Nancy Garden, the trailblazing lesbian author of young adult novels, died of a heart attack in her Carlisle, Mass., home on June 23. She was 76 years old.
Born in Boston in 1938, Garden spent her early career studying theater and speech. She worked as an editor for a number of New York publishers, and by 1971 had released her first novel, What Happened in Marston. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Massachusetts with her partner Sandra Scott, and began devoting herself to writing middle- and teenage fiction, non-fiction, and children's books.
While she authored more than 30 books, Garden was best known for her 1982 novel Annie on My Mind. Set in New York City, the story follows two high school girls who meet by chance and are drawn do each other — both romantically and, in a manner well ahead of the times Garden was writing in, sexually — despite their families' class differences and disapproving peers.
Over the years, Annie on My Mind has been burned and banned, according to the New York Times. Although widely revered by critics and readers, the book's positive depiction of a same-sex relationship has been consistently attacked by conservatives, including those on the Kansas City School board who were famously brought to trial by students over censorship in 1993.
Throughout her 40-year career, Garden's work won dozens of awards, including the American Library Association's Margaret E. Edwards Award for contributions to young adult fiction. In 2000, Annie on My Mind was named one of the 100 Books that Shaped the 20th Century by the School Library Journal.
Adolescent readers always held a special place in Garden's heart. In an interview with author Cynthia Leitich Smith, as quoted in the Lambda Literary Review, Garden explained "I like children and teens so much and feel they're important, special people. There's something very exciting about a person who's in the process of becoming, of forming his or her identity."
Of her inspirations, Garden told Smith, "When I was growing up as a young lesbian in the '50s, I looked in vain for books about my people. I did find some paperbacks with lurid covers in the local bus station, but they ended with the gay characters committing suicide, dying by car crash, being sent to a mental hospital, or 'turning' heterosexual."
Garden spent the rest of her life making sure that future young lesbians, as well as gay and bisexual readers, could encounter more positive and complex representations of themselves in literature. Considering her body of work, it's easy to see that she succeeded, and has inspired countless others to continue doing so.