Nancy Garden was an American writer, editor, teacher, theater maven, and LGBT activist. Garden is best known for her candid fiction on gay and lesbian issues. In 1982 she wrote “Annie on My Mind” one of the first teen novels to feature lesbian characters in a positive light. She is also was a children’s book author and worked in a variety of literary genres.
Garden was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and has lived most of her life in New England and New York. She obtained her BA and MA from Columbia University School of Dramatic Arts. Nancy Garden spent her early adult years working in theater, doing office work, teaching, and editing.
Ms. Garden began publishing in the early 1970s. Her first book came out when she was 43. The real success and at the same time trouble were brought to her by “Annie on My Mind”. The book is about the romantic relationship between two 17-year-old New York City girls who fall in love and embark on a fulfilling sexual relationship.
Almost immediately after publishing the novel sold out and has never been out of print. At the same time, the first young-adult book to portray a lesbian relationship was burned, banned, and destined to become the subject of a federal censorship case.
In 1993, “Annie on My Mind” was officially banned by the Kansas City school system. The Olathe School District refused to accept copies of the book for over ten years. The book was restored to library shelves only in December 1999. During this time Helen became an iconic figure in young adult literature.
In 2000, School Library Journal named “Annie on My Mind” to its list of 100 books that shaped the 20th century.
“I often write about LGBTQ characters and “controversial” subjects and ideas — not because they’re controversial, but because they concern matters I want to write about. I don’t write to defy potential book-banners; I write to tell stories that I feel are important and need to be told” said the writer in one of her later interviews.
Nancy Garden is famous not only for her works in the young adult genre. Her work ranged from humorous picture books, serious literary fiction, horror, mystery, and historical fiction to non-fiction. She is the author of the YA nonfiction book “Hear Us Out!”, as well as novels for children and the picture book “Molly's Family” (2004).
Nancy Garden won dozens of awards. She is a winner of the 2003 Margaret A. Edwards Award. She also has received the Lambda Book Award and the Robert Downs Intellectual Freedom Award.
She died suddenly on the morning of June 23, 2014, of a massive heart attack at her home in Carlisle. She was 76.
Photo credit: Midge Eliassen