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VIDEOS: Meet LGBT History Month icons John Ashbery and Alison Bechdel

Editor's note: October is LGBT History Month. Each day this month, Equality Forum will feature one LGBT icon who has made notable contributions to society and SDGLN will publish the story on the Causes page.

John Ashbery

Known as one of the most successful 20th century poets, John Ashbery has won almost every major American literary award, including the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Born July 28, 1927, Ashbery graduated from Harvard University, where he studied English and served on the editorial board of the Harvard Advocate. He received his master’s degree from Columbia University.

After graduating, Ashbery spent three years in publishing before moving to Paris on a Fulbright scholarship.

Returning to the U.S. in 1957, Ashbery attended graduate classes at New York University. Thereafter, he returned to Paris, where he supported himself as an editor. He eventually moved back to the U.S. to become the executive editor of ARTNews magazine.

Ashbery’s success began with frequent publication of his poems in magazines such as Furioso and Poetry New York. While in France, his book “Some Trees” won the Yale Younger Poet’s Prize. He has won many awards, including the Bollingen Prize and the McArthur Foundation’s “Genius Award.”

His Pulitzer Prize-winning poem “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” which also won the National Book Award and the National Critics Circle Award, is unique for its triple prize status. The poem pulls together his favored themes: creating poetry and the influence of visual arts on his work.

Ashbery’s career has been marked by controversy. Response to his poetry ranges from praise for his brilliant expressionism and use of language to condemnation for his work’s nonsensical and elusive nature.

A prolific writer, he has published over 20 books of poetry, beginning with “Tourandot and Other Poems.” His work has been compared to modernist painters such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Critics assert that he is trying to translate visual modern art into written language.

Since 1974, he has supported himself through teaching positions, the last of which was as the Charles P. Stevens, Jr. Professor of Language and Literature at Bard College. He lives in upstate New York, where he continues to write poetry.

Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel is a celebrated cartoonist and author of the long-running comic strip, “Dykes To Watch Out For.” Her groundbreaking graphic memoir, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” was awarded the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book.

A native of central Pennsylvania, Bechdel, born Sept. 10, 1960, grew up in a small town with her siblings. Her parents both taught at the local high school and her father, the subject of her first memoir, was the town’s mortician.

Bechdel attended Oberlin College, where she graduated with a B.A. in 1981.

“Dykes to Watch Out For” was published in 1983 and became a syndicated comic strip in 1985. With her signature subtle wit, Bechdel took on the complex and often stereotyped world of lesbian relationships through her comic alter ego, Mo. The strip has become a cult classic.

In the late 1990’s, Bechdel began work on her first graphic memoir about her family, “Fun Home," which focuses on her relationship with her father and his death.

Time Magazine honored “Fun Home” as No. 1 of the 10 Best Books of 2006, calling it “a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other.” The book won a Lambda Book Award, an Eisner Award and the 2006 Publishing Triangle’s Judy Grahn Nonfiction Award. It was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award.

“Dykes to Watch Out For” continued production for 25 years. In 2008, Bechdel suspended work on the award-winning comic strip to create a graphic memoir about relationships. The same year, Houghton Mifflin published a complete collection of her work, “The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.”

For more information about LGBT History Month, click HERE.

Top left photo: John Ashbery; bottom left photo: Alison Bechdel.