Forgotten Transatlantic Literary Women: Anzia Yezierska

**Remember to join our #TLWBookChat on #ForgottenTLW on the 28th of February**

In the lead up to our online book club on the 28th of February, we’re posting about overlooked transatlantic woman writers, and today I’m going to talk about Anzia Yezierska. She was born around 1880 in Russian Poland and emigrated to the United States in 1890. She grew up in poverty in the Jewish immigrant community of Manhattan’s lower East Side, one of nine children.* She left home at seventeen, rejecting the expectations of her deeply religious father about the ‘appropriate’ roles for women in society. She held down a series of manual jobs while studying, and eventually gained a degree and pursued a career as a writer.

Issues of gender, identity and poverty permeate Yezierska’s writing. Her first book, a collection of short stories titled Hungry Hearts (1920), was well-received. It was quickly turned into a Hollywood film, boosting Yezierska’s reputation as a writer and earning her a significant sum of money. She published prolifically throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s, but her work became less popular and fell out of fashion in the 1940s and 1950s. She died in 1970 in relative obscurity, having published just one book in the last forty years of her life (Red Ribbon on a White Horse, 1950).

Shortly after Yezierska’s death, Alice Kessler-Harris arranged the first reprinted edition of Bread Givers (1925) in 1975, and Persea Books went on to reprint copies of many of Yezierska’s other works over the coming years. Public and scholarly interest in Yezierska has grown steadily, as new generations find inspiration in her words.

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Sketch of Yezierska, 1921 [image from Wikimedia Commons]
While much of Yezierska’s work is autobiographical, this is arguably most true of Bread Givers. Yezierska’s protagonist Sara Smolinsky is fiercely independent, and ready to take advantage of all the opportunities available to her in the so-called ‘New World’:

“Thank God, I’m not living in olden times. Thank God, I’m living in America! You made the lives of the other children! I’m going to make my own life!

[…]

“My will is as strong as yours. I’m going to live my own life. Nobody can stop me. I’m not from the old country. I’m American!”

Bread Givers, ch.VIII

The presence of such a strong-willed female protagonist is refreshing, especially for a novel of this period. It skilfully questions the realities of the American Dream, while simultaneously raising issues concerning identity and cultural assimilation. The tension between the old and new is drawn out through the relationship between Sara and her parents, who prevent her from truly escaping from the restrictions imposed by her religious and cultural background. And, while the novel was once criticised for its use of vernacular and colloquialisms, the value of such rhetorical techniques is now lauded by scholars and the public alike, for adding to the novel’s realism.

Given recent discussions about gender and women’s roles in society, Bread Givers remains astonishingly relevant to a modern reader. Indeed, perhaps Yezierska’s greatest talent is presenting such a vivid and accurate portrayal of a very specific community, yet enabling readers from diverse cultures and backgrounds to find value in her writing.

Yezierska’s first collection of short stories, Hungry Hearts, is available to read online. It’s well worth dipping into if you want to get a feel for her writing style and the themes she engages with in her writing.

 

By Sarah Thomson

 

*Biographical detail taken from Alice Kessler Harris’s foreword and introduction to Bread Givers (New York: Persea Books, Inc. 2003).

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Forgotten Transatlantic Literary Women: Clarice Lispector

Lispector 1Courtesy of Wellcome Trust

Remember to join our #TLWBookChat on #ForgottenTLW

In the lead up to our online book club on the 28th of February, we’re posting about overlooked transatlantic woman writers, and today I’m going to talk about Clarice Lispector. She was born in 1920 to a Jewish family in western Ukraine, as a result of her parents’ belief that pregnancy was a cure for syphilis in women. Her mother died of the disease ten years later. By this time, the family had fled anti-Semitic violence, and moved to Brazil, where Clarice studied law and became a journalist for government press, Agência Nacional. She went on to marry (and later divorce) a Brazilian diplomat, and re-crossed the Atlantic, living in Italy, the UK, and Switzerland, working in a military hospital in Naples during World War II.

In 1959 she returned to Brazil and took part in protests against the Brazilian military dictatorship that lasted twenty years. During her lifetime she wrote nine novels, multiple short stories, articles, journalism (published in Brazil and Portugal), children’s literature, as well as translating Agatha Christie, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allen Poe into Portuguese. I’ll talk about a few of these books below, and include links to some of her short stories at the end of the blog.

Lispector 2

At the age of twenty three, Clarice Lispector had published her award-winning debut novel Near to the Wild Heart (1943). Influenced by James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the novel follows Joanna, and opens with child-speak and memory impressions:

Her father’s typewriter went clack-clack… clack-clack-clack… The clock awoke in dustless tin-dlen. The silence dragged out zzzzzz. What did the wardrobe say? clothes-clothes-clothes. No, no. Amidst the clock, the typewriter and the silence there was an ear listening, large, pink and dead.

This passage gives a sense of Lispector’s continually evolving and experimental voice. She claimed that when composing Água Viva (1973) she literally wrote down everything that came into her head, whether it seemed profound or dull. The result is an interior monologue that replaces chronological sequence with the ‘instant-now’, reaching for the ‘beyond-thought’. Her writing can be difficult but rewarding to read, and this may be a reason that her work is often neglected. That she has been neglected is evident when Colm Tóibín describes her as ‘One of the hidden geniuses of the 20th century’.

Despite this apparent invisibility, she has received high praise from critics and other writers. Her biographer Benjamin Moser calls her ‘The most important Jewish writer since Kafka’, The New York Times Book Review says that she is ‘The premier Latin American woman writer of this century’, and writer Elizabeth Bishop confesses in a letter to Robert Lowell that, Actually, I think she is better than JL Borges’. The most Lispectorian response to her writing is that of feminist theorist Hélène Cixous who says that Clarice Lispector is ‘what Kafka would have been had he been a woman, or if Rilke had been a Jewish Brazilian born in the Ukraine. If Rimbaud had been a mother, if he had reached the age of fifty. If Heidegger could have ceased being German.’  I’ll close with Lispector’s own words about her writing. Here is the epigraph of her novel The Passion According to G. H. (1964):

To Possible Readers

This book is like any other book. But I would be happy if it were only read by people whose souls are already formed. Those who know that the approach, of whatever it may be, happens gradually and painstakingly – even passing through the opposite of what it approaches. They who, only they, will slowly come to understand that this book takes nothing from no one. To me, for example, the character G. H. gave bit by bit a difficult joy; but it is called joy.

Likewise, I find that Lispector’s writing brings me a difficult joy, but it is joy. Try her for yourself by reading ‘Report on the Thing’, a surreal report on the nature of time, advertising, and an electronic alarm clock. We also have an exploration of entangled feminist and animal ethics in ‘The Hen’ (1964), and a short story called ‘Clandestine Happiness’ (1971). For more on her life and works see this interesting article on Lispector in Vice.  I hope you, too, find joy in Lispector’s writing.

By Saskia McCracken

 

Forgotten Transatlantic Literary Women: Toni Cade Bambara

Remember to join our #TLWBookChat on #ForgottenTLW

In the build up to our online book club on the 28th of February, we’re posting about overlooked transatlantic woman writers, and my favourite at the moment is Toni Cade Bambara (1939-1995). She was a civil rights and feminist activist, a writer, community worker and academic, and friend of Toni Morrison, who edited her posthumous work. Although Bambara lived in New York City for most of her life, she is transatlantic in several respects: she spent a year living in Milan, Italy, studying acting and mime, and visited France in the same year, 1961. In the early 1970s, she travelled to Cuba, and across the Atlantic to Vietnam, where she engaged with women’s organisations as part of her ongoing work on politically effective movements.

Bambara Pic

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It’s worth discussing her life in further detail before moving on to her writings, partly because her experiences were important in shaping that writing, partly because the writing is an aspect of her activism, and partly because her life is simply fascinating. She was born Toni Cade and took the name Bambara after finding it inscribed in her great-grandmother’s sketch book. Bambara is the national language of Mali and the name of a West African ethnic group. She spent much of her childhood in New York Public Library and was inspired by Harlem Renaissance writers Gwendolyn Brooks (whose photograph hung in the library) and Langston Hughes. She studied Theatre, English and American studies, completed her masters at City College New York, and went on to become a social worker, occupational therapist, and then professor at Rutgers University. Meanwhile, she ran community-focused organisations raising black American consciousness, and took the written word to the stage as director of the Theatre of the Black Experience in the 1960s. She collaborated on several TV documentaries in the 1990s, including W. E. B. DuBois: A Biography in Four Voices (1996), and was the narrator for the documentary Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993), as well as writing a screenplay adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel Tar Baby (1984). She was active throughout the 1970s in civil rights and women’s movements.

Her activism is reflected in her writing and editorial choices. Her first published book was The Black Woman: An Anthology (1970), followed closely by Tales and Stories for Black Folks (1971). These collections showcased work by famous writers such as Audre Lourde, but also the work of undergraduates, and African American women of different ages and classes who were underrepresented in the male-dominated civil rights movement, and white-dominated women’s movements of her time. She also supported emerging writers by founding and hosting the Pamoja Writer’s Collective in her home, where she held pot luck dinners.

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Courtesy of Good Reads

Bambara published several collections of short stories including Gorilla, My Love (1972) and The Sea Birds Are Still Alive (1977), and novels such as The Salt Eaters (1980), which received the American Book Award in 1981, If Blessing Comes (1987), and Raymond’s Run (1990). Her fiction is set at times in the rural south, at times in the urban north, and focuses on the lives of African American men and women (often activists) and their communities. She uses local street dialect and her themes include social change and community solidarity. Toni Morrison edited Bambara’s posthumously published novel Those Bones Are Not My Child (1999), and said of Bambara’s work: ‘Her writing is woven, aware of its music, its overlapping waves of scenic action, so clearly on its way […] like a magnet collecting details in its wake, each of which is essential to the final effect’ (The Norton Anthology of American Literature p. 2861).

The best way to get to know Bambara’s writing is to read it for yourself, so have a listen to the audiobook version of her short story ‘The Lesson’ here, and tell us what you think! Submit a short piece about your own favourite forgotten transatlantic woman writer to transatlantic.women@gmail.com before the 28th of February and we’ll post it on the blog! We look forward to hearing your thoughts, either as a blog or on Twitter using the hashtag #ForgottenTLW.

Sources include: FemBio, Britannica, The New York Times, and The Norton Anthology of American Literature, volume E, 7th Edition, Ed. Nina Baym, JeromeKlinkowitz, and Patricia B. Wallace (New York and London: W. W. Norton and Company, 2007).

By Saskia McCracken

Forgotten Transatlantic Literary Women: February Book Chat and New Year Reading List

Hello!

As announced in our previous post, we would like to start 2018 by celebrating overlooked texts by transatlantic literary women, and we would love for you to get involved. In February, we will run another #TLWBookChat dedicated to forgotten texts. it will go by the hashtag #ForgottenTLW. This discussion will broadly tackle issues of history, and memory, in relation to women authors. We will be talking about neglected texts by famous women writers, but also (and especially) about transatlantic authors whose work has somehow been overlooked. What has prevented those women from gaining literary fame? Why are some texts privileged over others? To prepare for this discussion, we will post several blogs about neglected transatlantic literary women. We would also like to ask you to make a case for a forgotten text or writer that you think would deserve to be in the limelight! You can send us your posts at transatlantic.women@gmail.com by the end of February, along with a short bio! We will publish contributions as we receive them.

To kick off this series, we come to you with some suggestions of books to read ahead of our discussion! We compiled a list of neglected texts by women writers from both sides of the Atlantic to give you some reading ideas. While some names will probably have a familiar ring to them, we tried to choose slightly less canonical titles for this list, and we also hope that you’ll be in for some discoveries…

1) Simone de Beauvoir (1908 – 1986), America Day by Day (1948)

As if the influence of her landmark analysis of femininity, The Second Sex (Le Deuxième Sexe), was not enough of a claim to transatlantic fame, Simone de Beauvoir also spent several months in America in 1947. Her travel diary, America Day by Day, published in 1948, recounts her impressions of the country, from New York to Los Angeles and Chicago, where she met her lover Nelson Algren. Published two years before The Second Sex, the text poses Beauvoir as ‘an intuitive sociologist’ and ‘a voyeur of America’s transient underbelly’ in the words of critic Douglas Brinkley.

2) Leonora Carringon (1917 – 2011), The Débutante and Other Stories: Selected Short Stories

Leonora Carrington has become one of our favourite transatlantic literary women. She was a genuine adventurer, who seemed to have spent her life eschewing titles, however glamorous – rich English débutante or Surrealist Muse -, to dedicate herself to her artistic career. After growing up in England and escaping to France in her twenties, she moved to Mexico during the Second World War to become an influential artist and a member of the Women’s Liberation Movement of Mexico. This edition of her short stories includes translations from French and Spanish, as well as some stories originally published in English. The titular story portrays a young woman’s attempt to escape her bal by sending a hyena in her place. Perhaps one of Carrington’s best known pieces (along with her novel, The Hearing Trumpet), it is featured among such surreal, oneiric masterpieces as ‘The Oval Lady’, a tragic tale of coming of age and family cruelty, ‘The Sisters’, a strange take on the myth of the woman-vampire, and ‘Jemima and the Wolf’, a stubborn child’s love story with a man who conceals his real animal identity.

3) Silvina Ocampo (1914 – 1999), Thus Were their Faces: Selected Short Stories (ed. 2015)

Silvina Ocampo was the co-editor of the Antología de la literatura fantástica (1940 – translated as The Book of Fantasy), alongside Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares. Talent certainly ran in the family – Silvina Ocampo’s sister, Victoria Ocampo, was also a writer and became the founder of the famous publication Sur. At a time of intense intellectual exchange between Argentina and France, Silvina Ocampo travelled to Paris, and worked with artists such as Giorgio de Chirico and Fernand Léger. Her stories have been recently re-edited and anthologized, and are definitely worth a read. And if you are curious, but not quite convinced yet, you can even read one of the texts included in the collection here.

4) Jumpa Lahiri (1967 – ), In Other Words (In Altre Parole) (2016, trans. Ann Goldstein)

Born in London of Indian parents, raised in America, Jumpa Lahiri gives us the opportunity to talk about a country we have only rarely mentioned since the beginning of the project – Italy. After a Pulitzer prize for Interpreter of Maladies (2000) and publishing, among other works, The Namesake (2003), which was adapted into a movie, Lahiri decided to start writing in Italian, a language she had been drawn to for years. Her memoir, In Other Words, is the fruit of her experimentation with the language. You can also read this essay written for the New Yorker, in which she describes the delight and vertigo of speaking and writing in another tongue.

5) Una M. Marson (1905 – 1965), Pocomania and London Calling (ed. 2017)

The works of Jamaican poet and dramatist Una M. Marson were recommended to us by one of our attendees. A radical intellectual, political activist, and influential artist, whose writing paints her experience of racism in vivid words, She created Cosmopolitan, a publication to promote the work of stenographers, and championed black and African aesthetics, affirming the beauty of darks skins and unstraightened hair, a long time before such debates had surfaced fully in the feminist movement. Among countless other achievements, Una Marson was also the first black woman to work as a producer for the BBC, creating Calling the West Indies, a programme dedicated to Caribbean writers. You can listen to a radio programme dedicated to her work here. During her life, Una M. Marson published poetry collections (Tropic Reveries, 1930, Heights and Depths, 1931) and plays, two of which are included in this new edition!

6) Denise Levertov, Collected Poems (ed. 2013)

Denise Levertov perfectly encapsulates the experience of displacement linked with living at the crossroads of different cultures: ‘Among Jews a Goy, among Gentiles … a Jew or at least a half-Jew … among Anglo-Saxons a Celt; in Wales a Londoner … among schoolchildren a strange exception whom they did not know whether to envy or mistrust.’ Born in England, Denise Levertov was to become a renowned poet and peace advocate in the United States, who travelled to Mexico and Vietnam. In the words of critic Drew Calvert, talking about her poetry of the 1960s: “She imagined stabbing Henry Kissinger, throwing napalm in Nixon’s face. She channeled Neruda’s call for people to “come and see the blood in the streets.”” Such fantasies, however, coexisted with Levertov’s spiritual preoccupations – an apparent contrast reflected in her recently published Collected Poems.

7) Louise Erdrich (1954 – ), The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003)

In The Master Butchers Singing Club, Native American writer Louise Erdrich portrays the lives of German migrants settled in America, and the comings and goings between the two continents from the First to the Second World War. Erdrich’s novels frequently portray Native American communities in the United States, and the Transatlantic dimension of her work may not appear immediately. This novel, however, deals with Erdrich’s own European roots and heritage – with the cover of the original edition showing a picture of the author’s own grandfather.

 

8) Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960), Barraccoon (ed. 2018)

We end this list on what is now a TLW household name – as our next book club (which will take place on January 16th, at 5.15pm, in the Gilchrist Postgraduate Club at the University of Glasgow) will be all about her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. However if you have not heard of this one yet, fear not, as it will only be published later this year. Barraccoon recounts Zora Neale Hurston’s interviews with Cudjo Lewis who, by the time of their meeting, was the last man alive to be able to tell his experience of the Transatlantic slave trade.

What neglected text by a transatlantic woman writer would you like to see here? Keep an eye on the blog for more suggestions from our team in the next few weeks, and remember:

  1. You have until the end of February to send your posts on a neglected transatlantic woman writer to transatlantic.women@gmail.com.
  2. The next TLW Book Chat, #ForgottenTLW, where we’ll talk specifically about those texts, will be on Wednesday 28 February at 7pm on Twitter.
  3. If you’re in Glasgow, join us on Tuesday 16 January at 5.15pm in the Gilchrist Postgraduate Club for our first book club, where we’ll be discussing Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Warmest wishes,

The TLW Team.

 

Transatlantic Literary Women: Series 2 Launch

The launch night will be on Tuesday 19 September, from 5.15 – 7pm, at Rooms 202 and 203, 4 University Gardens.

As promised, we’re on our way back! We’ve been busy prepping events for the second season of the Transatlantic Literary Women series and very much hope you’ll join us.

In 2016/17 we held a total of eleven events, from bookclubs to talks, workshops, creative writing events and our summer symposium with speakers from both sides of the Atlantic. We teamed up with organisations across Glasgow, including the fabulous Scottish Writers’ Centre, Northlight Heritage and Glasgow Women’s Library. We even headed into the trenches for our Transatlantic Women and War Day at Pollok Park! Many thanks again to those who supported the first season. Details of our events are available on this website and via our Twitter account @atlantlitwomen, where you can also listen to podcasts of symposium talks, recorded by the brilliant Jamie Loggie and Mark Cunningham.

We’re all back (Laura, Marine, Louisa and Saskia), along with two new members of the team: Kari Sund and Sarah Thomson. Welcome! Read about Sarah and Kari here and here.

Here are the details for our first event:

TLW Season Two Launch and Talk. Tuesday 19 September 5-15-7. Rooms 202 and 203, 4 University Gardens.

Join us for this friendly, social event: our season two launch AND a great talk! Wine, soft drinks and snacks available, plus thirty free copies of our bookclub choice, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar to give away. And if this isn’t enough, we’re delighted to be welcoming Latinx expert Dr Eilidh Hall to give a talk ‘Spanglish as Resistance: Undoing Transatlantic Colonialism.’ We look forward to seeing you!

‘Spanglish as Resistance: Undoing Transatlantic Colonialism’ with Dr Eilidh A B Hall.

For many people in Latinx communities in the US, bi- or multilingualism is a part of everyday life. Simply put, Spanglish is a dynamic form of language made up of a conglomeration of Spanish and English dialects. And yet, to some, this is a threat to an ‘American’ culture that historically, and to this day, denies diversity and cultural complexity. This talk explores how, in an environment of intense hostility against people of Latinx heritage, Spanglish is used by activist women writers to resist the colonial erasure of their rich and diverse cultures.

Eilidh is a researcher interested in Latinx literatures and cultures. Her work focuses on Chicanx (Mexican American heritage) writings and the ways in which women negotiate their feminisms in patriarchal institutions. She is also co-jefa of The SALSA Collective, an online community for people interested in latinidades across the Americas.

Sandra-Cisneros
Sandra Cisneros, writer and artist
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Ana Castillo, a Mexican-American Chicana writer

For the diaries, our next two events are an Edith Wharton workshop on Wednesday 4 October 2-5pm, and our bookclub is on Tuesday 17 October at 5pm in the Gilchrist postgraduate club (entry open to all). Join us for an evening discussing Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

We’re looking forward to seeing you!

A Trenches Postscript and Still to Come…

Many thanks to everyone who turned out for our day in the trenches on Saturday! We were delighted to see you all at the talks, tours and workshops – and the sunshine! Huge thanks again to our speakers, Dr Hannah Tweed, Dr Alice Kelly, Anna Girling and to Dr Olivia Lelong with the amazing Digging In project. And on behalf of the whole Transatlantic Literary Women crew, we want to say a special, resounding transatlantic thank you to Marine, the TLW lead on Saturday’s event. Bravo Marine! Fantastic job!

We have three more events in the 2016-17 season of Transatlantic Literary Women and we hope you’ll join us:

There’s our final book club on Wednesday 26th April at 5.15 in 203, 4 University Gardens where the book under discussion is Anita Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Come and discuss the adventures of Miss Lorelei Lee in a relaxed, informal, fun reading group over a glass of wine and snacks.

We’re very much looking forward to 23 May, when Dr Rachael Alexander (University of Strathclyde) will give a talk on Transatlantic Magazine Cultures (Tuesday 23 May in room 202, 4 University Gardens.) We hope you’ll join us for Rachael’s talk (refreshments available from 5; talk starts at 5.15). We’ve had a sneak preview of some of the magazine cover images Rachael will be showing from Vanity Fair and Vogue – they’re stunning! More information on the page of the event!

And, as our summer finale, we’re excited to be teaming up with the fabulous Glasgow Women’s Library for a day symposium on Saturday 3 June, with talks on Jazz Age women and advertising, Sylvia Plath, African American activists in Europe, Black Feminism across the Atlantic, a choice of workshops, and the chance to vote for your transatlantic literary woman. All this – AND a free lunch! What’s not to love? Take a look at the day’s line-up here, and find out more about the event and how to book here!

As ever, all events are free, open to all, and everyone is welcome. Please join us!

All best- Laura