Arts Listings

Dorothy Bryant Honored With Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Award

By Estelle Jelinek, Special to the Planet
Thursday April 16, 2009 - 06:46:00 PM

Finally! Dorothy Bryant is getting the recognition she deserves. For more than four decades Dorothy Calvetti Bryant has been churning out book after book—novels, plays and nonfiction—with an amazing versatility in themes and characters.  

Take, for example, Ella Price’s Journal, her very first novel, about a re-entry student at a junior college struggling to sort out her life. At the time the book was published, I was teaching at a junior college that offered its first course in women’s literature, so when the jacket copy noted that the author lived in Berkeley, I called her up and invited her to the class. The students were thrilled to meet an author in the flesh and whose book they loved. And so was I. 

“Work” is the operative word in this writer’s life, every day, every morning. One dare not call her at that time of day, and her devoted husband, Bob Bryant, protects her privacy. In 1976 Dorothy and Bob started Ata Books, their very own press, which, beginning with Miss Giardino, published most of Dorothy’s books. 

“When I first started to self-publish,” Dorothy said, “I was angry at the larger publishers. But then I learned how big business works, and I realized it was just a matter of economics. The way publishers run their business, they just can’t handle the kind of products I offer. If they did, they’d have to retool their entire operation, and why should they? They do what they do. And now, so do I.” 

In addition to Miss Giardino, others followed in quick succession: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You (1976), The Garden of Eros (1979), Prisoners (1980), Killing Wonder (1981), A Day in San Francisco (1983), and Confessions of Madame Psyche (1986)—and two works of nonfiction—Writing a Novel (1983) and Myths to Lie By (1984). 

When, in the 1990s, Dorothy turned to writing plays, thanks to our connection through a feminist study group, I was able to attend several readings of her plays in progress—Dear Master (1991), a dialogue between George Sand and Gustave Flaubert; The Trial of Cornelia Connelly (2003); The Panel (1994), about Simone Weil; Tea with Mrs. Hardy (1992); and Eros in Love (2006). 

Along the way has come recognition: In 1997 the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award for Confessions of Madame Psyche, which was also performed in a shortened version by Word for Word; and Aurora Theatre’s choosing Dear Master as its debut production in 1991, as well as naming its theater after Sand’s real first name. 

It seems that Dorothy can turn any subject or event into a creative work, and all of her novels traverse the space between the real world and her character’s inner psyche or soul. Take, for example, A Day in San Francisco, about the then-unknown onset of the AIDS epidemic. When it got a trouncing for being “hysterical,” she began her collection, Literary Lynchings. Others who suffered similar attacks by “literary lynch mobs” include Turgenev, Hardy, Kate Chopin, Orwell, Arendt, and Styron—all of whose essays you’re free to read at your leisure at 

The Northern California Book Reviewers 28th annual awards ceremony will be held April 19. The awards honor the work of Northern California authors of novels, nonfiction, poetry, andchildren’s literature, plus translators. Dorothy Bryant is being given the Fred Cody Award, a lifetime achievement award to honor a Northern California literary figure with an important body of work. The annual award honors those, who like Fred Cody, have given much to the community. Don’t miss this celebration of Dorothy Bryant’s lifelong achievement.  




1 p.m., followed by a book signing and reception from 2:30-4 p.m. Sunday, April 19, at the Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin St. Free admission.