New York Women's Literary Salon

March-June 1983 Newsletter

Text of the Newsletter:
Friday, March 25, 7 p.m. - of Karen Malpede's new play Sappho and Aphrodite and a celebration of the publication of her new anthology, Women in Theatre: Compassion and Hope.

Saturday, April 16, 7 p.m. - Robin Morgan reading from her new book of poems, Depth Perception and her new prose book The Anatomy of Freedom: Feminism, Physics and Global Politics.

Sunday, May 21, 7 p.m.: A celebration of the publication of Susannah Heschel's new anthology, On Being a Jewish Feminist.

Saturday, June 4, 2 p.m. - Our Traditional Season's Ending Open Reading and Spaghetti Supper.

The March 25 Salon will be a reading by the cast of my new play, Sappho & Aphrodite, and it will also celebrate publication of the anthology Women in Theatre; Compassion and hope which I have edited from the works of theater women like Eva LeGallienne, Ellen Terry, Lorraine Hansberry, Martha Graham, Hallie Flanagan, Judith Malina and many others.

Sappho & Aphrodite is being directed by Lois Weaver.

Lois is founder and director of Split Britches Company, a producer of the past two Women One World Festivals, co-founder of the W.O.W. Cafe, and former member of Spiderwoman Theater. We last worked together in 1976, when she acted in my play Rebeccah. I am especially excited about our current collaboration because, along with the absolute honesty and integrity of Lois's work, everything she does in the theater is alive, accessible, fully-peopled, funny. This mix of her popular, energetic style with the lyric verse and ritual aspects of the play promises to be particularly potent. Roberta Kosse is composing the music. Roberta and I have worked together on two other plays and her great gift for setting words to music plus her deep feelings for this material also promises something special. Bernette Rudolph, printmaker and sculptor, is designing her first theater set. Already, the woodcuts she has made from rehearsal sketches capture the essence of the energy and commitment of the talented cast. They are Beverly Wideman as Sappho; Kate Stafford, Dorothy Cantwell, Cathy Coray, and Dianne Houston. Debra Miller is stage manager. We have been in an exploratory workshop since late December. The week of March 21-26 we are holding a series of open rehearsals and readings of the work-in-progress. The finished play will premier next October.

Sappho and Aphrodite is a play in verse which uses about twenty of Sappho's poems and fragments, in the Mary Barnard translation, in its text. The play is set In the school on the isle of Lesbos where the arts of poetry, music, dance, ritual making, physical fitness, and sensual awareness are awakened in young women by Sappho, who is a supremely gifted teacher and lyricist. It is the dawn of the annual ritual worship to Aphrodite, goddess of desire and of the creative force in women. Anactoria, a lovely young woman from Sardis, has just arrived and her presence finalizes the rupture between Sappho and Atthis, Sappho's student/competitor/lover, who has composed the choral song for the evening's ritual. Timas, Sappho's musician and confidant, the victim of a wartime rape that has left her mute, and Cleis, Sappho's rebellious teenage daughter in the turmoil of her own sexual awakening, complete the circle of five. The play's plot has been invented from a meditation on the material in Sappho's existing poetry. In theme it wants to investigate the connections between sexual desire, creativity, death; and to show that when the aesthetic spirit permeates communal life, useful ritual quite naturally results.

It is always a special privilege for me to be able to preview a new theater work at the Woman's Salon. When five women founded the Salon eight years ago, we did so out of extremely personally felt needs for a place to share our work and the work of other women. Now the Salon is something of a venerable tradition in the woman's community. It seems fitting that a play about Sappho and her school should be read here. How glad I am for the Salon's continued existence, for Erika Duncan's persistence as one-by-one the other founders left for other tasks, and for her vision, in the Sapphic tradition, of a place where women artists grow in stature and in depth because of the deep bonds we form with one another. How very glad I am for the writer's friendship Erika and I have maintained these many years; how much my own work owes to her acute perceptions as critic, as artist.

-Karen Malpede

On Saturday, April 16, Robin Morgan will read from her new book of poems, Depth Perception and from her new prose book, The Anatomy of Freedom: Feminist Physics and Global Politics in which she writes,

"Feminism has been perceived as a politics and movement relating specifically to the rights of women. If this were the totality of feminism's concern, that would be sufficient cause for its validity and vitality. But feminism is a vision as important and transformative to men as to women, and one crucial to the continuation of sentient life on this planet. It's time we comprehended feminism in its full, holographic nature.

"One aspect is the worldwide condition of women. Another explores what the right technological

balance could be in a new society. Another resonates with the subrealities of dreams and the unconscious. Another traces the complexity of sexual passion in both women and men. Gender, race, global politics, family structures, economics, the environment, childhood, aging-all reveal their interconnectedness as we move around the holograph. The internal workings of the human body or of an atomic particle, the issues of dying and death, of masks and personae, of spiritual faith and scientific fact, of aesthetics and astrophysics, disclose themselves as interwoven expressions of one dynamic whole. It's for this reason that I've chosen quantum physics and its themes of relativity and interrelationship as the central analogy for feminism-and for freedom-in this book.

"For almost two decades, I've written about, lectured on, and organized for the ideas and politics of feminism for the sake of women, with the emphasis on women's right to freedom, access, self-determination, and empowerment-as a matter of simple justice. If, in fact, these were the sole reasons for and goals of the movement and consciousness we call feminism, they would be quite sufficient unto themselves as such. it might not even be necessary to try to envision, much less articulate, what the ripple effects might be from that single dropped pebble releasing the creative energy of more than half the human species after so long. Nor is it necessary to apologize for feminism's concerning itself "merely" with women, or to justify feminism on the "Please, may I" grounds that it's good for men too, and therefore-won't-you-let-us-have-it? In the long run, it will be good for men, but even were it permanently to prove as discomfiting for men as it seems to be in the short run, that wouldn't make women's needs and demands any the less just.

"So the fact that I place feminism in a "larger context" is neither an apology nor a justification. It is simply to show, once and for all, that feminism is the larger context."

On Sunday, May 21 at 7 p.m. out Salon will be in celebration of the publication of a new anthology on Feminism and Judaism by Schocken Books. The program will include readings by Susannah Heschel, its editor and Diane Levenberg. It is our hope that Mimi Scarf will come from California to join us with her essay, Marriages Made in Heaven? Wife Abuse in the Jewish Community. I will also share my own writings on The Hungry Jewish Mother.

Susannah Herschel writes: "Feminism is the single most powerful force confronting Judaism today. Demands for both institutional changes and reinterpretations of traditional teachings about women, men, God, revelation, and rabbinic authority are evoking loud and hostile responses. Feminists themselves are moving from criticizing specific laws and ideas to challenging the assumptions and structures that lie at the heart of Judaism.

"Both the strength of the negative responses and the growing insight into the patriarchal basis linking all aspects of Judaism have made many skeptical of the very possibility of being a feminist and a Jew. While some women have simply left the community, others have taken advantage of new opportunities, such as rabbinic ordination within the Reform and Reconstructionist movements. But for the vast majority the conflict points to the need for a deeper examination ofJudaism's attitudes toward women and for a careful exploration of how women can move from Other to Subject within a transformed Judaism.

"The new book, On Being a Jewish Feminist: A Reader, is the first book on Judaism from a feminist perspective. It does not pretend to present a 'balanced' view, but, instead, makes a definite argument about the conflict between feminism and Judaism and raises questions about how that conflict might be resolved. The book begins by exploring the images of women underlying traditional Jewish teachings and laws, as well as secular fiction and contemporary, popular myths. The second group of essays explores the conflict in identity between being a feminist and a Jew in settings ranging from the synagogue to Federation to the emerging Jewish feminist fiction.

"The final section suggests that only through theological efforts can the full transformation of Judaism that is required take place. A feminist theology of Judaism must apply feminism's concern for women's dignity and humanity in examining the meaning of religious symbols, traditions, and beliefs. Theology establishes a relationship to Judaism as a whole, guiding this process of growth not simply by changing one or

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As usual we will conclude this season with a celebratory open reading and party-on Sat. June 4 at 2 p.m. The New Year's open reading was warm and wonderful this year and we look forward to the June gathering. Bring prose and poetry and song to share. We will provide the wine and cider and a big spaghetti dinner to follow the reading. As with all of our Salons admission is $4, members free, but extra food or financial contributions toward the launching of the 1983-84 season will be welcomed.

The fiction and autobiographical writing workshops, Tuesday nights and Sunday morning, continue. After the usual post-summer realignments both groups are going strong-the first few full-length novels that the workshop has produced are nearing completion and-we are all very excited.

This is now the eighth year that the Salon has been in existence; the fifth year for the workshops. If you would like to know more about either, please call me at 691-0539.

Sincerely, Erika Duncan

This newsletter was set in ITC Garamond Light and Book by Sarah Dowson

Our photograph is of an early rehearsal of Sappho and Aphrodite

Calligraphy by Gwynne Duncan

All meetings will take place at the home of Erika Duncan: 463 West St. (Westbeth, between Bank and Bethune Streets) Apt. 933B

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