Why doesn’t every women’s history class doesn’t start with a discussion about Valerie Solanas, the writer/artist who penned the play, Up Your Ass, and the SCUM manifesto? Too radical for mainstream feminists who were busy trying to determine how much to push for in abortion rights, too self-reliant to trust any support from groups, too extreme, edgy, and volatile for too many people, Solanas was a poster child for Not Taking it Anymore. Her self-described idyllic childhood included being abused by her father (and possibly step-father), having two children of her own by the time she was 15. She always identified as a writer, working steadily on the draft of SCUM and Up Your Ass for years before unleashing them onto the world. This biography, pieced together from scraps and fragments of the shattered life of a forgotten artist, honors Solanas as the brilliant, ahead-of-her-time writer that she was, not pigeonholing her (as most have) as Andy Warhol’s shooter.
Solanas lived on the edge, sleeping on rooftops and on the streets of New York, or staying with people (barely friends), perpetually dragging her trunk of writing along with her. Forever having to worry about food and shelter frayed her already fragile mental state, and her schizophrenia worsened after being released from the indescribable horrors of the mental hospital/prison (forced hysterectomy, shock treatments, inhumane living conditions). She had a few relatively stable years living in a public housing apartment with her long term boyfriend, Louis Zwiren. When he left, her support system crumbled, and although she hadn’t lost her own housing, she wandered to the streets, eventually disappearing from NYC to reappear for a few years in Phoenix, Arizona, known to the local police as “Scab Lady” because she dug up her arms with a fork. Her last three years were spent in San Francisco, at the Bristol Hotel in the Tenderloin (56 Mason Street). She was found dead in her room, kneeling on the floor with her upper torso face down on the side of the bed, covered in maggots; dead of pneumonia brought on by emphysema.
She had previously lived in the Bay Area in 1968, living in Berkeley and visiting her friend Geoffrey LeGear. During the Greyhound ride back east from this trip, she picked up one of the guns she’d use on Warhol. LeGear paid her $10,000 bail after the shooting, the slip reading “12/12/68, $10,000 cash (ten thousand), Geoffrey LeGear – 1131 Lake Street, San Francisco, Calif”
Valerie and Andy had a playful relationship early on, Fahs suggests “perhaps Valerie’s energy, vigor, and ferocity did provide Andy with an amusing contrast to his own limp personality.”
One of my favorite quotes in the book:
“Sweetie, if you’re not living on the edge, then you’re taking up space.” – Florynce Kennedy
Ben Morea’s recollection of Valerie:
She saw herself as a radical, just as I had a disdain for political liberals because I consider myself a radical. She spoke of her disgust, how stupid they were, or how shallow they were, or how one-dimensional they were, but she never came across as a really angry person. She came across as a person angered by stupidity and angered by the situation that existed but not as an angry person. I was much more like that than she was. She had a lot to contribute to the feminist political world and had a lot to offer and should be taken seriously… Radicals are ready to go over the edge. Liberals go just so far. She threatened them because she went all the way. She played out her conviction rather than just riding it.