In Memoriam: Sarah Dreher

I just heard of the death of Sarah Dreher via one of my Twitter-mates. I suppose Twitter can be useful in that sense, though bad news is bad news regardless of the medium through which you receive it.

Dreher was a playwright and author, and also a practicing psychologist. She died April 2 of this year, a week after celebrating her 75th birthday. You can find an obituary for her here. She was a Lambda Literary Award winner, as well as an Alice B. Readers’ medalist.

I remember her best for her Stoner McTavish mystery series. I read the first one soon after I finished Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness, and it was a breath of fresh air after the sadness and tragedy embedded in Hall’s work. In Dreher’s work, I found a lesbian character who didn’t die in the end and who managed to get into a realistic relationship. Dreher’s McTavish series was probably the first genre lesbian fiction I read, and in a way, it was revolutionary and showed me what was possible in terms of writing LGBT characters and, more importantly, writing human characters.

Dreher never let a reader off easy, but her gentle humor and empathy for her characters — all of them, whether damaged, suffering, or searching — created nuanced and layered mysteries that were as much an exploration of the human condition as they were about lesbian and women’s identity against a variety of backdrops. Life is complicated. People are complicated. And Dreher knew that and gracefully wove it into her stories.

In 1997, she published Solitaire and Brahms, a novel about being a lesbian in the 1950s, and the ever-present tensions between public and private lives, a theme that seems to echo in some of her other work.

She contributed essays and writings to a number of projects, including Off the Rag: Lesbians Writing about Menopause, ed. by Lee Lynch and Akia Woods. “Waiting for Stonewall” appears in Sexual Practice/Textual Theory: Lesbian Cultural Criticism, ed. by Susan J. Wolfe and Julia Penelope. You’ll also find a contributed chapter to They Wrote the Book: Thirteen Women Mystery Writers Tell All, ed. by Helen Windrath.

You can find a collection of her plays here (published 1988), for a sense of how she brought her characters from page to stage and into the hearts and minds of audiences.

Dreher was busy in her non-writing life, as well. She was the co-founder (and, for the past seven years, president and clinical director) of Sunrise Amanacer, Inc., a non-profit organization concerned with the mental and physical health of underserved and non-English-speaking people. I like to think that the different facets of her life fed her creative mind, and allowed us a glimpse of who she may have been and the many possibilities there are for seeing each other and for those we don’t know. The prism of shared humanity offers many different views. I think Dreher’s was wide, encompassing, and always compassionate.

You can find her mysteries, plays, and novel at New Victoria Publishers here.

If you’d like to leave a comment in her memorial register, go here.
NOTE: you may have to cut and paste the link. Here it is:
If that doesn’t work, go to and type Dreher into their search function, upper right. My apologies; the site may require that you clear your cache or refresh your browser to get to her page.

9 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Sarah Dreher

  1. What I remember and love the most about Dreher’s Stoner McTavish series (1985-1998) is the humor that was organic, natural in each book. Next there was the very human characters. Stoner McTavish is one of the most endearing characters we have in the body of lesbian literature.

    In honor of her wonderful contribution to our culture, I hope that those who have not read Dreher’s work will do so.

  2. Second that, Bett. The humor gave her books a warmth, too, that really resonated with me. Fortunately, you can still get her work. Like you, I hope others read it.

  3. I loved the Stoner McTavish series and always wished Dreher had written more of them. Like you, Andi, they were some of the earliest lesfic I read where the characters were happy and well-adjusted and women I could relate to. It gave me hope for my own life in those early days of coming out and I will always be grateful that those books were there for me at such an important time. Thanks for posting this. I am sorry to hear of her passing.


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  5. I just now saw this via one of the link round up posts at The Lesbrary. It’s the first I’ve heard of Ms. Dreher’s passing and it’s sad news indeed. I think Bett put it perfectly, that Stoner is one of the most endearing characters in lesbian lit. I’m also quite fond of the Solitaire and Brahms novel. Thanks for posting this for me to stumble over or I’d never have known.

    • Sure thing. I had heard she was ill last year, I believe it was, but I don’t know with what and I don’t know if that was related to her death. I was quite sad to hear that she had left us, but grateful, nonetheless, for the legacy she left, as well.

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  7. I am heartened to see the kind words written about Sarah. She was the most unique and amazing person I have had the pleasure to know and love. Her writing was always brave and honest. That’s the greatest compliment I can give. Lis Brook

    • Thank you so much for stopping by. She had quite an impact. I wonder if she realized it. Regardless, she did leave a legacy and I am grateful for that.

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