University of Minnesota
Department of English

Department of English

Toni A. McNaron


Professor Emerita

Recent Activities

  • Voices from the Gaps--A website devoted to the writings of women of color
  • College in the Schools Literature Program
  • Bush Faculty Development Program on Excellence and Diversity in Teaching

Honors and Awards

  • Morse Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award
  • CLA Distinguished Teacher Award
  • CEE Outstanding Teacher Award
  • Ruth Christie Award for Teaching
  • Technology Enhanced Learning Award

Central Interests

  • Shakespeare
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Lesbian poetry
  • Feminist criticism
  • Feminist pedagogy
  • Milton


  • Education
    University of Wisconsin, Ph.D.
    Vanderbilt University, M.A.
    University of Alabama, B.A.

  • Job history
    All Saints' Episcopal College, Vicksburg, MS, 1959-61
    University of Minnesota, 1964-


  • Books

    Poisoned Ivy coverPoisoned Ivy: Lesbian and Gay Academics Confronting Homophobia. Temple University Press, 1996.

    Lesbian and gay books and conference papers might be hot items these days, but lesbian and gay academics all over the country are still subjected to homophobic personal slights, harassment, and discrimination. How do they cope, and what kinds of actions can arbitrate positive change? In Poisoned Ivy, Toni A. H. McNaron tells her own story and reports on the experience of some 300 lesbian and gay academics with at least fifteen years in their profession. McNaron, a lesbian who has spent thirty years teaching English at one institution, tells of her own painful steps toward coming out to colleagues and students. Recalling her terror of being identified as lesbian, she describes how she awkwardly attempted to befriend other (probably closeted) faculty members and stifled class discussions that veered too close to the taboo topic of sexuality. Like McNaron, faculty from a wide range of disciplines, geographical regions, and institutions speak out about their long-term experience in negotiating the difficult terrain of casual conversations with colleagues, departmental politics, and administration policies . Each had to weigh carefully the risks of coming out, and their stories dramatically underscore that no decision fits all situations. In stark contrast to accounts of being denied tenure or promotion are testimonies about the elation that comes from doing lesbian/gay scholarship, political work on campus, or mentoring students and junior faculty. As numerous personal testimonies make clear, the bad old days are far from over. Lesbian and gay individuals flourish in relatively few progressive departments and institutions; at others, they find ambivalent or inhospitable responses. Seeing the hard-won gains in civil liberties under siege all over the country, some lesbian and gay faculty wonder whether they were wise to come out; others are steadfast in their choice but not sanguine about the threat to their careers. Poisoned Ivy is an unsparing account of contemporary academic life. (from the back cover)

    New Lesbian Studies coverNew Lesbian Studies: Into the 21st Century. Feminist Press, 1996.

    "The New Lesbian Studies is monumental and passionate--the only book of its kind. . . [It] provides a lively chronicle of the growth and development of lesbian scholarship while it poses some key questions: What is the future of lesbian studies? How is this future shaped by queer studies on the one hand and feminism and women's studies on the other? With impressive breadth, these essays explore these questions as they address issues of identity and community, the challenges of teaching, the impact of new research, and the transformation of institutions. The substantial number of essays by women of color and the contributions by international scholars provide new perspectives, information, and approaches that move the field forward. The clarity and energy of the writing make this work an excellent introductory text for newcomers, while the complexity of the issues considered makes it invaluable for experienced scholars in the field." --Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy, Professor, American Studies and Women's Studies at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and author of Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold
    "An important collection that brings together outstanding lesbian classics with a wealth of new and diverse perspectives on research, teaching, and institutional survival. It is sure to become a major resource for lesbian studies classes." --Estelle S. Freedman, Professor, History and Chair of the Program in Feminist Studies, Stanford University, and Author of Their Sisters' Keepers and Material Justice
    "A well-woven, multicultural work that augments, illuminates, and supports a too-long-ignored field. With its collection of diversified voices, sharing common and uncommon experiences and knowledge, this book is not only for classrooms and libraries, but also for homes." --Ann Allen Shockley, Author of Loving Her (from the back cover) I Dwell in Possibility"I Dwell in Possibility": A Memoir. New York: Feminist Press, 1992.

    Raised near Birmingham, Alabama, Toni McNaron witnessed Bull Connor's savage enforcement of Jim Crow laws, began college with the first black woman to attend the University of Alabama, and was herself silenced by the fearful secrecy enveloping lesbianism in the fifties and sixties. Now a writer, activist, and teacher, McNaron writes courageously of alcoholism and recovery, blocked ambition, coming out, and personal and professional rebirth.
    "I Dwell in Possibility is an engrossingly good read in the tradition of Audre Lorde's Zombi and Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Toni McNaron's wonderful autobiography sensitively depicts the contradictory combination of racial privilege and sexual difference as they shape the dreams and longings of a white girl who did not fit the mold of southern belle." --Susan Stanford Friedman, Professor of English and Women's Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and author of Penelope's Web: Gender, Modernity and H.D.'s Fiction
    "This book will be invaluable to many audiences, both those struggling with their own coming to language and those moving from isolation to lesbian community. Its power and spirit capture with great precision the pleasures of victories large and small, in the effort to become a complete self." --Carolyn Allen, Professor of English and Women's Studies, University of Washington (from the back cover) The Sister Bond: Feminist View of a Timeless Connection. Editor. New York: Pergamon Press, 1985. Voices in the Night coverVoices in the Night: Women Speaking about Incest. Ed., with Yarrow Morgan. Minneapolis: Cleis Press, 1983.

    "... We must print our voices ourselves and review those printings and write serious criticism of such literature. We must do it because otherwise this huge reality for one-third of all women will be romanticized or buried or trivialized or mocked, like so much else of our history and culture." --Toni A. H. McNaron and Yarrow Morgan, from the Introduction Will the Canon Survive? Teaching Women Writers. Occasional Papers 2. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Center for Humanistic Studies, 1985.

Recent Articles

  • "Here Today, Not Gone Tomorrow," in National Teaching & Learning Forum, Vol 7: No 2, 1998.
  • "Raked with Wonder: A White Teaches Sula," in Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison, ed. Nellie McKay and Kathryn Earle. New York: Modern Language Association, 1997, 34-40.
  • "A Lesbian Reading Virginia Woolf," in Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings, ed. Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer. New York: New York University Press, 1997, 10-21.
  • "Mirrors and Likeness: A Lesbian Aesthetic in the Making." Lesbian Literary Theory. Eds. Julia Penelope and Susan Wolfe. Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1991.
  • "The Uneasy Solace of Art: The Effect of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Virginia Woolf's Aesthetic." Women's Studies International Forum (Fall 1991).

Other Articles

  • "Little Women and Cinderella: Sisters and Competition." Competition: A Feminist Taboo? New York: Feminist Press, 1987. 121-30.
  • "Echoes of Virginia Woolf." Women's Studies International Forum 6 (l983): 50l-07.
  • "Finding and Studying Lesbian Culture." Radical Teacher 6 (1977): 14-20.
  • Other articles in Hurricane Alice, Lesbian Studies, Sinister Wisdom, Women's Review of Books, Women's Studies Quarterly.


  • Graduate seminars
    • Dickinson & Company
    • Practicum in the Teaching of Literature
    • Virginia Woolf, Critic

  • Combined graduate and undergraduate courses
    • Southern Women Writers and the Short Story

  • Courses for undergraduate majors
    • Marriage in the Life and Work of Virginia Woolf
    • Black Women Poets
    • Toni Morrison