Jo Sinclair

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Ruth Seid (July 1, 1913 – April 4, 1995) was a novelist who wrote under the pen name Jo Sinclair. She was Jewish, lesbian, and lived in the USA.



The Changelings (1955)


page numbers to 1998 Feminist Press edition

  • All that summer, as no white people came to rent the empty, upstairs suites of the Valenti house or the Golden house, tension had mounted in the street. Only Negroes came. (first lines)
  • "Listen to her," [he] said. "A voice like iron. That one will never rent or sell to them. They are more her enemy than ours, even. Remember...even an Italian has his Hitler." (chapter 3, p43)
  • [He] could not move for a while. When at last he went to put the last gate up over the door and to snap shut the locks, a confusion of walls and gates and locks swirled through his head. Don't make a wall in my head, he thought tremblingly. That's all I ask. Please! (chapter 6, p110)
  • For a second of intense hurt, she remembered all the fires, all the joy of those yesterdays which had merged so quickly. There had never been a calendar to life; excitement and fun had been timeless. Every day had been the present, fast and dangerous, the never-ending moment of leadership. (chapter 8, p127)
  • She saw his dreamer eyes; the dream was love, togetherness, two people together.
    She saw his whole dreamer self, and she called his name. (p297)
  • They started off the porch, and [she] felt the poems moving with her into the street, like a singing. (p309)

Wasteland (1948)


page numbers to the 1987 edition published by The Jewish Publication Society

  • Even in the secrecy of his own mind, Jake called him "the doctor." He hated the word psychiatrist. He hated it even if Debby did say it was a beautiful word. (first lines, Chapter One)
  • It was Saturday again. Today he was eager to be here. Already he shared with the walls of this office the intimacy of secrets released, the wonderful freedom of shame and pain eased, even the inch of secret, the first few stumbling steps of ease. (Chapter Three, p77)
  • The big desk was somewhat like a bridge between the doctor and him; at one end the doctor sat, and here at this end he sat, waiting for the moment when he could take a few further awkward steps upon that bridge into understanding, into reasoning. (Chapter Three, p77)
  • His own suffering, preceding the similar experiences of his nephews, makes him unwilling to face the idea of progeny. He is afraid of the continued perpetuation of "wasteland," and yet he now tries courageously to discover the truth of that condition, the source of it, perhaps the cure.... (chapter Five, p194)
  • The walls of Saturday moved in on him with a combined pressure of fear and relief, the walls of a confessional. And yet these walls were different, too, pressing as they did ever closer toward him. (Chapter Six, p195)
  • "...Do you have anything definite on which to pin your dislike? Or is it a cloak for your dislike of someone else? Or perhaps yourself?" (Chapter Five, p159)
  • You remember how that word echoed and echoed inside of you all the way home...All the way home, the word said itself in you like a squeezing fist. (Chapter Nine, p299)
  • Obstacles which have kept him from complete participation have been dissolved. At this year's ceremony, he can recognize without bitterness what is there for him, as well as what can never be there. Recognizing the inadequacies, he knows he need not be hurt by them.... (Chapter Eleven, p334)

Quotes about

  • In showing how a Jew or a lesbian stood outside the cultural mainstream in America in the early 1940s, Sinclair pioneered comparisons of sexual and ethnic difference.
    • Joyce Antler, Introduction to America and I: Short Stories by American Jewish Women Writers (1990), about Wasteland
  • Sinclair published two lesbian novels that, more than a half-century later, still merit reading. In addition, despite society’s intolerance and her own internal struggles, her 1942 draft is a brief beacon, a point at which a left-wing lesbian writer wrote about the love of two white working-class high school girls, one of them the story’s Jewish protagonist—a butch lesbian who sees connections among sexuality, gender expression, and race. Although she destroyed the 1931 draft that she had written as a teenager, she chose to send the 1942 draft to be archived, along with her other papers—knowing that, as a result, her legacy would include the draft’s teenaged lesbians. As we celebrate The Changelings as an early lesbian, feminist, and anti-racist novel, written by a Jewish lesbian, we can find in the 1942 draft a different voice, one that we have largely lost. And we should honor that voice as well.
  • Wasteland, created what gay historian Jonathan Katz has called “probably the most complex, human, and affirmative portrait of a homosexual (female or male) to appear in American fiction” before 1964.
  • Published in 1946 and winner of the prestigious Harper Prize, Jo Sinclair's Wasteland was startling for its psychological precocity and for a boldness of social feeling that linked Jews, blacks, and homosexuals as cultural outsiders in a time when very few were able to make that parallel...Wasteland is a remarkable social document, a state-of-the-art observation of the American-Jewish situation in the early forties, made calmly, clearly, and in an undefended manner. Never again would there be such calm in American-Jewish novels. As the process of assimilation went inexorably forward (and American Jews simultaneously learned the full truth of the Holocaust), a kind of frenzy seized the writers. It was as though they were terrified of what they were doing... or rather, of what they were no longer free not to do... and they became slightly hysterical. Saul Bellow and Philip Roth made the words Jewish and manic synonymous. "What are we doing? What are we doing?" their novels scream at us, from Augie March on. Jo Sinclair reminds us of the quiet before the storm, of that moment of speculation and insight that precedes the turbulence of engagement. Her novel, unquestionably, is part of the record of an absorbing and complicated piece of life.
    • Vivian Gornick from the Introduction to the 1987 edition of Wasteland published by The Jewish Publication Society
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