New York Women's Literary Salon

January & February 1980 Newsletter

Text of the Newsletter:
(Please save this newsletter, as it covers two salons.)

Photo credit (photograph unavailable): Salon on "Father's Days: A True Story of Incest," with reader Katherine Brody (left), the women of the Salon, and Brody's incest support group. (All photos in this newsletter by Freda Leinwand.)

SUNDAY, JANUARY 12, 7 pm- MIRA HAMMERMESH, British writer, filmmaker, painter, reading from her new book AMAZON SCARE, and showing one of her short documentary films. Mira Hammermesh's work has appeared on BBC and Israel Television.

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2 pm- Valentine's Day Open Reading and party.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 7 pm- WORLD OF LIGHT: A PORTRAIT OF MAY SARTON and an open panel discussion on the woman mentor. Martha Wheelock, Sarton scholar, will show this newly released documentary and discuss her collaboration on and with filmmaker Marita Simpson.

Saturday January 12 at 7 PM Our Solon will be for Mira Hammermesh, novelist, film maker, painter who comes to us from England. By way of introduction, Karen Malpede writes:

I first met Mira Hammermesh through her films. It is a good way to meet, and, often, with me at any rate, a love for someone's work has led to the creation of a deep and abiding friendship. The Woman's Salon is founded on the principle that the literary and artistic life be lived out of passionate affection for the creation and creator. As founders and coordinators we have seen our own work deepen as we learned to know each other and to understand the complex, compelling dynamics among us and as we grew ve have often seen that growth reflected back to us in novels, criticism, plays.

I watched three of Mira Hammermesh's films at a private showing in New York just over a year ago. I was captivated instantly by the keen intelligence at work - and by the artist's imagination, putting intelligence in the service of compassion and of beauty. We met just once in New York after that. Mira phoned me because I had handed her a newsletter from the Woman's Salon which has a statement in it I had written about the then current trial of the White House Lawn 11, arrested for unfurling our anti-nuclear banner while standing on the grass outside the President's official home.

We spent a long, exciting evening together. Two moments especially stay in my memory. I was caring for a ten-year-old bright and lively boy patterned by the patriarchy to think he fancies guns and violence. I had forbidden television that night and set him to making something of his own at his father's workbench and he appeared while Mira and I were talking with a quite brilliantly executed nuclear missile. Mira immediately engaged him in a conversation about the toy weapon, impressed him with her knowledge of warfare and its accoutrements, and set him to drawing pictures of battle ships and planes. I felt as I watched them that she had seized on something genuine in Christopher's anger, that her willingness to meet him on his level and to speak nonjudgingly about the facts of war had begun to reach him in a way I, for all militant pacifism, bad not found.

Later, when Christopher was in bed and we were talking of our art, Mira suddenly lept up and pointed in rage at a wonderful old rag rug we have on our floor. "That's what women have always made art with," she screamed, "the rags, the garbage, the worthless cast-offs. No man would ever work in such a way."

Economics caught us in the end as it does in almost every conversation I have with a woman artist. How will we live and do our work? How, especially if one is a film maker of strength and vision almost unexplored, can one be content with weaving scraps of old cloth into a rug?

In the spring I stayed with Mira for two weeks at her house in London. We took long walks in the mornings in London's parks: at night we set up late and talked. Always the subject was the same: war and violence, how to overcome it, what, as women ve must do to stop the flow of destruction that will destroy the world. She questioned my vegetarianism. Did it matter? Did it help? She challenged my anti-machine age self, that all women should have knowledge of weapons and technology, knowledge to equal man's.

Then, one night, she offered me her book. It begins with a cry of fury at her mother. "Mother," it begins, "you said you'd rather die than kill, and they killed you." What kind of legacy is woman's pacifism, then; Mira has to know. She walked out of Poland at the age of 10, taking her older b brother with her, because she felt she had to live, because she knew, if sheltered by her mother, she would die.

"The delirium of war flared up and detonated beneath me, in, of all places, the maternity ward during childbirth. How was I to know that in between the contractions of labor, while pushing out a new life, the movement would stir the spirit of my dead mother? What do we know of the modality from body to body, from soul to soul, the mysterious bond between the living and the dead?

"...Summoned by my cries, my mother materialized at my bedside. She appeared shouting, a tormented spirit who, like Demeter the Earth Goddess, wept and raged over her forced separation from her own children. As they cut my son's umbilical cord, I felt my mother's eyes and the eyes of history fixed upon me with an unblinking gaze. When, for the first time, I held the baby in my arms, he felt heavy--the weight of wars and sorrows was pressing down on both of us. In the far distance I beard the sound of the martial roll-call, the vicious circle of revenge claiming my son. An avenger--my mother's avenger had been born! In that instant I understood how history, victories, defeats, birth and death are tied to women by umbilical cords. Yes, it was the birth of my son which opened the floodgates to the man-made supremacy of death."

Mira gave me this still unfinished manuscript late at night, half-embarrassed, half afraid. It is a book that is taking her a long time to write because the research involved is prodigious, because the subject matter-survival in a war indoctrinated world--is terrifying to touch. I read the chapters through as if in a trance. We are trained as little girls to be passive, perfect future wives to a race of warriors. Later, when we touch our anger, our ingrained passivity turns ugly, as it is. Violence seems preferable to that. We totter between the two known extremes, or we embrace pacifism ignoring, in our faith, that we do not know yet how to make it work. Here was a book refusing any answer. Here was a woman writer daring to look at military facts and figures, at the overwhelming odds against us, at women's age-old complicity in the methods of destruction while crying from the essence of her being that the killing has to stop. A woman whose family was destroyed and her own youth ravaged by the bitter hatred Hitler's Nazis wreaked upon the Jews. Who knows war in no abstract way and does not underestimate its power. Who refuses through an act of intellect and feeling to grant supremacy to violence over us.

The chapters of the book I read that night in London seemed to me brilliant in their passion, promise, intelligence, scope. When I told her this, we hugged and cried and laughed. Hugged and cried and laughed because the work is harsh and hard, the world unwelcoming and still there is a cry inside which Mira needs to heal, to heal, to heal.

"The hero of angynocentric culture," she writes, "will be a women who, after meeting Death, will return alive, become pregnant and give birth to a baby, thus freeing humanity from the bondage of outraged spirits."

PAGE MISSING. Newsletter text picks up with an accomanying article by Erika Duncan:

she will share some of bar own experiences with Sarton as her mentor, as well as those of work in close artistic collaboration with her lover. She will talk of her belief that "older women, too, need prodigies as family." For she feels that it is a constantly renewing cycle, that the love that Sarton gave her she and her lover now give to many other women, through Sarton's new presence in the film.

Because of what Martha Wheelock calls the "unsung" in our female mentors' roles in our lives, we ask any woman who has had an intensive mentor relationship with another woman that she would like to share (positive or negative) to please call one of us (Erika at 212-691-0539, Sallie at 516-759-9624, or Gloria at 212-865-1685) to be on our panel for this night. We have heard often of male mentors in our literary history, the male master with all his younger male prodigies, of mentor bonds (often quite sexual) between young women with established men. But very little has been said about the woman mentor, with itŐs special problems, revocation of the mother/daughter relationship with all its pulls and traumas, and until very recently the enormous fears of being labeled lesbian that caused so many older women artists to push younger women away. We want to explore how these relationships are changing and growing as the feminist movement takes root and to unearth the unsung women mentors of the past salon and literary history. Please join us for this panel.

Erika Duncan


Spring "Writing Project Launching" day long marathon, at Sea Cliff, at Sallie Reynolds' house on the shore of Long Island Sound. As the two writing workshops in the Salon space grow end receive visitors from other parts of the country and abroad, we realize the hunger of women to give their deepest works their first crucial breaths within a caring and supportive atmospbere. Many of the visitors who have set in on the workshops have spoken of their own desire to find the "subject" they must write about in order to unlock the passions and ideas within them. But this is difficult, almost impossible, to do alone. By allowing an opportunity for women (who may live too far from places with chances to meet regularly with other writers) to do intensive work during a day in finding themes with enough momentum in them to carry on, by helping them reach the source of their deepest obsessions, it is our hope that they will leave the day with a tangible sturdy project with its own unfolding built into it and potential to continue without getting stuck.

The marathon will begin at 11 AM on Saturday May 3 and last until 10:30 PM with time to wander on the beach and cliff alternated with intensive group work session and meals. Erika Duncan and Sallie Reynolds who do contstant fiction writing work together will. conduct the workshops. The fee for the day is $50.00. Since space in the group must necessarily be limited by the kind of work we plan to do, we are suggesting that you register well in advance. (We will repeat this announcement in the next newsletter, but felt we should give women from far away a chance to plan ahead by projecting it now.) To register or receive additional information, write or call Sallie Reynolds at 24 Bay Ave., Sea Cliff, N.Y. 115T9 (5i6-759-9624) or Erika Duncan at 463 West St., NYC, NY 10014 (212-691-0539)

Because of enormous increases in printing costs and operating expenses, we have bad to raise our admission price from $2.50 to $3.00, and to ask members to contribute $1.00 at the door. As always, we are willing to waive these fees in the case of financial hardship. And as always, we will welcome any additional contributions. For the last five years, we have been operating on a very small budget. All coordinator work is completely volunteer. And we count on the support of our members and our audience in order to continue our work.



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