Dr. Bonnie Zimmerman, Distinguished Faculty and Administrator
Dr. Bonnie Zimmerman was born in 1947 in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. Her primary childhood interests were books, theater, and music. This interest in music would guide her to Indiana University, where she began studying classical voice but ultimately graduated with honors in 1968 with a degree in Philosophy. Dr. Zimmerman went on to earn a doctorate in English from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo.
It was at SUNY Buffalo in the late 1960s that Dr. Zimmerman discovered her feminist politics and, in her words, became who she is. Active involvement in consciousness-raising groups for the first time led her to positively embrace her identity as a lesbian. Dr. Zimmerman became a founding member of the Women’s Studies College at SUNY Buffalo in 1970, where she created and taught numerous courses in women’s studies, women’s literature, and feminist theory.
In 1978, Dr. Zimmerman accepted a position as a temporary lecturer at SDSU’s groundbreaking Women’s Studies department—the first Women’s Studies program in the country. As her career bloomed, she went on to become a professor and eventually chair of the department, and came to be recognized as one of the nation’s top lesbian scholars. Dr. Zimmerman became especially known for her published articles, the best known of which, “What Has Never Been: An Overview of Lesbian Feminist Literary Criticism,” has been anthologized in the Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism.
Dr. Zimmerman has published extensively, including the books, Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia; The New Lesbian Studies: Into the 21st Century; Professions of Desire; Lesbian and Gay Studies in Literature; and The Safe Sea of Women: Lesbian Fiction, 1969 to 1989. She has also been an active member of the Modern Language Association and the National Women’s Studies Association, of which she served as president in 1998 and 1999. From 2003 until 2010, she was associate Vice-president of Faculty Affairs, having previously served as the chair of the university senate.
Dr. Zimmerman has received numerous awards throughout her career, including the Most Influential Faculty Awards in English and Comparative Literature in 1982, and in Women’s Studies in 1985, 1990, and 1999. She was also the recipient of the Lambda Literary Award and Emily Toth Award in 1991, as well as the Positive Visibility Award from GLAAD in 1996. Her contribution and service to the university have been recognized in such honors as the Alumni Award for Outstanding Faculty Contribution to the University in 2003, and the Alumni Association Distinguished Faculty Award in 2004. Dr. Zimmerman retired in 2010.
Download the PDF transcript.
Dr. Zimmerman's oral history documents her early life, education, and career, including her stints as a faculty member and university administrator, until her retirement in 2010. The oral history consists of two parts. Part 1 includes Dr. Zimmerman's recollections of childhood and higher education, particularly her formative experience as a graduate student at SUNY Buffalo, where she discovered consciousness-raising groups and the women's liberation movement for the first time.
In Part 2, Dr. Zimmerman reflects on her satisfying 32-year long career at San Diego State University. She recounts her job interview to be a lecturer in the nation's first-ever Women's Studies department, and talks about some of the landmark articles she published as a faculty member which led to her being recognized as a preeminent lesbian scholar. Finally, Dr. Zimmerman discusses her transition to administrative leadership roles within the university senate and Office of Faculty Affairs, and what it's like to be entering retirement.
Interview recorded digitally by Susan Resnik, Ph.D on September 7, 2010.