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Diana Rivers (1931–)

Diana Rivers is an author, artist, and promoter of women’s communities and art venues. Rivers has published numerous short stories and eight novels in the genre of speculative fiction, seven of which compose the Hadra series. Rivers lives in Madison County.

Diana Rivers was born Diana Duer Smith on October 17, 1931, in New York City and grew up in suburban New Jersey near Morristown. Her parents, Schuyler Smith and Elizabeth Larocque, separated before she was three years old. Her mother wrote poems and stories, publishing a book of verse, Satan’s Shadow, in 1930. Rivers’s great aunt Caroline King Duer was a poet and an editor for Vogue magazine, and her other great aunt, Alice Duer Miller, wrote poems, stories, novels, plays, several movies, and a series of satirical poems supporting suffrage for women. Most influential in her life was her grandmother, Eleanor Duer Larocque, also an artist, who helped her study with renowned sculptor Bill Zorach; Rivers lived with him and his family in rural Maine for several summers while she was in her teens. This was also where she met her future husband.

Rivers attended Cooper Union art school in the early 1950s but left to marry Robert Folley, also an artist, and travel Europe to study art. Their first son, Kevin, was born in Paris, France, after which the three traveled by motorcycle through France, Italy, and Greece. They returned to New York City, where Rivers had son Paul, and later moved to West Nyack, New York, where son Sean was born. The family then moved to Gate Hill Coop, an intentional community of artists, writers, and musicians in Stony Point, New York.

In 1970, after she and Folley divorced, Rivers took a solo camping trip west to look for a new place to make a community. She traveled to New Mexico, where Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm commune had moved after the Woodstock festival. One commune visit led to another, and she then visited Oregon and California. Rivers had previously explored rural Arkansas, and she eventually settled in Boxley Valley near Jasper (Newton County), where she started an intentional community of people wanting to live sustainably upon the land. After a few years, Sassafras, as the community was called, became an all-women’s community. Rivers chose her last name in honor of her new life. She built her own cabin in the woods and began writing short stories based on her community experiences. She published these stories in magazines such as Sinister Wisdom, Feminary, Conditions, and Common Lives/Lesbian Lives. This was also where she wrote her first novel.

Rivers left Sassafras in 1980, wanting to start an intentional women’s land community closer to Fayetteville (Washington County). With nineteen other women, the Ozark Land Holding Association was created on several hundred acres and is still an active community in the twenty-first century.

Rivers published her first novel in the Hadra book series, Journey to Zelindar (Lace Publication), in 1987. The series features women who have special powers to communicate with one another, bond with animals, and read the minds of their enemies while also using those powers to protect themselves. She was runner-up for the Lambda Literary Award for The Red Line of Yarmald (Bella Books, 2003). Rivers won the Golden Crown Literary Award in the speculative fiction category for her novel The Smuggler, The Spy and the Spider (Bella Books, 2012). The main theme running through these novels is love and conflict between women as they struggle to create community and an alternative way of life in the face of patriarchal oppression.

In 1991, Rivers became one of the organizers of WomenVision, a month-long women’s art and performance show held for three years in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1994, WomenVision was held in Eureka Springs (Carroll County). Rivers helped start MatriArts, also a month-long women’s art and performance venue that ran for three years in Fayetteville.

Rivers continued to write and make sculpture, giving workshops on cement sculpting. She originated and was the main script writer for Goddess Productions, a traveling reader’s theater group based in Fayetteville. The performances consisted of a cast of readers and also included dancing, drumming, and flute playing, along with audience participation.

From 1990 to 1999, Rivers was one of the organizers of the Women’s Conference and Festival held each March at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville and the curator of the conference art show. Rivers was also the recipient of the Women’s Conference and Festival’s Wise Woman Award in 1999.

Rivers originated and co-founded the Goddess Festival in 2008. This started as a month-long event in Fayetteville and continues as an annual week-long event each March, coinciding with the spring equinox.

Rivers is a Pagan and an ardent lesbian-feminist involved in supporting gay rights issues as well as advocating for peace, racial equality, social justice, and ecology. She was particularly active in opposing and demonstrating against the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. Fayetteville Arkansas’s OMNI Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology acknowledged Rivers as one of the Arkansas Peace and Justice Heroes in 2005. Rivers is also an amateur naturalist.

Rivers designed her own house and helped the all-women crew to build it. Her life partner lives in her own house nearby.

For additional information:
“Diana Rivers.” Bella Books. http://www.bellabooks.com/Book-Author-Diana-Rivers-cat.html (accessed July 23, 2014).

Hadra Books. http://www.thehadra.com/ (accessed July 23, 2014).

Sbarra, Kate. “Goddess Festival: The Journey Continues.” News Flash Times, March 15, 2010. http://www.uark.edu/ua/hapgood/courses/interactivejournalism/videostory/sbarra.php (accessed July 23, 2014).

Thompson, Brock. The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2010.

Judith Blazer
Crosses, Arkansas

Last Updated 8/3/2017

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