Cerridwen Salon for the Multi-Arts

(Note: This letter offers the Cerridwen Salon for the Multi Arts archives to Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe and describes Gloria Orenstein's history of involvement with Women's Salons. The text on this web site includes page numbers, which in the original appear at the top of the page.)


711 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, New York 10025
May 10, 1981

Patricia King, Director
Schlesinger Library
Radcliffe College
10 Garden Street
Cambridge, Mass. 02138

Dear Patricia King:

Freda Leinwand, our salon photographer, has informed me that you are interested in receiving archival material on The Woman's Salon for Literature and the Cerridwen Salon in the MultiArts, both of which I have co-founded.

I am pleased to inform you that I am a Radcliffe alumna. I received my M.A. degree in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Radcliffe Graduate School in 1961 and went on to study in the Comparative Literature program until the summer of 1961.

I was obliged to leave Radcliffe Graduate School at that time because my husband was hired by Northwestern University for the Fall of 1961, and, simultaneously, I became pregnant with my first child. As the case so often is with women, it took me 10-years until I completed my doctorate in Comparative Literature which I received from N.Y.U. Graduate School in 1971. 1 was also the recipient of one of the first Danforth Graduate Fellowships for Women which permitted me to pursue my graduate studies while raising my two small children.

I have currently completed my sixth year as Assistant Professor in the English Department at Douglass College of Rutgers University where I have been the Coordinator of the Women's Studies Program (1976--78) and the Director of the Rutgers Junior Year in France (1978--79).

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This summer I'll be moving to Los Angeles where I have a new job as Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Women's Studies at the University of Southern California with a new kind of contract written so that my two fields of specialization and my two teaching departments do not conflict with each other, but rather reinforce each other in terms of an eventual tenure decision.

Before I leave New York I would like to donate these archives to the Schlesinger Library. I have more documentation on the Cerridwen Salon, but I will send that to you separately later on. I also possess cassette tapes of many of our WomenÕs Salon programs, and if you can fund me for the purchase of tapes, I can probably have them duplicated at Douglass College and donate them to you as well.

A brief personal history of my co-founding of the Women's Salon for Literature should include the fact that when my marriage ended in divorce in 1974, I attended an Ira Progroff Dialogue House Journal Workshop where I dialogued with WORK. I asked myself what my work would be if I had no job (at the time I was only part-time at Douglass College with very little hope of finding full-time employment). I also asked myself what I would do if money were not a problem and if I had a great deal of leisure time in which to create something meaningful for posterity. The answer was immediate. I would attend a literary salon like those which existed in the 18th century in France and which had always inspired me in my studies of literary history. But I knew that there were no literary salons in New York, and, since I was not an heiress, I was certain that I couldn't create a salon myself--or so I thought. I wanted this salon to be exclusively for women--a forum where their new works could gain visibility and recognition. My journal dialogue encouraged me to create the salon myself in the new feminist--cooperative style.

It wasn't until a year later that, attending a women's poetry reading at Marilyn Coffey's apartment in the Village, I hit upon the idea of creating a magnificent salon with friends who were writers. I invited Marilyn to join me and she immediately accepted. Each of us invited others to our first meeting. I invited Erika Duncan, who had been holding salon readings for Marguerite Young in her dramatic Westbeth apartment. Marilyn Coffey invited Karen Malpede (playwright) and Carole Rosenthal (fiction writer).

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Somehow or other everyone decided that since I had the most experience in public speaking, I should give the first salon. In November 1975 we pooled our address-books and formed a small mailing list. Invitations went out to attend a salon slide-lecture on THE WOMEN OF SURREALISM at my apratment on the Upper West Side . We expected only a handful of women to attend, but were overwhelmed when more than 75 women arrived at my door bearing gifts of flowers, fruit, cheese and wine--all completely ecstatic about the idea of continuing with more salons. The evening was euphoric, and we decided that it was essential to go on. There seemed to be an immediate and urgent need for this supportive artistic community of women to exist. Our next salons were held in artists' lofts and theatre spaces until they settled in Erika DuncanÕs apartment in Westbeth.

The history of our salon, its programs and aspirations, can be found in the enclosed materials. As you will see we presented a Salon program at the IWY Houston Conference in 1977 with Kate Millet, Olga Broumas, Valerie Miner, Erika and I giving readings and speeches. My Houston speech is enclosed with these materials. This took place in the Seneca Falls Performance Space.

In 1978--79 I directed the Rutgers Junior Year in France and during my year abroad Erika continued the literary salons in N.Y. with Sallie Reynolds. In Paris I was active in another feminist salon, inspired by our own salon creation in New York, This Parisian salon was connected with a Ōsalon de theĶ created by the feminist writer, Yolaine Simha. It was known as Le Lieu-Dit and was located at 171, Rue St. Jacques, Paris V, right down the block from the Pantheon. There I created three salon programs: 1. a program on the New York WomenÕs Salon for Literature; 2. a salon on writings by Quebecoise feminist writers; 3. a salon of my slide-lecture on The Re-emergence of the Goddess in Art by Contemporary Women.

On my return to the United States I decided to specialize in the creation of particular salons for which I felt a genuine need. These salons were: 1. Salons on literature from other languages and cultures (Jovette Marchessault, Quebec); 2. salons on the other arts ( A music salon on the compositions of Roberta Kosse); 3. Salons on literature by ethnic minorities (the Black Women Writers salon).

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Because of my comparative approach to many literatures and many arts, as well as my personal disagreements with Erika Duncan, in 1980 I decided to branch off and create a new salon, CERRIDWEN, a feminist salon in the Multi-Arts. I co-founded this salon with Marcia Miller, a friend from the Feminist WritersÕ Guild in New York. I will send separate documentation on this salon in the very near future.

Cerridwen is the name of the Celtic Goddess who presided over the sacred cauldron of wisdom and inspiration. These salons are centered on particular themes: WomenÕs Myth and Ritual, Ripening (Aging), and Women and Earth Ecology. They present full programs of works by women in different artistic media of expression relating to the same theme. They also take place in public spaces and have been roving from space to space this year. While the location of a salon in a private home may be charming and intimate, it creates many problems in terms of access to and possession of materials. It also causes the identification of the salon with the person whose home it is in. Since this was a collective creation, I objected to its being repeatedly held in the same person's private space. For all of these reasons I felt that we needed to try a variety of spaces. I was hoping that sculptors, painters, theatre people etc. would open their lofts to us and use their own art shows as part of our evening's program. It now looks as if the feminist cooperative Art Gallery SoHo 20 would like to make the salon CERRIDWEN a permanent feature of its season's programs and perhaps when I leave for California Marcia Miller will accept this offer.

Enclosed you will find articles we have written about the salon, and articles I have written about salon history, coverage by the international press (Chile, Canada, U.S. etc.), programs from our salon as well as from Le Lieu-Dit, and, finally, some information on the International Festival of Women Artists held at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen in July 1980. I was the Literaty Coordinator of that festival, and our U.S. program was the recipient of a $20,000 grant from the ICA of the State Department. My guest from the U.S. was black poet Audre Lorde who gave a reading of works by Third World women writers from the U.S. I also organized two international readings (an extension of the salon concept) in which writers from Japan, India, Spain, France, Scandinavia, Austria, Germany and the U.S. participated. I am including my speeches,


articles, and press coverage of that festival as well.

After August 1st I can be reached at the Comparative Literature Department of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. If you would like to plan any programs around the salon concept (contemporary and historical) I would be most happy to participate in them. I will be giving a course in literary salons at the Univ. of Southern California. Perhaps I shall eventually found a counterpart to The Woman's Salon and Cerridwen on the West Coast.

In New York Erika Duncan continues to hold literary salons in her Westbeth apartment, and Marcia Miller will continue to create salons in the Multi-Arts under the name of CERRIDWEN.

I feel that this is an important historical documentation, and I am proud to give it to RadcliffeÕs Schlesinger Library. I have articles forthcoming on salonieres Gertrude Stein and Natalie Barney, and as soon as they appear I will send them to you. The article on Gertrude Stein is actually the text of the talk that I gave at Le Theatre Experimental des Femmes in Montreal in Jan. 1981 which will be published in French. The article on Natalie Barney will appear in the next issue of 13th MOON which should be out shortly.

Let me take this opportunity to assure you that I am available for further inquiry and for any questions regarding these salon creations. I would be happy to meet with you or to give a program on our salons. I am delighted to have worked with Freda Leinwand, whose work I admire and respect. I was elated to learn that you had included her photos of our salons in your collection.

Thank you so much for your kind consideration in this matter. I sincerely appreciate all that you are doing to preserve the important documents on the history of women in our time.

Sincerely yours,

Gloria Feman Orenstein

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