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Rita Mae Brown was born in Hanover, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Florida, and as of 2004 lived outside Charlottesville, Virginia. She is a mystery writer and screenwriter best known for her Mrs. Murphy mystery series and her first novel, Rubyfruit Jungle. Published in 1973, it dealt with lesbian themes in an explicit manner unusual for the time.
In the 1960s, Brown attended the University of Florida but transferred. She moved to New York and attended New York University, where she received a degree in classics and English. Later she received another degree in cinematography from the New York School of Visual Arts. She also holds a doctorate in political science from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
In the late 1960s, Brown turned her attention to politics. She became active in the American Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the Gay Liberation movement and the feminist movement. She co-founded the Student Homophile League and participated in the Stonewall riots in New York City. She took an administrative position with the fledgling National Organization for Women, but angrily resigned in February 1970 over Betty Friedan's anti-gay remarks and NOW's attempts to distance itself from lesbian organizations. She played a leading role in the "Lavender Menace" zap of the Second Congress to Unite Women on May 1, 1970, which protested about Friedan's remarks and the exclusion of lesbians from the women's movement.
In the early 1970s, she became a founding member of The Furies Collective, a lesbian feminist newspaper collective which held that heterosexuality was the root of all oppression. She has said, "I don't believe in straight or gay. I really don't. I think we're all degrees of bisexual."
Brown enjoys American fox hunting and is master of her Fox Hunt Club. She has also played polo, and started the women-only Blue Ridge Polo Club.