Rita Mae Brown may be a queer literary lion, but she prefers a different cat

THE BROWN VERSION  |  Lesbian author and activist Rita Mae Brown shares credit with her cat Sneaky Pie on a series of mystery novels.

THE BROWN VERSION | Lesbian author and activist Rita Mae Brown shares credit with her cat Sneaky Pie on a series of mystery novels.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Thirty years ago, Rubyfruit Jungle entered the ranks of the lesbian must-read curriculum, one of the most acclaimed gay books ever. That’s great for its author, Rita Mae Brown — but she’d rather talk about the secret lives of animals.

“I don’t feel any pressure by that sort of reputation,” she says. “If someone wants to read it, then that makes me happy. I think we can learn from every single thing out there even if our primary sense is sight. But animals can sense so much more and they get to really experience life. We don’t as much.”

Brown not only has a penchant for all animals, she’s even credited her cat Sneaky Pie as co-author on a popular series of cozy mysteries. They just released their 20th book, The Big Cat Nap.

Brown comes to Dallas for a book-signing at Barnes and Noble on Friday and appears at the Federal Club’s Her HRC mixer on Saturday. Famous for her activism and feminism in the ’70s, Brown’s interest in the battles for equal rights hasn’t waned, but she picks them better.

“I don’t think the answers are in the legislation,” she says. “Laws are useless if you can’t enforce them, and if you can’t eat. I want to address how people get education and make a living.”

Her concern for the social welfare comes with the admission that she’s not a social person — with people, at least. She jokes that she was fox hunting in her mother’s womb (not the killing kind) and wouldn’t mind having four legs of her own to go off into the wild. Her passion ignites when the conversation switches from books and politics to the wild kingdom. Brown goes so far as to maybe prefer a pet to a lover.

“They truly love you for yourself and don’t care what you look like or what sex you are,” she says. (Brown famously dated tennis legend Martina Navratilova in the early 1980s.) “You’ll never find that in another human being. You always have to be something to someone and those categories are intrinsically false. Animals are so much smarter.”

This is something she says she learned while fox hunting, which she still participates in. Again, for PETA’s sake, she doesn’t kill foxes. But the activity has yielded far more life lessons than caging a wily fox.

“You learn to be quiet, because if you don’t, you’ll miss something vital,” she says. “We live in such a chattering age and it’s the hardest thing to shut people up. We used to know how to communicate with animals and now we completely ignore what they do for us. I learned that so vividly. This really is the joy of my life.”

Brown had a busy 2008, publishing four books in one year, and she continues to write prolifically. But she has strayed away from her poetry and screenplays. She doesn’t watch television unless she has to (she does as a member of Television Academy and Emmy voter), but television now doesn’t impress her and she’s not on board writing for today’s audiences.

“The business has changed so dramatically,” she says. “I prize wit and there’s very little of it. What passes for funny are insults. If I watch anything, it’s gonna be football.”

And Sneaky Pie Brown won’t likely be far away.

Brown appears at the Lincoln Park Barnes & Noble, 7700 W. Northwest Hwy. April 13 at 7 p.m. and at the Irvin and Bardwell residence, 7219 Robin Road, April 14 at 11 a.m. DFWFederalClub.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 13, 2012.