FLORENCE HOWE

activist, writer, and founder of the Feminist Press




Florence in Words

End-of-Year Letter for 2016

December 19, 2016

Tags: health, election, Feminist Press, family, Yoya, Florence (granddaughter)

For at least two decades I have been writing an end-of-year letter and sending it out via e-mail to friends around the world, including especially the African friends who worked on our four huge Feminist Press anthologies, Women Writing Africa. I am also going to post the letter this year on my website (www.florencehowe.com).

Let me say, first, that I had hoped this letter would celebrate Hillary Clinton’s victory as feminist, humanist, and an experienced internationalist. Some of you who will read this were present in the Chinese auditorium two decades ago, as I was, when Hillary spoke that famous sentence: “Women’s rights are human rights; and human rights are women’s rights.” So our work will have to continue, and I am certain that Hillary will be on the front lines of that work.

My personal news is mixed. I continue to miss my active life of walking and swimming, not to mention travelling. Despite a dozen doctors I have seen, there is no real diagnosis, but only placebos, some of which have back-fired and been therefore abandoned. Right now I am counting on rehab and a clever, hands-on therapist to strengthen my right leg so that I might be able to walk with only a cane again. But I want distant friends to know that I remain in my own apartment, and I have made various adjustments so that I can be independent.

I write a journal every day which goes into a folder. And once a week or at least three times a month I write a blog which is posted on my website that I continue to maintain, with the help of Jen Petras, my dear Ohio friend. Writing keeps me sane, I think, and it is, as for many people, one way to work out their depression. I’ve also been writing poems, some of which I may decide to post on the blog as well.

What else do I do (aside from seeing doctors)? I go to the opera and to theatre, usually with Helene Goldfarb, occasionally also with friends Shirley Mow, Elyse Hilton, Don Thomas, Jorge Cao. Elyse also visits to talk literature and to help me walk when the weather permits. AnnJ looks after my needs in certain magical ways, and she visits frequently, given that she lives in Washington, D.C.

The most striking family news is that granddaughter Dr. Florence Wright, named after me, moved to Los Angeles almost a year ago and was married last week to Jason Neville, a Louisiana-bred city planner who works for the mayor. Other family members continue to thrive in Kansas, Mississippi, D.C., and even Brooklyn, though except for AnnJ, I see them rarely.

What do I do aside from entertainment? I sit on four Boards, though I am not as active as I used to be. I still long for real work, though I am also a realist about its disappearance from my life. Occasionally, I have proofread or copyedited for the Feminist Press. I am very proud of the fact that six books published by the Press have had favorable reviews in the New York Times this year.

Finally, perhaps you are wondering how I manage being alone at 87. What do I do that gives me pleasure? Sometimes great pleasure? It’s reading and writing, of course. A good movie sometimes—I saw Rainman last night here in my study. A good play—Heidigger, which I’ve seen twice, was excellent, as was Master Harold and the Boys. As for books, the list would be too long for this letter. I continue to be a fan of Kazuo Ishiguro, have read all his books.

And yes, there is the writing. Why don’t I get on with it? Why do I write only journals and blogs? It’s like asking the question about the election: why were so many people taken in by a fast-talking, know-nothing egomaniac (and these are kind words for the man)? There are many answers to these questions, mostly not heroic but mundane. The best I can do today is to say what my favorite diva sings, “I’m still here.”

Finally, I want to dedicate this blog to the little dog who kept me company when Don and Jorge travelled. Yoya died at ten of heart disease. The happiest, sweetest bundle of fur just keeled over upstairs, after a walk. She has been replaced—yes, it’s possible with pooches—by Fefa, hardly six months old. I know you will like the photos of Yoya.

On Louise Meriwether

May 11, 2016

Tags: Louise Meriwether, Daddy Was a Number Runner, Feminist Press

For Feminist Press author Louise Meriwether's ninety-third birthday this week, the Borough of Manhattan's President, Gail Brewer, declared the day to be Louise Meriwether Appreciation Day, and presented her with a beautifully painted plaque detailing some of her accomplishments, The audience of nearly 100 of Louise's fans, young and older, black and white, enjoyed the party at CUNY's Graduate Center, drank the bubbly, ate the birthday cake, and, most of all, took their places before the audience and the camera, all wanting to say what Louise meant to them. Yes, it went on for hours. And,yes, The Feminist Press at CUNY, who had arranged the party, sold copies of Daddy Was a Number Runner to people who knew the book but were buying for their grandchildren!!! I want to acknowledge Cheryl Hill, the new director of the Harlem Film Company, for inviting me to speak. This is what I said.

Exactly forty years ago, the Feminist Press republished Daddy
Was a Number Runner
by Louise Meriwether, allowing me forever after to call myself Louise’s publisher as well as her friend. I was betting on a winner. In 1970, when it was first published, Publisher’s Weekly said the novel “breathes reality and heartbreak…A rough, tender, bitter novel of a black girl struggling towards womanhood and survival.” Paule Marshall, who reviewed the novel in 1970, praised the novel’s “vitality and force behind the despair.” She continues, “It celebrates the positive values of the black experience: the tenderness and love that often underlie the abrasive surface of relationships…the humor that has long been an important part of the black survival kit, and the heroism of ordinary folk.”

As publisher, I was smart enough to include a short essay by James Baldwin, also published in 1970. He writes: “We have seen this life from the point of view of a black boy growing [up]…[but] I don’t know that we have ever seen it from the point of view of a black girl on the edge of a terrifying womanhood.”

I also decided to invite the black critic and professor, Nellie McKay, who was at the University of Wisconsin, to write an Afterword. It, too, is worth the price of admission. (And it’s one of the great pieces of criticism we have from Nellie, who died young of pancreatic cancer.) Nellie McKay sees the novel not only as “well-crafted,” but also as “captur[ing] the essence of a historical time and place in the experience of black people.” She sees the book as a “tribute to poor, uneducated, black women, who, through centuries of watching their men being ground down by poverty and racism, continue to live each day with the assurance that conditions will improve. Expecting little for themselves, not from lack of self-worth, but because they understand the politics of race, gender, economics, and power, they scrub floors, wash windows, and absorb racist and sexist insults, so that their children can have better lives than their own.”

When the twelve-year old Francie says she wants to be a secretary, her teacher tells her that she should be setting her sights towards cooking, sewing, or domestic work. Francie has not seen a black secretary or teacher, but the novel makes clear that she sees sex workers, the daughters of neighbors, on the street daily. One more note about this novel that I believe all of you should read, especially if you are concerned about the sexual abuse of children. This is a fact of life Francie has to deal with every day, not only from perverts who follow her into the movies or onto the roof of her building, but even from an occasional Jewish merchant. No, this child does not tell her parents. Somehow she suspects that telling them would result in catastrophe for the family. Somehow, she knows that she must deal with the abuse through wit and ultimately with the aid of a strong kick, and in the novel, she knows that other girls her age do as well.

Still, how can I claim this is a comic novel, and one that will hearten your belief in the strength of humankind, in the strength of what Louise calls, as the subtitle of the novel, “Yoruba’s children?” The sharing from family to family, and from those that have to those that don’t; the grief expressed not only for one’s family but for one’s neighbors; and the strength of all who can sometimes find it possible to laugh rather than cry over their losses. One person who helps Francie’s family is her mother’s sister, who is unmarried and hence could independently decide to take full time employment as a domestic in a white family. She uses some of her money to help her sister and to treat her children when they come to see her. She certainly brightens Francie’s days from time to time.

(Reading the novel again this weekend, I was reminded of my father’s asking me many times about whether I had dreamed a number the night before, and at least once or twice I could remember giving him one and feeling very excited about it. Though I didn’t understand what the dream had to do with anything, I heard my mother’s crying when my father arrived with very little cash, having lost his money on an unlucky number. And I remember also the time he could pull off a $100 dollar bill to pay for a coat he wanted to buy me for my thirteenth birthday.)

I want to conclude by mentioning a screen play Louise has written that would make a fine film. Perhaps there is someone here who has the clout to look at that. And of course there is Louise’s new work. At 90 she began to write a new novel and though I’ve not seen any of it yet, I’m betting on her. She is my role model, and if you are looking for a role model, I may be willing, in the spirit of Francie’s family and other members of Yoruba’s children, to share her with you.

Publishing Grace Paley

April 10, 2015

Tags: Grace Paley, Feminist Press

Grace Paley
I haven't disappeared but rather have been rereading Grace Paley in order to talk about her at a conference at the New School here in New York City. I recommend to all who are interested in her, two books I published when the publisher at the Feminist Press. They are both available still at the web site: Long Walks and Intimate Talks and Here and Somewhere Else.

Publishing Grace Paley

This is a story that begins in the mid-nineteen-sixties and ends exactly a month before Grace’s death. It’s about Grace as a writer of poetry as well as prose and about me as her editor, publisher, and friend. Its focus: ways in which Grace consciously used her voice both to jar readers and, perhaps more sparingly, to provide a bit of comforting humor, and occasionally, good news. The state of the world worried her as a writer, a mother, a grandmother, and a citizen.

In the summer of 1967, I worked for and was one of the founders of The Committee to Resist Illegitimate Authority, known as Resist, and based on the example of the French Committee that worked to free Algeria from French rule. We wrote to writers throughout the country, asking them to sign our pledge to work towards ending the war against Vietnam. Grace not only signed; she joined me in attending monthly Resist meetings in Boston and thus, to digress a little, I was able to witness, though never to imitate, her amazing ability to tell the male politicos present that they were behaving badly, not thinking clearly, or just plain fools, and have them laughingly agree with her. From my view, Grace was a charmer. And of course I began to read her stories.

Three years later, in the summer of 1970, several months before the founding of The Feminist Press, my former student Ellen Bass and I began collecting poems for what became of No More Masks! the first anthology of poems by women to appear since the 1920s. Perhaps I must remember to say that 45 years ago women poets were seemingly scarce, as hard to find in print as were women fiction writers. My own women students in the 1960s didn’t want to read women writers, whom they referred to disparagingly as “Ladies Home Journal” writers, even when they were Mary McCarthy or Kate Chopin or Doris Lessing.

Ellen and I searched for women to submit poems, even if they had not yet published a volume of poetry. We included Grace, and we were fortunate to receive two poems from her, both of which we published in 1973. One of the features of this anthology asked poets to date their poems and provide a short bio to appear at the back of the anthology. This is Grace’s bio:

Grace Paley was born and still lives in New York City. She teaches experimental writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Her volume of short stories, The Little Disturbances of Man, was published in 1960, and she has published other stories in the New American Review, the Atlantic, Esquire, and many little magazines. On a recent trip to North Vietnam, she began to write poems. About the last ten years, she says: “The Vietnam War has taken my energy, time, interest, and emotion.”

Many people knew that Grace had gone to Vietnam in 1969 on a particular mission having to do with bringing back U.S. pilots whose bombing planes had been shot down. The poem she wrote about that experience is the one we published first in that 1973 volume, where Grace dated it 1973. As I talked about the politics of women’s studies on hundreds of campuses in the seventies and eighties, I usually concluded by reading this poem. I can say here how delighted I am to realize that I was the first to publish it. I will read it:

This is about the women of that country
sometimes they spoke in slogans
They said
We patch the roads as we patch our sweetheart’s trousers
The heart will stop but not the transport
They said
We have ensured production even near bomb craters
Children let your voices sing higher than the explosions of the bombs
They said
We have important tasks to teach the children
that the people are the collective masters
to bear hardship
to instill love in the family
to guide for good health of the children (they must
wear clothing according to climate)
They said
once men beat their wives
now they may not
once a poor family sold a daughter to a rich old man
now the young may love one another
They said
once we planted our rice any old way
now we plant the young shoots in straight rows
so the imperialist pilot can see how steady our
hands are
In the evening we walked along the shores of the Lake of the Restored
Sword
I said is it true? we are sisters?
They said, Yes, we are of one family

In this early poem, one can hear both Grace’s colloquial voice, and the distinctive Vietnamese women’s voices in terse, memorable “slogans.”

Late in 1970, the Feminist Press was founded by a group of women and one man in Baltimore, though it moved to New York less than a year later. Now that I was in New York, I could see Grace, attend some of her readings and work with her on at least one memorable occasion that landed us in jail together, where she was always upbeat and even humorous. With regard to the Feminist Press, she was from the start supportive in many different ways. She signed fundraising letters, came to fundraising events and spoke on our behalf, always emphasizing our mission, saying that the restoration of lost women writers was important educationally and politically both to women and men.

Grace also helped the Feminist Press’s international mission, first, by writing a Forward to Apples from the Desert, a volume of stories by Savyon Liebricht, an important Israeli fiction writer, and then by connecting us to Lady Borton and the distinguished Women’s Press of Vietnam. With this press, ten years older than Feminist Press, we co-published in 2007 (after a decade of work) a large bilingual volume of Vietnamese women’s poetry from the beginning of time to the present, to be sold in both countries. Organized and edited by Lady Borton, the volume includes a Forward by Grace, who read the volume in manuscript. When I went to Vietnam in 2011, I was introduced as Grace’s friend and publisher and presented, in a loving ceremony, with a volume of Grace’s fiction in Vietnamese, signed by the publisher.

In 1985, Grace published a volume of poems with Granite Press—I own a much beaten up volume—so that when I began work on an enlarged new edition of No More Masks! , to appear in 1993, I chose, in addition to “The Women in Vietnam,” three of Grace’s poems from this volume. My choice reflects the political modes of Grace’s poetry, though I could not have known it then. One of these is a concern for the planet’s health and the health of grandchildren both at home and in the world. Here is the last stanza of “The Sad Children’s Song”:

The world is a wreck said the children
When they came home with their children
There are bombs all over the place
There’s no water the fields are all poisoned
Why did you leave things like this
Where can we go said the children
What can we say to our children?

“On Mother’s Day,” like some of Grace’s stories about the New York neighborhood in which she lived for many years, represents her special form of bizarre hilarity, which appears often in her fiction. In this poem, a woman walking on mother’s day, spots “twenty-two transvestites” and describes them “in joyous parade stuffed pillows/under their lovely gowns.” She watches them enter “a restaurant”:

under a sign which said All Pregnant Mothers Free
I watched them place napkins over their bellies
and accept coffee and zabaglione

The poem ends on a modulated note of regret without losing the warm humor of her loving voice. Miraculously, the voice expresses sentiment without sentimentality:

I am especially open to sadness and hilarity
since my father died as a child
one week ago in this his ninetieth year

The third new poem I chose, “In Aix,” represents the international perspective which mark Grace’s poems and prose as strongly as her neighborhoods in New York and Vermont. Here are the three brief stanzas of “In Aix”:

The doves the speckled doves
are cooing in French in high
female French the shutters
clatter against their latches.

The rain is the rain of Aix a-
wash in old paintings of
marsh and mist by Granet the rain
splashes the shutters, the rain is

bathed in the clouds of Chernobyl
last night on the evening
news we heard how nightingales
blowing north from Poland
folded their wings fell over
the border and died in Germany

For Grace’s 65th birthday, the War Resister’s League held a huge fundraising event on December 14, 1987 at the Village Gate. They also produced a unique “program” and bound the 74 pink pages in a blue cover on which there are two words: “Climbing Fences,” and a photograph of Grace Paley doing just that, at the top of a steel mesh fence. The pages are filled with birthday greetings, appreciations of Grace’s activism and her writing, photos of Grace and her family, various kinds of biographical pieces, two poems by Grace, and the much-beloved “Midrash on Happiness.”

Sometime after this celebration Vera Williams approached Grace to talk about producing a Peace Calendar for the War Resisters League. I regret that I don’t have a copy of 365 Reasons Not to Have Another War, published in 1989 by the League and New Society Publishers. Apparently, Grace and Vera continued to work together, perhaps for as long as a year, on a joint anti-war volume, expecting that Grace’s publisher would take the volume. But instead, early in 1990, Grace asked me whether the Feminist Press would publish what had become an expanded version of this Peace Calendar, now called Long Walks and Intimate Talks. I was surprised that Grace’s publisher had refused her, as had all the publishers her agent had tried. The issue was, Grace said clearly, that she was committed to Vera Williams, whose idea this had been in the first place. Hence, they had to have color, and no publisher would take that on. Perhaps they also couldn’t understand that Vera was not “illustrating” Grace’s writing; she was making her own anti-war statement in paint. Publishers were also surprised that Grace and Vera were to share royalties equally: they were both authors. I want to emphasize this point, for it represents Grace’s rare publishing politics.

Not surprisingly, I was totally delighted and in 1991 the Feminist Press published the book not only in paperback, but also in a cloth, numbered, and signed special edition. The book is both unique and timeless, since the traumas of war and mindless violence, however altered, continue unabated, both in Central America and worldwide. While readers of an anti-war anthology expect to be assaulted by shock and pain, Grace and Vera use another strategy. Both deliberately include pieces—of art as well as literature—that I call “centering,” pieces that offer visions of an ideal world in which flowers bloom, trees flourish, and people dance. What I want you to know is that Grace and Vera organized their volume. And I was smart enough as their publisher to accept what I could see was brilliant and should not be meddled with. I will give you a sample of this organization, focusing only on Grace’s pieces.

“Midrash on Happiness” opens the volume, and I have to assume that you know Grace’s voice as Faith talks about what makes her happy, especially “the long walks and intimate talks” with women friends. What follows are four poems, each turning the screw more sharply. I’ll try to illustrate quickly. First, a tiny poem, almost child-like and seemingly idyllic, called “Families,” which is really about sheep families, in which a lamb named “Gruff” is “going away, meaning “his work is meat.”

Slyly, and perhaps surprisingly for Grace, in the next poem, called “I Gave Away That Kid,” the speaker is a once-patriotic American father who says that his son now “is a puddle in Beirut the paper says/scraped up for singing in church.” The refrain of the father’s voice continues through several stanzas, “I gave away that kid like he was an old button,” again referencing perhaps the long war in Vietnam and the draft, for which many parents were proud of their sons going to war.

The following two poems, in the voices of mothers who have also lost their sons, are more painful still, though again modulated, the first not as shocking as the second. The mothers of the disappeared, in “In San Salvador I,” at least have “these large/heavy photograph albums full of beautiful/torn faces.” “In San Salvador II,” a longer poem, a woman mourns—and revisits—the four gruesome deaths she witnessed seemingly of four different sons, but she ends the poem, asking, “are you listening? Do you understand this story? There was only one/child one boy like Mary I had /only one son.”

What follows these harsh anti-war poems is a cheerful piece of autobiography called “Conversations,” in Grace’s voice, describing her visit with Bob to his ill and failing mother in Florida. “One evening at supper,” Grace says, “she asked me about Women’s Lib. She and her best friend (also very sick) had been talking about it…What was it like? Did it mean there would be women lawyers?” Would they work for women? And “Would women get the same pay?” Other questions continue the conversation, including Grace’s strongly expressed view of not wanting a piece of the men’s pie. The next morning Bob’s mother surprises them by coming down to breakfast to say, “You know I was up all night thinking about you and especially those young women. I couldn’t stop thinking about what wonderful lives they’re going to have.”

Long Walks and Intimate Talks appeared in 1991. I retired as director/publisher in 2000, but returned in 2005, at the request of the Feminist Press Board. I had been imagining a new series of small books, like the idea of the Press in the first place back in 1970. But these would contain fiction by two esteemed writers, one male, one female. Without fanfare, such books would simply announce themselves as what I called Two-by-Two. No politicking, no charges of discrimination. Instead, books that took for granted the kind of pairing I had in mind: a pairing of equals.

The first two living authors I wanted to publish were Tillie Olsen and Grace Paley. And in 2007, before her death, Grace could hold in her hand one of these first books. I told her that I hoped these small books would be used in the classroom so that students might grow accustomed to the idea of equality as normal, without labels or preaching. After 40 years of crying sexism, I wanted to see female and male writers sharing the same space, perhaps speaking differently on the same themes.

The series began with Tillie Olsen’s “Tell Me a Riddle” paired with Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Illich.” Other volumes in the series paired Edith Wharton with Henry James; Lu Hsun with Ding Ling; Bessie Head with Ngugi wa Thiong’o; Willa Cather and Gustave Flaubert. For Grace, I wanted something else, for several reasons: yes, I wanted to give a present to Grace; and yes, I thought it was suitable to team Grace with Bob Nichols, her husband. And I wanted Marianne Hirsch, the distinguished professor at Columbia and major figure at the MLA, to write the introduction. To do this, she spent considerable time with Grace and Bob, talking about their lives and their passions and discussing which of their work to include. I came into the discussion especially to agree that this volume would include both fiction and poetry.

What made the volume especially precious to me was that Grace could hold it in her hand, since it appeared the year she died. And she told me she was pleased. And now I want to conclude by noting, first, that Grace chose to include two love poems to Bob, as well as two poems about aging, one of which clearly presages her own death. First, the love poem called “Here,” which is one half of the title the pair gave to their volume: Here and Somewhere Else making clear in a phrase their everyday lives and their moral commitment to the world:

Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face

how did this happen
well that’s who I wanted to be

at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
summer perspiration

that’s my old man across the yard
he’s talking to the meter reader
he’s telling him the world’s sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips

“Walking in the Woods” ends Grace’s half of the volume. The poem reminds me today of how ill I found Grace when I visited her a month before her death:

Walking in the Woods
That’s when I saw the old maple
a couple of its thick arms cracked
one arm reclining half rotted
into earth black with the delicious
hospitality of rot to the
littlest creatures

the tree not really dying living
less widely green head high
above the other leaf-crowded
trees a terrible stretch to sun
just to stay alive but if you’ve
liked life you do it

Now in the second half of my eighties, I appreciate that poem personally: yes, one learns to live “less widely.” And perhaps, in conclusion, I need to say a few words about the kinds of poems Grace writes. I have called her poems “journal poems,” in part because they were little as well as transparent. “Transparent” is a word I used as I wrote critical introductions to the No More Masks volumes. I preferred transparent rather than “opaque” poems; I wanted to choose poems that could communicate directly to readers. Grace’s journal poems capture moments in time, flashes of vision. We have many flashes of vision from Grace, and I find them surprising and sustaining. As the old masters have long told us, literature should teach and delight. Grace mastered that formula from the start.

Alternative Careers—Then and Now

February 11, 2014

Tags: Feminist Press, MLA

In January, at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, several panels were organized to discuss the profession’s current quandary: that the production of graduate students does not match the availability of entry-level professional appointments. I compared my own path 60 years ago with that of new doctorates today. This is a version of that talk.
In 1951, I went to the University of Wisconsin/Madison on a teaching assistantship meant to last for five years and to include the writing of a dissertation. I left after three years because of a husband who was a failure at graduate school and who insisted that I leave as well. This, as I have told countless young graduate students, was a mistake I should not have made. Though I have had a rich teaching career, and though I was granted tenure at two academic institutions, and though I have published significantly, I missed several opportunities because of the missing doctorate.
In 1970, when The Feminist Press began, I was a tenured assistant professor at Goucher College, without a Ph.D. I had been there for eleven years when, in 1971, I was invited to move as a full professor with tenure to the College at Old Westbury. I was also invited to move the Feminist Press with me, since no one in Baltimore wanted to house it there, and since the young, new President at Old Westbury thought it would prove important. It’s a long story, and I tell much of it in my memoir, but for this essay what is important to note is that I never planned to have an alternative career. I loved teaching and had not yet found my niche in scholarship, though I had been the person to open Virginia Woolf’s manuscripts at the Berg, and might have had a career working on Woolf.
By 1985, when the Press moved into Manhattan, renamed The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, the work of managing it was so demanding that I had to give up teaching altogether, though I did not give up writing and work relevant to MLA members. In the 1990s I edited another version of No More Masks! the ground-breaking anthology of women poets first published in 1973 with one of my students, Ellen Bass, who has become a significant poet.
In the second half of the 1980s and into the 1990s, and even after retirement in 2000, I spent my literary energy and skills on two enormous projects: the rediscovery of Indian women writers in two volumes called Women Writing in India; and the rediscovery of African women writers in four volumes called Women Writing Africa. These volumes confirm and extend the original revelations with which the major work of The Feminist Press began: first, that women in the U.S. and the world over have been writers since the beginning of time, and second, that their work has been excluded not only from students’ curriculum, but from any acknowledgement of its existence, not only in the U.S. and the West, but everywhere in the world. I understand now that the work of The Feminist Press has been to reclaim that heritage and history. And clearly, this work has been and continues to be significant for the work of the Modern Language Association.
But unlike my first 50 years in the MLA, academe no longer can provide work for all of its doctorates in the modern languages. That’s the bad news, and none of us knows whether this is a permanent condition, or a temporary aberrant like those we endured during some periods in the last century. I am pleased to be able to describe one small remedy, the Public Fellows Program begun three years ago by the American Council of Learned Societies. This past year, twenty new doctorates in language and literature applied for two-year fellowships at a living wage to work for non-profit institutions in need of such specific skills as the ability to think and write clearly.
At The Feminist Press, we now have one of these fellows on a two-year appointment to us. Nino Testa is a graduate of Miami University who recently earned a doctorate in English at Tufts. His part-time work at Tufts’ Women’s Center was responsible, he has said, for allowing him to think outside of an academic teaching job. As a graduate student, though he enjoyed teaching and scholarship, he also enjoyed working with people and he found administrative work especially challenging. As I interviewed Nino for this paper, I found him clear-headed about the skills he has accumulated from his academic work, his scholarship and teaching, which make him suitable for a variety of other kinds of work. He cited his writing skills, and his ability to figure things out on his own—a result of his dissertation research—as well as his critical thinking.
At the Feminist Press, he is to focus on the work of development, which means fund-raising. He’s pleased because he has had no experience in this area and he knows that it is very important to non-profit organizations both large and small. He is very realistic about the future. He considers himself very fortunate to have been chosen for the two-year fellowship, enjoys being in the midst of a Graduate School environment, and working with a small but highly-committed staff of publishing professionals. Certainly, I would claim that Nino Testa represents, for MLA, one vision of the future.

Retirement: A Problem, Not the Solution

January 29, 2013

Tags: retirement, Feminist Press

Begun January 16, 2013, revised January 28, 2013

A dear friend I first met in 1980, when she was 37 and I was 50, is visiting from Latin America where she lives. Through the twenty years of the last century we worked together on United Nations conferences and policies with regard especially to women’s education and to other feminist issues. Though we were so different, from different patterns of life and culture, we were as one about women’s rights. (more…)

An Apology: Sandy, Surgery, and the Cancelled Feminist Press Gala

December 3, 2012

Tags: Hurricane Sandy, surgery, Feminist Press

To you who read my blog, I apologize for the long silence. I cannot really explain why I never wrote even to say that my apartment was untouched by the storm, since so many friends elsewhere in the U.S. and from Europe, Asia, and Africa wrote to ask whether I, too, was homeless. No, that was not my problem. Yes, the large shrubs on the deck were damaged, some pots shattered, but they were mostly still alive. And then my dear friends, Don and Jorge, and their Maltese, Yoya, came to visit for three days until their electricity was restored, and so I had the wonderful company of beloved people who shopped and cooked and who repotted my damaged shrubs and even my house plants. (more…)

A Brief Visit to Taiwan

July 31, 2012

Tags: speaking, traveling, women's studies, writing, Feminist Press, Taiwan

Misnamed: I didn’t “visit.” I attended and spoke at three-day conference in Taipei, joined a one-day bus tour, and went to a museum, the morning of my last day. Still, I learned two lessons. First, and something I really knew but ignored: never travel half-way around the world, where the time difference is 12 or 13 hours, for less than two weeks. (more…)

Adrienne Rich and Amy Swerdlow: Two Deaths in One Week

April 4, 2012

Tags: Adrienne Rich, Amy Swerdlow, Feminist Press, writing

Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich
I know precisely how I first met Adrienne Rich. It was 1963, and I had invited Robert Lowell to read at Goucher College, where I ran a poetry series. He arrived with a small woman in tow, and announced to me and the audience that Adrienne Rich would share his platform. I can even remember the outrage I felt at that moment, though most of it dissipated once she began to read from Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, her about-to-be published book. The next day I learned that Adrienne had been at Harvard when Elaine Hedges had been there and that they were “friends.” A few days later the Baltimore Sun asked me to review Adrienne’s new book. (more…)

Vietnam, Part One

January 16, 2012

Tags: Vietnam, visiting, Lady Borton, Sandra Levine, Nguyen Minh Ha, Feminist Press

This morning, as I thought about Martin Luther King’s Day, January 16, 2012, I remembered the way I had begun—two months earlier—to write a blog about my trip to Vietnam. At least once a day, and sometimes all day, I couldn’t stop thinking about what the Vietnamese call “the American War,” and the long years of U.S. bombing of this slender piece of land and its resilient people, and also of the U.S. peace movement’s marches, protests, arrests, frustration. I remembered one particularly astonishing moment in Mississippi, during the summer of 1965, when a woman I was interviewing said that the people in Vietnam being bombed were just like her and her folks. “How is that so?” I asked. “They’re colored, too,” she said. “It’s a war against colored.” (more…)

End of the Year Letter

December 31, 2011

Tags: family, visiting, events, A Life in Motion, Vietnam, Women Writing Africa, Feminist Press

Rebecca Seawright, Grandma Alice Jackson holding Kennedy and her new stuffed dog, and Jack Wright, Kennedy's father
Dear Friends:

Yes, I know, I am weeks late with this end-of-the-year letter. What inspired me to write today was coming across last year’s plaintively optimistic letter. I hoped that President Obama would be able to do more, and I hoped that my book would do well and that I would quickly find new forms of productivity. (more…)

Jeannette Petras, Creativity in Action

August 23, 2011

Tags: Jeannette, Kennedy, Feminist Press

When I first met Jeannette Petras in 2005, I was temporarily the director/publisher and she was working part-time at the Feminist Press, a tall, slim, attractive twenty-something, who spoke with calm energy about what marketing was possible in three days a week. I liked her readiness for laughter as much as I liked her firm sense of order. Between 2004 and 2010, she became the marketing manager at the Feminist Press, directing two junior staff members plus a raft of interns. She was responsible for marketing, sales, inventory (which included paying attention to fast-moving books for reordering), and attending to the website, that ever-growing, hydra-like realm that replaced mass mailings and advertising. For quarterly Board meetings, she produced detailed sales reports that illuminated the kinds of markets books were reaching. Several times during the six years, she was offered jobs that would have paid her far more than she could earn at a non-profit. But she cared about our mission, she said, and felt rewarded by the importance of the books themselves. (more…)

The Unexpected Rules the Day

May 17, 2011

Tags: events, visiting, Feminist Press, San Francisco State University

Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur and meSan Francisco State University staff and me
Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur and me
San Francisco State University staff and me


Long before I set out for the west coast readings, Julie Olsen Edwards, one of Tillie Olsen’s daughters, asked women’s studies faculty at San Francisco State University whether they’d like to have me read from my memoir. She asked them because I was Tillie’s publisher and friend, and because Tillie’s daughters have given women’s studies at SFSU a bequest establishing a Tillie Olsen student award. (more…)

Blog or Journal

March 2, 2011

Tags: events, speaking, Feminist Press, A Life in Motion

It’s the day when I’m to read from A Life in Motion at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House, the “campus” of my college years back in the mid- to late-nineteen-forties. And I’m incredibly nervous. I am taking deep breaths, and I am remembering the first time I spoke as a feminist back in 1969, from a manuscript called “Should Women Read Fiction?” when the venue was a Michigan university classroom filled with about 50 faculty members and graduate students. Those were the days when I had hives before I spoke, red rings around my wrists. This is more than 40 years later and at least I have no hives, only breathlessness. (more…)

Egyptian Coda

February 13, 2011

Tags: Egypt, Feminist Press

It’s Sunday, two days after Liberation Square succeeded in freeing Egypt from its ruler, and I have been thinking about writing this blog since I first heard that President Mubarak was indeed leaving his post. That was Friday, at nine a.m., New York time. I was riding a bus to the Feminist Press office for a ten a.m. finance committee meeting of the Board of Directors. My blackberry buzzed and I opened to a news update from the NYTimes telling me that Mubarak had left Cairo, that the military had taken over, and I assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that the military had told him it was time to go. (more…)

Select Works

"Everyone concerned about global feminism, women’s contributions, and humanity’s future will be enhanced and enchanted by A Life in Motion.”—Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume I and Volume II
Lecture delivered by Florence Howe on January 8, 2011, at the Modern Language Association Annual Convention
“It is impossible to imagine women’s studies without Florence Howe. Myths of Coeducation shows her vision and courage, insight and dauntlessness.”–Catharine R. Stimpson, Rutgers University
A revised and expanded edition of the classic groundbreaking anthology of 20th-century American women's poetry, representing more than 100 poets from Amy Lowell to Anne Sexton to Rita Dove.

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