1986-1994
  • Feel good letters - 1992-1994
  • Fun letters - 1987-1990
  • Hate/rape mail - 1985-1986
  • Prison administrators - 1988-1994
  • Miscellaneous - 1980-1998
  • Box 2:
  • "Bisexual uproar" - 1992-1993
  • "Heterosexual uproar" - 1993
  • Issue #30 - 1989-1990
  • Lawsuit against University of Iowa - 1986-1989
  • Box 3:
  • Lawsuit against University of Iowa - 1986-1989
  • Poetry women - 1983-1985
  • Racism - 1982-1983
  • Series 4: PUBLICATIONS
  • Box 3:
  • "Descent to the Roses of the Family," by Judy Grahn - 1986
  • Other lesbian publications - 1980-1988