Terry Baum was born November 27, 1946 in Los Angeles. She describes her early life in LA as a “reasonably happy Jewish middle-class childhood.” During her reasonably happy adolescence, she discovered the joy of theater. For a high school class, she wrote a journalism-themed musical parody of My Fair Lady, retitled My Fair Reporter. While her theatrical career began with songs like “I could have typed all night,” she went on to write and direct plays that tackle political and social issues ranging from gay marriage and the Holocaust to religious conversion and queer history.
In 1968 while pursuing a degree in theater at Antioch College in Ohio, Terry made her directorial debut with Jack or the Submission. Two years later, Terry received an incredible education when she went to work as legendary feminist and politician Bella Azbug’s personal assistant during her first political campaign, which culminated when Azbug was elected to Congress.
Many years later, Terry would return to politics. But first, she wrote political plays about gay marriage, including Immediate Family in 1983. After founding a community theater in Santa Barbara, and a feminist theater group called Lilith in San Francisco, Terry moving to Amsterdam in search of more support for her work. While Terry’s professional life flourished, her family increasingly shamed her for coming out as a lesbian and rejected her chosen career path. Still, Terry pursued theater and toured multiple shows throughout the US and Europe.
Theater and politics are constant threads through Terry’s life. In 1992, she worked for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. By 2003, she was active in the Green Party, and in 2004, she ran an upstart campaign to try and unseat longtime San Francisco congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. After being prevented by law from being listed on the ballot, Terry won 2.9% of the votes—the largest percentage for any write-in candidate for Congress in history.
In 2014, Terry premiered her play “Hick: A Love Story”, based on 2,336 letters from Eleanor Roosevelt to Lorena Hickok, her intimate friend and, most likely, her lover. Today, Terry continues to create theatrical spaces for narrating LGBTQ stories, giving voice to feminist, queer, gay, and Jewish histories.
OUTWORDS interviewed Terry in May 2017, on a quintessential San Francisco Spring day. Terry was warm, funny, and feisty. But the most moving part of her interview was hearing how she was only now giving artistic expression to lifelong questions about women’s rage – its beauty, its potency, and why most of our society finds it so incredibly scary.