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I was so sorry to learn, via Paul Lisicky, that Deborah Digges has died.

She was a poet. I met her only once, almost twenty years ago at a writers conference. I was in a workshop with Terry McMillan, and my clearest memory is dancing in a circle with Terry and Deborah, who was also teaching, and a couple of high school aged writers at a party, while some others looked on a little bit sourly ("That's not dancing, that's aerobics," I remember hearing one of the male faculty poets say.) It was just the length of a song, but it's a strong impression: Deborah being kind and willing to appear at least a little bit wild. I think she had on hip huggers. I thought of her as very beautiful.

Right after that, I read her Late in the Millennium. I remember lying on my back on the bed in Chesterfield, being moved and amazed. I loved the poem about her mother, "The Rockettes." I went looking for the book tonight, and couldn't find it. but here is a link to a stunning poem, Telling the Bees, about her father's death. There's a recording there, too, so, if you want to, you can hear her voice.
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I'm so sorry to hear that Eve Sedgwick has died.

Condolences to those who knew her and are grieving, and to all of those who have been touched, challenged and expanded by her work.

Nobody knows more fully, more fatalistically than a fat women how unbridgeable the gap is between the self we see and the self as whom we are seen; no one, perhaps, has more practice at straining and straining to span the binocular view between; and no one can appreciate more fervently the act of magical faith by which it may be possible, at last, to assert and believe, against every social possibility, that the self we see can be made visible as if through our own eyes to the people who see us. 256
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
From "White Glasses" in Tendencies

Del Martin

Aug. 27th, 2008 05:57 pm
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Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, originally uploaded by susanliz.

I only heard Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon speak once. It was at the National Women's Studies Conference in Boston in 2000, and it was in a huge, very hot room. I was in the back, in front of one of maybe two fans, and I could barely hear Del in the front. If I leaned forward, though, I could tell what she was doing. She was giving a history of actions she'd been involved in, and she was listing names, trying to make sure that we knew how many others had been involved in the work she and Phyllis had done over the years, that they were part of communities and movements, and that what every single person had contributed had mattered. I was sweating and irritable, about to get a bus home, but now, I'm so glad that I was there, and heard the faint, strong voice of Del Martin doing that.

May her work be honored and remembered. May the ones who knew and loved her find the things they need to mourn.

ETA, via [ profile] fflo

A blog entry by Del's friend Kate, of the National Center for Lesbian Rights

Del Martin Obituary

Toni Brown

Apr. 20th, 2008 08:11 am
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Edited to add: There is a memorial for Toni this Sunday, April 27, at the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia -- 230 Vine Street, Philadelphia , PA 19106 from 2 to 4, people are invited to bring memories, photos of Toni they may have, and light refreshments to share. Her family will be there. There is info on parking and directions in a comment below.

I saw the following information, with more of Toni's strong, strong poetry, here.

Toni Brown Memorials

Friday, April 25, 2008
Trinity Episcopal Church
3 Goddard Avenue
Rockland, Massachusetts

My friend, writer Toni Brown, has died. She's the beautiful African American woman in the middle in the picture above, which was taken the last time I saw her, at a reading in Northampton two and a half years ago.

I just heard this, and can barely believe it. Toni had such gorgeous, generous habits. Once, when we were in a tiny plane to Philadelphia to do a reading -- we did that, we had a reading in Northampton for a Philadelphia feminist writers group, and they held a reading in Philadelphia for us, mostly, I think, through Toni's wide network of friends, but also because we'd been running into each other at the OutWrite conference in Boston. So we were crammed into these way too small seats on a little plane that was bouncing with the weather, and when I told Toni I was sorry for taking up some of her scarce room, she leaned closer, snuggled in, and said, "Yum," or words to that effect. That is probably the best moment that I have ever had on a plane in my life.

After Toni moved to Philadelphia, she put me up more than once when I was travelling through to give readings. She introduced me when I read at Giovanni's Room after a Nolose conference. I know that some of the folks on my friendslist were there, so you might remember her. After the reading (it's one that kind of shimmers in my mind as intense and intimate), she and Janet Mason walked with me to the car. Toni had brought a copy of my book, Belly Songs (which was itself published by a micropress Sally Bellerose, Janet Aalfs and I -- all above! -- formed out of the writers group), and, since she asked me to, I read it aloud on the sidewalk to her and Janet as they leaned against the car.

We haven't been keeping in close touch, but, oh, I'll miss having her here in the world. If I hear more about a memorial, I'll post it.

Jane Rule

Dec. 7th, 2007 08:39 am
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Jane Rule has died.

She wrote Desert of the Heart when I was just one year old. A brave, engaged and productive life.
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I just read in the New York Times that architechture critic Herbert Muschamp has died. He was fifty-nine.

Read more... )
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My cat, Black Kitty, died yesterday. He wasn't young -- he'd lived with me for twelve years, and with my love for a few years before that, and he was a grown cat who needed a home when she got him -- but he hadn't been ill, so this was unexpected and sad. He was quirky, a good mouser, and, lately, he loved when I had working days in which I would write for forty-five minutes, and then take fifteen minute breaks over the phone with friends who were working, too -- he would jump up on the couch and start purring when the phone rang because I would brush him during my breaks. He often wanted to be close to me, but other sources of warmth -- sunlight, heat vents -- had pretty strong pulls, too. I have some fading scratches on my belly where he jumped on top of me and tried to get comfortable when I was stretching on the floor the other day.

He gave long, loud anguished cries like I had never heard just before he died. We buried him yesterday evening up in Chesterfield, where the ground has just thawed, planted flowers in the fresh turned dirt, and I cried.
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The thing I loved most about Kurt Vonnegut as a writer was that I once heard him read an essay that described the sensuality of putting a manuscript into a manila envelope and taking it to the post office.
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I am thinking about Heather, who I knew through the unforgettable impact of her public self. Read more... )
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Yesterday, I took the bus to Amherst to go to the reading in honor of Tillie Olsen on her ninety-fifth birthday, which also served as a memorial for her. It was raining, a little cold. I was looking at her book Silences while I was waiting for the bus and while I was riding. It moved me very much, and made me think, again, how lucky I was to find this work when I was just starting to write fiction, and how important it's been to me. Reading there and listening at the memorial made me decided to post excerpts from her work here this week.

I was a little late, and the small group were already sitting in a semicircle at the bookstore, reading aloud. Most seemed to know Tillie, from her time at Amherst College, and also there was at least one person there who was part of her family. There were gorgeous bits of her fiction, especially from "Oh Yes" from Tell Me A Riddle. And people told small stories -- how excited she was to see a car with an IWW bumper sticker, and started belting out, "Solidarity Forever," in which the driver, getting out of the car, joined her.

I read from Silences )
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As suggested by Tillie's family at their website about her:

Sunday, January 14th at 3:00—5:00 P.M.  (Memorial Gathering)
Tillie Olsen
, writer, feminist, scholar, & lifelong activist for social justice, died on New Year’s Day in Oakland, California.   This Sunday, which would have been her 95th birthday, there will be a gathering to celebrate her life.   All who were touched by her work are warmly welcome to come &, if they wish, read aloud a short passage of their choice from Tillie’s writings.

All events at the bookstore are free & open to the public.

Amherst Books
8 Main Street
Amherst, MA 01002

For more information, please visit us at Amherst Books.
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Tillie Olsen has died at 94.

Her book Silences was crucial to me as I was forming my identity as a writer. One phrase from that book that I never forgot: "the knife of the perfectionist attitude." It was one of the things she listed as silencing writers -- part of her passionate examination of silences caused in writers because of oppression based on sex, race and class -- and I recognized it, and the blade, the cut of it, so clearly in myself.

Tell Me a Riddle, a collection of short stories, was another book that helped me see that I could write about things that the culture as a whole found too trivial for serious examination in fiction. I remember reading them on the bus. Her work has given me big gifts, for sure.
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Many of you will have already heard: Octavia Butler died yesterday.

When I was at Norcroft, the women's writing retreat in Minnesota last summer, I got to bring home a few books from the library, as did every other resident last year, since the retreat was closing. There were a lot of books there I wanted, but I picked Oroonoko by Aphra Behn and the three books of Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series. I still haven't read Behn, but I tore through those Butler novels. They are very tough-minded, beautiful and dramatic explorations of the nature of and alternatives to humanity. I wanted to learn more about novels that keep the ideas behind them inescapably apparent to the reader while moving a story with heat. I had craft questions, and I learned a lot. But it was also the persistence with which Octavia Butler kept at the emotional and ethical complexities behind the worlds she created and reflected, both, that gave me that little thrill of remembered pleasure when I ran across the books again last week (that, and, yeah, the way those stories grab and don't let go).

There is a moment in which an Akjai, a large and caterpillarlike being with a language of touch, advocates for the hard to understand needs of humans, so different from it, despite the dangerous affinity of human beings for creating hierarchies.

The Akjai ... pointed out that the Human-born among them had had to learn the Oankali understanding of life itself as a thing of inexpressible value. A thing beyond trade. Life could be changed, changed utterly. But not destroyed.

It's so hard to recreate this out of context, but there is a line from the Akjai, communicating without speech -- All people who know what it is to end should be allowed to continue if they can continue.

I can't do it justice, but these books are full of uncertainty and hard-won possibility arrived at through enormous effort, confusion, feeling and risk. They are very, very beautiful. Octavia Butler left us with work to curl into, to feel with, and I'm feeling gratitude for that, and also that to lose her breathing presence in the world is to lose a lot.
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[ profile] fattest wrote a beautiful post about Andrea Dworkin that I keep quoting in comments, for instance to say, "fattest can get to the tender, pulsing heart of difficult moments, people, bodies of work in such a radiant way. Moves me a lot."

[ profile] slit wrote something great, too.
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The Seattle-Post Intelligence finally showed up on Google with the first U.S. mainstream media obituary of her that I've seen.

This sentence moved me very much:

She was working on a book with the working title "Writing America: How Novelists Invented and Gendered a Nation," when she died, Stoltenberg said.

Novels. She was back there.
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According to a women's studies listserv I read, Andrea Dworkin has died. Edit via [ profile] crazycrone, here is an obituary in the Guardian.

Thinking about her raises a dense set of memories, associations, ideas, arguments, explanations and apologies in me. If I started trying to describe coming out as a lesbian feminist as part of the Feminist Alliance/Lesbian Caucus in Boulder, Colorado in the early eighties, there is too much to say about radicalism, slouching towards sexuality, terrible beauty, identity, privilege, censorship, shouting chants in the street at night for the very first time, and all. I can't do it now, but she was in the air.

I only ever actually read one of her books, The New Woman's Broken Heart.* It was short stories, fiction, published by a small feminist press, Frog In The Well. It was a very short book, one of the most slender volumes of fiction I've ever held. It was not a polemic. I remember that it touched me, made me cry, made my life seem more possible. I thought the writing was beautiful.

I just found something she wrote in 1980, when she was proposing to give a reading from this book. It's from a website of old newsletters from the New York Women's literary salon:

I began writing before I was a teenager. My first writings were poetry and fiction. I don't write poetry any more, but I have not stopped writing fiction, which is my first and greatest love both as a writer and as a reader.

Fiction, when it's good, insists on a complexity, empathy and generosity in ways that other forms do not. A writer can't both follow a first, greatest love deeper and deeper into fiction and also be a polemicist.** [ profile] purejuice sometimes posts a quotation that I can't quite remember about staying true to the spirit of the visions of youth. I like that, think it's true, and cling with a lot of stubborness and impractical persistence to fiction, which is also a great love of mine. I love poetry that way, too. Refinement and expansions of those early loves, along with rough edges, openness, uncertainty, and the habits of respect for other visions: I think that these things accumulate importance, as well, which becomes more visible over the years. Kindness matters, too.

It has, it's been more than twenty years -- and I may be getting it completely wrong -- but I remember one of Andrea's stories about people called androgynes, whose fingers and noses and the skin of their cheeks and knees, whose every part developed an exquisite, erotic sensitivity to everything in the whole world. It sounds awkward now, like too much and not enough (I'm definitely leaving out a lot), but when I first read it, it sounded exquisite to me. A blessing, at her death, on Andrea Dworkin's first, great love as a writer and a reader, and on all bold, honorable, risky, entertaining explorations of that form.

*Prompted mostly by felicks' post, I've remembered that I also read Woman Hating, and it did, it changed me.

**I just looked up polemics and see that one of its definitions is "the branch of theology dealing with ecclesiastical disputation and controversy." No wonder that thinking about Andrea Dworkin and her work also makes me think of the Calvinist minister I'm writing about, Jonathan Edwards.

Editing to add this further information from the Women's Studies list about the sad news of Andrea Dworkin's death. )
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I just learned from [ profile] lth that the poet Robert Creeley died yesterday at age 78 in Odessa, Texas.

Here is an excerpt from his poem Four Days in Vermont

Breeze at the window
lifts the light curtains
Through the dark a light
across the faint space
Warmth out of season
fresh wash of ground
out there beyond
sits here waiting
For whatever time comes
herein welcome
Wants still
truth of the matter

I fell in love with his work in the early eighties, while I was an undergraduate at the University of Colorado. Once I was listening to him give a reading there, and my head fell back as if pinned to the chair by the magnetic force of his words. That was such a strange, stunning sensation for me: I never forgot it. I told Sydney Goldfarb, one of my poetry teachers, about it, and he offered to introduce me to him, but I said no. I was shy. And, really, what could I say? It wasn't the man himself who was the point -- I didn't know him, and didn't have any sense then of the possible gifts of direct, strong appreciation of good work from a stranger (even -- or especially -- from someone as young and kind of halting as I could be then) -- it was the way his poetry -- often so sparse, so short -- opened paths for me through labyrinths of emotion, relation, language and time. He was so meditative, and so often rueful, but also there was a pulse of life in his work that he let beat out in simple words -- mysteries of "you" and "it" and "all." He let the past sweep over any sense of present, and he wasn't afraid of feeling. It was clear that he had lost a lot in his life, but his poems created connection of the deepest kind.

And I loved the way his books looked. He had books of poems from a mainstream press, but also small, grey chapbooks on beautiful paper from Toothpaste Press -- they were so unassuming as objects, yet so beautiful, packed with meaning and thought and pleasure for me, that they gave me hope for my own work, that it might travel, some day, even modestly, even without a book binding of the kind I recognized, and still matter to strangers, to other people who were eager, were hungry, were open, were receptive, as I was, as I still am, to inchoate efforts to get worlds into words.

I just looked up inchoate, to be sure that I was using it to say what I mean. It means 1. just begun, incipient. 2. imperfect, incomplete. It's not quite what I thought, but it's good, it's part of what Robert Creeley, so early, so strongly, helped me to see -- that even with hard decades of craft and practice, of discipline, behind you, a writer is always groping towards things, towards meaning, with blunt tools and a blunted understanding, often with broken off hopes, but that the making itself is an enormous gift, to the writer and to the people who read for such things, and that the practice really does create a freedom to use bluntness, to be more blunt and also more full of grace in the attempt to say something that makes a story, makes a poem, something that quivers and burns and weighs in the air, something that passes into meaning, into bodies and minds, into lives, even as one life ends.

He was born in Massachusetts and died in Texas. I think there's something a little funny about that.

[ profile] fflo just posted one of my favorite Robert Creeley poems.


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May 2009



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