Valerie Solanas was best known as the woman who shot Andy Warhol in 1968. In fact, there was a film made in 1996 starring Lili Taylor titled I Shot Andy Warhol about that very incident. In her biography Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote Scum (And Shot Andy Warhol), Breanne Fahs attempts to tell Solanas’ whole life story.
Despite being abused during her childhood and giving birth to a son in her teens (who was later taken away from her), Solanas still managed to graduate from the University of Maryland at College Park with a degree in psychology. She wrote for her college paper and after college began writing her best know work, the SCUM Manifesto. Valerie began the manifesto with the following: “Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation, and destroy the male sex.” This obviously wasn’t what you would find in Reader’s Digestback then. Solanas also wrote a bizarre play around the same time as her SCUM Manifesto. These two writings were at the center of feuds she had later on with Warhol and the publisher of Olympia Press, and there are those who have wondered if the shooting of Warhol was Solanas’ way of putting ideas from the SCUM Manifesto into action. Solanas was declared insane when she shot Warhol and was eventually released after stays at several mental health facilities. She suffered from varying degrees of schizophrenia for large portions of her life and her mental health seemed to deteriorate to an even greater degree during the seventies.
Fahs’ biography has some shortcomings, mainly a complete lack of information about various periods in Solanas’ life. These gaps are due to Solanas’ vagabond lifestyle (she spent many years semi or completely homeless) and her mother’s attempt to protect the family’s name. (Her mother burnt a box of Valerie’s things shortly after Valerie’s death.) Between her time at Maryland and when she shot Warho,l Valerie’s relatives believed she was attending graduate school somewhere. However, no documents have ever been found showing where she was enrolled. The holes in her life story result in Valerie Solanas focusing mostly on the time right before and right after the shooting. Fahs biography is a look at someone who truly spent much of her life far outside of mainstream culture. It is also an intriguing if ultimately saddening look at the thin line between revolutionary brilliance and madness.