New York Woman's Literary Salon

November & December 1979 Newsletter

Photo: Left to right Gloria Orenstein, Erika Duncan, Sally Reynolds, Louise Cottnoir, Pol Pelletier, France Theoret, Helene de Beauvoir, Jovette Marchessault. Salon for Jovette Marchessault; Reception for Helene de Beauvoir. Photo by Freda Leinwand

Text of the Newsletter:

Saturday, November 17, 7 pm Phyllis Chesler reading from WITH CHILD Introduced by E.M. Broner

Saturday, December 15, 7 pm Towards a Feminist Approach to Book Reviewing: An Anniversary Celebration for New Women's Times Feminist Book Review

Sunday, December 30, 2 pm Our Traditional New Year's Open Reading and Party

These Salons will take place at the home of Erika Duncan: 463 West Street (Westbeth, between Bank and Bethune Streets) Apt. 933B-There will be a social hour from 7 to 8 for evening programs Readings start promptly at 8.

Please save this newsletter as it refers to several Salons.

On November 17 Phyllis Chesler, author of WOMEN AND MADNESS, WOMEN 0 MONEY AND POWER, @ ABOUT MEN, will read to us from her new book, WITH CHILD, a work drawing on her year diary of her pregnancy and her new motherhood. Preparing to give birth for the first time at the age of thirty-seven, she asks her unborn fetus and her self all of the age-old all too rarely answered questions about whether having a child is a real wish, whether it will really soften the blow of loneliness, and give her the bonds with other women she has always longed for. As she weaves through the stories of other mothers and people she meets she speaks to the baby inside her, "So you can be taken away by fathers and their new wives; you can be taken away if I'm poor, or if I refuse to be a 'wife'. You can be taught to hate me if I'm forced to abandon you...

"Tonight--can you sense it--we sleep far over on our side of the bed."

Child custody, the tensions mothers and daughters pass on through Generations, the medical establishment's violation of our bodies, all are issues mourned and dealt with here, as well as joys and coming to terms with our own vulnerabilities.

Phyllis Chesler told me that the first audience for WITH CHILD was a group of radical lesbian separatists--some of whom had children, some of whom were sure that they would never want to. Yet the material of the book evoked Intense, unexpected, fierce reactions for them all--tears, memories, anger, desire. She told me that some of the women re-experienced the loss of their own mothers, or experienced that loss for the first time. Other women realized how high the price of becoming a biological mother was for them, how we are "robbed of the fruits of our flesh" in order to survive as women.

Too often in the women's movement we are separated from one another by such "temporal" life issues as our sexuality, or our having or not having children in ways which prevent the true sharing of female experience which can enrich us all. WITH CHILD is such a sharing, poetic and intimate of the ambivalences which we must experience (whether or not we actually have children) and too often try to hide from (claiming distance from the conflicts regardless of what our choices are).

Phyllis Chesler writes: "For me, only in becoming a mother could I become aware of my love for my mother. I am re-united with the child I left long ago, which forces me to see the extent to which I give Ariel, my child, maternal love meant for myself, and what I give him for himself... what a double vision. I grow thoughtful. I ponder the difficulties of unselfish love. I begin to forgive my mother for not having been superhuman, for not having loved me. I begin reluctantly to accept with less rancor the limitation of other adults In terms of their ability to love; unconditionally, purely, consistently, forever. Impossible dreams. Ordinary dreams, whose victims we all are."

December 15 TOWARD A FEMINIST APPROACH TO BOOK REVIEWING; AN ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION FOR NEW WOMEN'S TIMES' FEMINIST REVIEW, with Maxine Sobel (founder and publisher of the Review), Ellen Frankfort (journalist and health activist), Vivian Gornick (a Now York based writer who has written on subjects as varied as Feminism, American Communism, and the Arab East), Erika Duncan (novelist and contributing editor of Book Forum), Blanche Wiesen Cook (journalist and feminist historian), and Marilyn French (author of The Women's Room).

Our guest of honor for the evening, Maxine Sobel, In 1975 founded New Women's Times, a biweekly national feminist newspaper distributed in 50 states and 10 foreign countries. This month marks the first anniversary of this paper's Feminist Review, the only regular literary supplement to a feminist newspaper. When The Review began, Maxine Sobel said: "There are plenty of good women writers out there who have not been given 9, chance whether because of the current book reviewing practices, unfair contracts, or rejections from established publishing houses. We want to give them a chance. We want to offer an opportunity for growth for not only the writer but for the reader herself." A year later, this philosophy has been translated into a reality. Each issue presents articles and reviews by women who range from well-known writers to those who have never before published their work. And on this panel we are attempting to echo this range.

Because we believe that a truly Feminist approach to book reviewing must encompass entry and access to all works by women interested In changing our lives, we have deliberately chosen a panel of women of diverse points of view on many issues, and of diverse positions in terms of the "literary world," united mainly by their interest in creating a real forum for the works that they believe in. Maxine Sobel said: "We're trying to develop a fair process of editing and rejecting material. We want to develop a sane way of dealing with a woman's words, without altering her ideas and style. The only criterion we ask is that the woman must consider herself a feminist. We don't define a feminist. If a woman considers herself one, that's fine."

In attempting to evolve a new approach to book reviewing, we must start to question all of the old ideas which we have been taught. Most of the material in the Feminist Review to unsolicited. Writers are encouraged to send in reviews about the books that move them most. Is it all right for friends and lovers to review each other's work? Does passionate attraction to a person make one's literary response less valid--or perhaps even more valid, If Indeed love, Ideas, and art are joined? Can the one who loves a book passionately best illuminate the pathway into it, or should we be the rational, Impartial judges the patriarchy asks us to be? Are there different standards of reviewing fiction and non-fiction, poetry? Do certain books, by their very essence, ask to be questioned, others to be entered and loved? What do we do when themes of books are important to feminists (and likely to be downed by the establishment) yet we ourselves have serious reservations about them? Because of our training in irony, judgment, and "cleverness," it is often easier to attack from a superior vantage point than to enter in a sisterly way. When can we and where can we be honest? What price do we pay for silence (when we don't like something yet feel that it is important)? Is even destructive publicity better than no mention, as the commercial establishment led us to believe?

These and many other questions we will deal with on this panel are crucial to us not only as writers and reviewers, but also as readers and women who care about the shaping of the world. For we must begin to take real responsibility for the way the media, both established and alternate, gives us the access to the books and information that we need.

Sunday, December 30:Our traditional New Year's Open Reading will feature Alice B. Toklas delicacies (improving slightly as we go along), perhaps salon spaghetti, hot mulled cider etc. It will begin at 2 PM and go on for several hours followed by the feast and party!! Bring poetry, music, theater, novels, short stories, and things to eat and drink. As our Salon goes on. these gatherings become both more festive and more Intimate, a chance to come to know each other In new ways. So be prepared to stay a while.


Ever since my return from Europe I feel that as a Salon Co-founder and dreamer of our dream of women writers and artists from around the world united by bonds of deep understanding and communion, I have a new vision for The Woman's Salon that I would like to bring into existence this year. It involves extending our present Salon activities to incorporate a series of Comprehensive Arts Salons.

Actually our tradition of Comprehensive Arts Salons (salons in the other media and in foreign literatures) dates back to the salon we held for Monique Wittig In 1975 and to our salon for Women Artists Who Write hold In 1977 at the AIR Gallery.

I feel that we reenergized this initiative in September by opening our 5th year of Woman's Salon Programs with a salon for Jovette Marchessault, a visionary feminist writer from Quebec. In my mind this series takes the form of a number of salons specifically devoted to foreign literatures, ethnic-American writing, and works in a multiplicity of artistic media.

I was a graduate student in N.Y.U.'s Comparative Literature Program which fostered a spirit of inquiry into the rich relationships that exist between various national literatures as well as those that flourish between literature and the other arts. Specializing in Surrealist literature it soon became apparent to me that the literature of the Surrealist Movement should not be studied completely apart from the context of Surrealism in the visual arts, for the writers and artists of the Surrealist aesthetic shared a larger vision, one that proclaimed the power of the imagination to change life, transform reality. and reimpassion human existence. As an international movement in both literature and the arts, the Surrealist model inspires me in my desire to see the Feminist Movement Iin the arts embrace as wide a scope as possible. By relating texts to each other from various ethnic and foreign backgrounds, and by juxtaposing works in different media, we hope to show the overriding unity within the diversity of feminist artistic expressions and to create forces for solidarity that transcend all boundaries whether linguistic or artistic.

We would like to encourage the independent translation of works from foreign cultures so that these works can be presented to Salon audiences in the very near future. In this way The Woman's Salon and its network can lend support to international women writers by pressing for the translation and publication of their works. When I envisage salons in the other arts I become excited about the possibility of presenting new creations in the visual arts to literary audiences, new musical compositions and performances to writers, dancers, painters, sculptors and to women in all fields and walks of life.

Within a context of "The New Matronage", of creating audiences of women who support feminist art works in all media, we feel that mixing audiences can only foster the creation of those interrelationships between women that are the most fecund and nurturing. Some of the events in this series may have to be held in larger spaces, and we hope that the feminist community in the arts will collaborate with us in this venture.

I will coordinate this Comprehensive Arts Series and I hope to schedule at least one international or ethnic literary salon and one inter-arts salon this coming year as a part of our overall Woman's Salon Season for 1979--80.

We all welcome this opportunity to let new voices and visions in and to broaden our communication with our sisters in art by breaking down some of the remaining barriers that separate us.

WRITING WORKSHOPS going on on Tuesday and Wednesday nights from 8 to 9130 in the Salon space (Tel. 691-0539). Erika Duncan, who will be running it writes: Because I believe that books and other shorter works reflect in impact upon readers the essential quality of the writers' experience in their creation, in our workshops women writers learn to share their deepest selves in ways which truly can reach others. The process of writing, by necessity, brings to the surface our most vulnerable areas. It awakens many hidden sides of self. Therefore, I strongly feel it should not be a lonely one, especially in the early stages.

Together we help each woman discover her essential themes and questions showing how through understanding these a living structure for a project can evolve. And once a project is begun, we teach each woman to recognize in "what works" her strengths from which forward motion can be unleashed. We start to see how even weak and "unsuccessful" sections function to protect those parts of ourselves we fear (as we work to overcome those fears) or lead to what we do not yet know how to say, so that gradually we learn to accept and "own" the totality of the writing process, while increasing our mastery over its many complexities.

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