New York Woman's Literary Salon

November-December 1980 Newsletter

Text of the Newsletter:
The Woman's Salon

November 22-7 pm Paula Gunn Allen & Linda Hogan
Two Native American Writers from the Southwest

November 23-7 pm
A Repeat Performance Open to Men

December 13-7pm Mira Rothenberg reading from "Children with Emerald Eyes"
Followed by an Open Reading on the Theme of Healing

At the home of Erika Duncan: 463 West St. (Westbeth, between Bank and Bethune Streets) Apt. 933 B.

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Paula Gunn Allen & Linda Hogan

TWO NATIVE AMERICAN WRITERS FROM THE SOUTHWEST introduced by Elaine Jahner, in celebration of Book Forum's Native American issue.

November 22 Saturday Our usual Woman's Salon program
November 23 Sunday A special repeat program open to men

The Woman's Salon honoring Native American writers will feature PAULA GUNN ALLEN (Laguna, Lebanese) and LINDA HOGAN (Chickasaw). Too often writers who are prominent in other sections of the country are not heard in the east but during this Salon we will have an opportunity to discuss our concerns with two-well known southwestern writers. Paula is from Albuquerque and Linda from Denver. Both of them have published fiction, poems and essays which address a wide range of literary, feminist and racial issues.

PAULA GUNN ALLEN has held many teaching, administrative and counseling positions that range from chairing the Native American Studies Program at San Francisco State University to working for the New Mexico Cancer Control Program. Her many publications include two books, COYOTE'S DAYLIGHT TRIP and THE BLIND LION; individual poems in such publications as Suntracks, American Poetry Review and La Confluencla and essays in Conditions #7 and Melus: The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.

This year LINDA HOGAN is working as poet in the schools in the Denver Public School System. She has taught creative writing and Native American literature in various colleges and has served on the board of directors of Denver Native Americas United. Her published books are CALLING MYSELF HOME, and the DIARY OF AMANDA MCFADDEN & POEMS. In addition to the books, she has published in such literary magazines as Prairie Schooner, Suntracks, Denver Quarterly, Shantih, Beloit Poetry Journal. She has also written a play, "A piece of Moon," and several essays.

Paula Gunn Allen will read from her poetry, a novel in progress and an article written for Book Forum in which she explores the distinguishing traits of Native American women's writing. In this article she writes, "Oddly, though there is anger, grief, and a clear knowledge of historical circumstance there is little bitterness in the writing of these women; though there is cause enough for bitterness. Perhaps when the worst has happened, one can accept live sanely. Certainly sanity is the clearest quality in the poems I read tonight, . . . Such sanity . . . makes magical, terrible events available to comprehension. Because of knowledge of the deep and lasting bond between earth and person, comfort is possible and even deep loneliness and desperate anguish can be understood. No woman who knows the faces of spirits, their presence in the wind and water, sky and peak, can ever truly be abandoned." In commenting on the relationship women have to the spirit world, she calls it "the most gracious power that we possess The theft of spirit presence finally makes us insane if we allow the breath of distortion to cloud our sight. If we dare to see and to delight in that seeing, a consequence will result such as Roberta Hill (Oneida) describes in her poem Leap In The Dark." All of Paula's own writing is an attempt to describe and go beyond the distortions which cloud our vision.

Linda Hogan will read from several of her books, including a book of poetry in which she adopts the persona of a woman in a non-Indian utopian community. Explaining her effort, Linda

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says that the book "steps outside the boundaries of family and tribe. It joins together the historical past with the potential for future development. I see it as a record for possibility. The conflicts of group living have not been omitted. The personal shapes the text. Yet there is the raw material of historical experience waiting to be transformed into future experiment." In choosing to adopt the perspective of a non-Indian woman Linda was employing a literary device that enabled her to feel deeply some basic concerns of the American Indian communities. She writes, "It was in my mind that there needed to be a shift from 'I' to 'we' and that we will have to incorporate new traditions with the old, to include new people in our communities and in most cases, choose to build a group to live and work with."

Linda's statements capture the theme of the entire Book Forum issue. In editing the issue I have sought out writers whose tribal identity has shaped the directions of their creative efforts, drawing them into intense involvement with issues that shape the way different ethnic and racial groups relate to each other today. Instead of labels and rarified discourse we need mutual recognition of what we have come to mean to each other. That need is real, immediate and impossible to accomplish in any final way.

Creative artists are out [sic] best cultural translators; but art can not be locked into any particular polemic, no matter how important it may be. A tradition, like love, can show itself as the air does by the life-giving qualities of its presence; and live is constantly surprising in its newness and freedom. So too, what is most traditional about Indian expression may not always come in known or ancient form. A dangerous but splendid quality, genius. It does not always merge peaceably into single allegiances. Yet when Native American creative expression startles by its newness and when it shows vital incorporation of features from other world cultures, white American tend to disregard the importance of any features springing from tribal inspiration. This is a peculiar and devastating sort of dissociation that refuses full recognition to the potency of significant sources of cultural life among us. It is a terrible betrayal of creativity.

There is no way to escape the fact that the dark side of racial relations shows us much about evil, greed and pathetic human weakness, but we cannot allow our preoccupation with these to cloud our understanding of the wit, wisdom and love that have been present in each tradition. We know only portions of the racially shared history of our nation; and these are reminders that, like our geography, our social environment has been violently shaped; and we all share the contours and sharp contrasts of both.

Elaine Jahner

On Monday, November 24, we will be bringing our Native American program to the Afro-American Woman's Salon of New Haven, founded just this year in affiliation with our own, with the idea that we would share occasional programs. We are very excited about the idea of repeating this particular program there for an audience which will bring together Afro-American women and women from the nearby Connecticut tribes. This will be our first celebration of our connection and the first program of the Afro-American Woman's Salon open to the non-black community.

For further information about the New Haven Salon write to Teresa McGriff at the Afro-American Cultural Center, Yale University 3439 Yale Station, New Haven, Conn. 06520 - (203)436-8700

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Mira Rothenberg December 13 - 7 pm

One of the most extraordinary, powerful human experiences is to share another person's vulnerability and sickness, a kind of physical and emotional empathy that becomes almost a fusion, in an attempt to help that person to heal some festering wound of the deep inner spirit and flesh. In these moments, helpers--doctors, therapists, friends--become healers in the archetypal sense of the word. When the momentary fusion and exchange of vital energy works with scientific knowledge, truly miraculous cures and healings can occur. But to attempt such a thing is terribly frightening and not without terrible real dangers. And so, few professionals ever dare attempt it. Few have been able to allow themselves to feel their own vulnerable breaking so keenly and so thoroughly that they are driven to attempt these moments. And yet I believe this process is one of our few hopes in the world, one of the few ways of breaking the barriers between us and in us; between sick and well, between broken and whole, spirit and body. And yet we need to heal up the splits in order to reach an understanding of what it means to be human and conscious, alive and active in the world.

True healers are driven to go beyond these barriers. True healers are very rare. MIRA ROTHENBERG is such a healer. And she has chosen to work with the most vulnerable people in the world: with children who have shut themselves off from themselves and from the world, children who inhabit a world of fear and who have created waves of barriers to lock themselves inside.

Mira'a book, CHILDREN WITH EMERALD EYES, is a record of her process as healer and an extraordinary portrait of these children. The children Mira writes about are afraid of the stare, laugh when they should cry, cannot tell the difference between a kiss and a bite.

Mira writes powerfully of her decision to make these children her life's work--a difficult decision, full of the agony of admitting that she herself is driven by her memory of great hurt and survival in war torn Europe into the battle for another being's survival. She fought fiercely against being drawn into work with children from Displaced Persons Camps. "Do you turn back the clock," she writes, "and say, 'No, there is no bitterness, no hate, no pain, no torture'? How do you make believe?...How do you run in the sunshine and say, Yes, I love. How do you...say, Yes, I want. How do..... you say, I'll help. ...If you walk with death, you become death...And now these kids would bring it back to me."

When at last she has worked with the children, and worked successfully, one of them, the boy Joseph, dies. "...freedom was too much...for this little child. The diagnosis of his death was undetermined, because one does not die of freedom in the medical books. Just as one does not die of happiness. But one does."

And yet Mira lived and worked and loved the work. Later, writing of her beginning work with autistic children, she tells us that she didn't know what the words "autistic" and schizophrenic really meant. "But I did love it, and at times was even good at it." She knew by then that she could enter these children's experience of life and love them and hear them and from her place in their experiences begin to make them hear her and at last a little of the rest of the world. By entering the language of these hurt children--the symbols they communicate in--she begins to understand them. And with understanding comes the effort to break down the barriers that hide the soft hurting core of each child.

Most of the literature we have on healing gives us the cultural and clinical modes, the ideal of healers as cool objective doctors and therapists who are taught to treat people who come to them with "objective firmness." They have been taught that they must slice away all their feelings for hurt people. They are taught they must not love them or

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fear them or be angry with them or sorrow over them. Above all, their own sorrows and joys must never intrude. Yet all these things do occur--the personal intrudes (most explosively when it is denied) and so we are given books by doctors on faceless patients they have cured, and their personal involvement fades into a kind of mock, ironic, "humanism." Mira's book is quite different. It gives a remarkable new experience of the healing process. She writes passionately and honestly of the joys of the triumphs and the sorrows of the failures. She shows us moments of success, of defeat, and most heartening of all, moments when the outcome trembles delicately on the rim--swinging now this way toward growth, now that way toward a defeat of the spirit. These are the moments we must cherish and learn from.

We will follow this reading by an open reading in which our audience is invited to share these moments as recorded in their own works. Since we ourselves have been moved so by Mira's book, and have spent our artistic energies in searching for an understanding of this healing process, we will join our audience in reading. Karen Malpede will read from her new play, A Monster Has Stolen The Sun; Erika Duncan will read from her new novel in progress about a blind child in a traveling theater; Sallie Reynolds will read from her new book about a doctor/midwife, The Singing Bone. In this second thematic reading, we would like to foster the intercommunication and cross fertilization between fiction and nonfiction. We urge you to bring your work on this subject, all kinds of works.

Mira Rothenberg is a psychologist and clinical director and co-founder of the Blueberry Treatment Centers. She is an adjunct professor in the graduate division of Long Island University and a psychologist on the staff of Long Island College Hospital.


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SALON NEWS: Gloria Orenstein, who dreamed the name Salon out of her longing for a hearth and home type of place for women to safely share, reveal and support each other's work, out of her love for the Salons of old where women turned the homes they were confined to into guerilla centers for cultural growth -- will be leaving us this year to catalyze a whole new kind of forum. We will miss her "alchemical" energy, but she plans to keep our audience informed of her new doings.

Since its founding in 1975, the Salon has not only been a space for readers and audience to find each other, but also for the women who have coordinated it to change it, shape it, and create and recreate it as their own art, lives, politics and goals evolve. We will miss Gloria Orensteln, whose spark was so essential in the creation of the Salon and who has been such an important part of its shape for these past five years. She will be inviting you soon to the new multi-arts salon which she is co-founding.

We will also miss Carole McCauley, whose new infant is taking her away from us. Carole, long a familiar figure in the Book Room, appeared during the first few months of our existence when the book table was quite literally a pile of a few small self-published pamphlets from the women who happened to be there. She straightened the pile to make it look more attractive and agreed to take money from buyers and to talk to people who were interested. She had worked at the Grail Book Store, she said, and missed the atmosphere. Within a few months we had an active Book Sales area, supported by large publishers and by small press alike. A place where self published women could find an audience and get money for their work, where new women's magazines would be carried and promoted, and new books published in the commercial presses could be brought to readers in exchange for a donator to the Salon (usually around half price). These donated books have become an important "guerilla" way of getting neglected books to hungry readers and creating a network of potential reviewers, helping authors and audience alike. Most of the large presses have been happy to donate books to us for this purpose as a way of promoting the work of their new women writers. Since the Salon is a place of passage for visiting writers from many countries as well as other parts of our country, having books to show here has proved important. We will all miss Carole who has promised to visit us as often as she can.

Susan Suchman and Elizabeth Morse, two women from the Salon Fiction Writing Workshop, will be the new book table coordinators. They write, "As writers now completing our first large projects, we have found that the Salon made it possible for us to know other writers and to become familiar with many more aspects of writing, reading, and publishing than would have been possible alone. We feel that the Salon provides a special place where writers at all stages of growth and learning can speak together as people in a common situation. We would like the Book Table to be a place where this exchange continues. In order to make this happen we need your participation, please come to the Book Table to browse, to buy, to suggest titles, or to contribute copies of your work for exhibit and sale."

The New York Salon Fiction Writing Workshop has four new members and is thriving. The Sea Cliff Long Island workshop has gotten off to a wonderful start with all the members working well. We have room for a few more members.

On October 11, Karen Malpede, Sallie Reynolds, Erika Duncan, Gloria Orensteln and Danielle Notaro read at The Women's One World Festival to support a two-day protest against our whole war economy. The protest will involve women from all over the country who will converge on Washington, D.C. November 16-17. Sunday the 16th will be a day of meetings, brainstorming, and artistic programs. Most of you have already received the Action's Unity Statement in the mail. If not, please write to us. Erika and Sallie will be in Washington on Sunday the 16th, to lead an open reading dealing with feelings and fears and hopes about the world. We look forward to meeting many of you there, and together to build a body of writings that makes strong statement for understanding, and for caring, and for change.

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