New York Woman's Literary Salon

September 1977 Newsletter

Text of the Newsletter:

The Woman's Salon takes great pleasure in opening its third season with a reading by Judy Chicago who has come to us from the Woman's Building in California of which she is a co-founder. For us this cross-country meeting of networks of women in the arts has a special significance, showing that our energy and desire to share creative strength can spread. Judy will be reading from REVELATIONS OF THE GODDESS: A CHRONICLE OF THE DINNER PARTY which is a symbolic rewriting of history beginning with Genesis to be published by Diana Press It is in the form of an illuminated manuscript with 150 illustrations by Judy.

This September reading will be a prelude to a large surrealist banquet we are planning for January which will coincide with the activities of the Women's Caucus of The College Art Association. Since Salon Women from the 17th century to the present have traditionally fostered the spirit of creativity through using the role that society has assigned to them in a totally new way, as a catalyst for social change, through the ritual celebration of the great dinner party, we of the Woman's Salon decided to host a festive dinner with Judy Chicago to support her in the completion of her project.

The 'Dinner Party' project, conceived by Judy Chicago, an artist and writer, is a three part concept which brings knowledge and appreciation of women's history and of women's culture to a wide audience. It is conceived as a reinterpretation of the Last Supper theme from the point of view of those who have prepared the meals and set the table throughout history. The 'Dinner Party' wil be an easily graspable symbol which will document women's lives, attest to women's achievements, be a symbol of women's aspirations and provide a vision of women's future.

The reading will be:
Saturday, September 24, 1977 7:00 PM
463 West Street. Apt. 933B Duncan Westbeth -- Between Bank & Bethune

As usual, women only are invited to the Salon. Guests are welcome. Because of requests from out-of-town members we have decided to start the readings promptly at 8:00 PM- From 7:00 to 8:00 women are welcome to come for wine and cheese and an opportunity to meet each other. Again this year our book table will be in operation. Please bring any books, magazines, or other publications which you might like to sell or to display. Although we urgse you all to subscribe to our forthcoming year's program as described in the brochure (Members please renew your subscriptions if they have expired!), if you are unable to do so, please bring a contribution of $1.50 to help us cover costs.

column 2

This has been a very different summer for each of the Salon coordinators but one which has strengthened for all of us the feeling of the importance of our activities in the Salon. We thought we would briefly share our separate experiences with you. Gloria Orenstein, who is spending the summer in France, sends these two parallel letters by way of greeting.

1, Rue Christine
Paris 6e, France
Dear Salon Sisters,

I an here in Paris spreading the Salon spirit and investigating the ways in which our celebrated predecessors created an atmosphere of festivity and support for women writers of their epoque on an international scale.

I enclose this letter from Natalie Barney to Gertrude Stein as a talisman of my pilgrimage to Paris in search of our vanished salon heritage and of my summer journeys from the Rue Christine to the Rue Jacob, a familiar path once traveled by Gertrude Stein, in order to interview Berthe Cleyrergue, Natalie Barney's faithful companion and helper for over 40 years of Salon history. Barthe's moving reminiscences of Romaine Brooks, Colette, Dolly Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and Lucie Delarue-Mardrus will be some of the Salon souvenirs that I look forward to sharing with you on my return, and I hope to see you all at our Salon for Judy Chicago in September.

In anticipation of an exciting third season of American Salon Herstory, I send you all my most affectionate and most surreal salon saludos. Signed by Gloria Orenstein

column 3

Dear Gertrude Stein,

The other night 'au Cameleon' I realized how little the French 'femmes de lettres' know of the English and Americans and vice versa (orful expression--only such cliches remain!) I wish I might bring about a better 'entente,' and hope therefore to organize here this winter, and this spring, readings and presentation that will enable our mind-allies to appreciate each other. As you will see, by enclosed card, je fetes a mes prochains vendredis les 2 femmes qui m'ont si aimablement et humouristiquement expose - and 'Colette' has promised to act a scene from her 'Vagabonde' which is to appear later in a theatre in Paris. I should like to add at least one Anglo-Saxon to this first group, and thought that you, presented by yourself would make a good representation--and balance the French trio. Will you! Shall we? And may I announce you, in the invitations I am sending out Saturday for either the last Friday of January--the 28th--or the 4th of February? Wasn't the 4th of February celebrated in some way by Americans in history, if so we must surely cling to that date! I'm at home, dans l'intimite, to-morrow Friday all afternoon and we could talk it over, or I could drop in and see you (if yon don't come here to-morrow) this Saturday about 3:30 or 4 o'clock.

Hoping my 'petit projet' may meet with your approval and receive your participation. With affectionate greetings to you and your friend, in which Rmaine Brooks joins me--

Yours most appreciatively Natalie C. Barney

(Her January calendar)
le 7 Janvier pour feter Madame Aurel
le 14 Janvier pour feter Madame Colette...;
le 21 Janvier: Lucie Delarue-Mardus...

column 4
(From THE FLOWERS OF FRIENDSHIP: LETTERS WRITTEN TO GERTRUDE STEIN, Edited by Donald Gallup, Alfred A. Knopf, N.Y., 1953.) This is Erika Duncan's story. When we decided to share the stories of our separate summers with out Salon audience, I immediately began to wonder which stories I should tell. It was tempting to write about the party at the Gotham Book Mart to which nearly 200 people came for it showed that people do want to lend their energy to works published outside the literary establishment. It was also tempting to tell about our radio program on Viv Sutherland's Women's Studies Hour (WBAI), Dolores Brandon's beautiful reading from my novel, and the interview between myself, Gloria Orenstein and Valerie Harms, my publisher, about the revolutionary nature of a publication process based upon intimate intellectual and spiritual connections between those involved rather than the objective distance that we frequently find. Instead I have decided to share my experience of my baptism by fire into the cut-throat nature of the literary world which we set up our Salon to try to counteract, for I believe that we must learn to energize such incidents.

At a time when books by unknown writers published by small presses rarely find their way into the pages of the Times, I had the good fortune to be given considerable coverage there. Unfortunately, however. I was reviewed by Joyce Carol Oates vho, because of a personal aversion to my kind of layered language and exaggerated imagery, called the very selection of my novel for publication under an NEA grant 'a martyrdom of sorts, unintended, and possibly somewhat tragic'. While patronizingly praising the 'promising young novelist' (reviewed with me) whose 'characters do not, however, break many rules' who produces 'cautious well-crafted pages that manage to offend no one', she ruthlessly derided the 'seriousness' of my too ambitious book. She was also very critical of Gloria Orenstein's introduction which violates our taboos of retrospective criticism by going out on a limb for a beginning novelist not yet proven in the eyes of the world. After all, I was recently told, one is not supposed to have any introduction to a first novel, unless it is by someone famous. And critics if they have any sense of caution, should vere clear of new talent, lest history later prove them wrong.

Because we in the Salon believe in paving passionate paths of entry into works or art, it was important to me to have my book appear with a preface that was daring and intense. I did this despite the fact that it might open avenues of attack. As a critic, Gloria felt that it was important to affirm a book at the moment of its first painful emergence, despite the obvious

column 5

dangers of such an approach. Valerie Harms of Magic Circle Press also took risks in putting her energies behind a work that clearly went against the current of our time in all that it set out to do.

In starting our Salon two years ago, we were very conscious of the competitive nature of the literary establishment in which writers of different schools are frequently set against each other. We wished to create an alternative structure where a true sharing of the separate sensibilities could flourish, committing ourselves to works of passionate intensity in all aesthetics which could help us grow. The coming of the Oates review only strengthens my commitment to a kind of critical writing based upon profound affinities (which for me started with my involvement in the Salon) rather then upon the arbitrary placing of value judgements based upon objective distance so prevalent in the reviewing world today. For while the evaluation and elaborate technical dissection that the Oates review reflects creates a relatively safe field of operation for writings of recognizable merit which do not deviate too greatly from the norms and standards which we have set up, it creates innumerable dangers for more innovative works, which often in their reaching towards new forms are flawed, especially in the early stages of any given writer's development.

In writing A WREATH OF PALE WHITE ROSES, a novel which I worked six years upon, I was very aware of the dangers of using lush language and attempting to concretize images of our deepest psychic states. I was aware of the difficulty of breaking all rules of moderation in this age of stark rationalism and cautious scientific focus upon reality. Nonetheless I felt compelled to try to find my meaning in that way. Whether the strange apocalyptic vision I set out to create was achieved at all in this first book, I am in no position to say. But should my relative success be measured by someone who has no initial sympathy with my sense of purpose, by one who writes that ìsun is always ostentatiously risingî when I feel that it must function as a symbol of epiphany? Or should a work of deliberately dense prose be emluated by a writer who bristles at its very title, remarking 'and if white, why pale?', when it in through such layered imagery that I am working to create those fusions and mergings of echoed meanings which can set off landslides of associations in readers who enjoy abandoning themselves to such experiences. Should any of us by measured this way?

I am not certain what about my novel provoked such a strong reaction in Miss Oates, a reaction way out of proportion to its relative importance. What I do recognize, however, is the repetition of a destructive pattern all too familiar

column 6
in our literary history, one which had made martyrs out of far too many of our writers. The temptation was to crcrumble under the impact of the Oates review, to wither and stop writing altogether. All alone I probably would have. But because of the support system we have managed to form, I was able to stay strong enough to continue our work against the system which allows a single critic's personal bias to cut off the life stream of countless new emerging works and prevent unknown writers from finding receptive audiences. Through the Salon, I was able to energize this very personal disappointment in the work of building those alternative structures in which others like me will not have to be wantonly shot down for doing what is certainly, acknowledgely, not safe. Erika Duncan

Dolores Brandon, an actor, director and writer has just joined us as our fourth Salon coordinator. By way of personal introduction she has written these few words.

The actor's art is interpretive and as such many actors never truly express their own voice. Instead we pretend to believe what is given to us to say. For women this situation is dangerous -- for often what we are given is opposed to the ideals we hold for ourselves and for the society we live in. The women invented for us are frequently a contradiction of what we know to be true of our inner selves, and thus in a peculiar way we become the perpetuaters of the status quo and the roles created for us rather than by us.

The theater has long mirrored what is. It has the power to offset personal and social change if we the actors, playwrights, directors and technicians will fill it with our deepest voice and grandest visions. In its very essence the theater is a communal art form. Without the commitment of many skills, talents and temperaments there is no theater. For optimal survival it requires support systems to ensure not only an audience but to effect connections between the many artists necessary to its being.

The Salon has in its two years focused primarily on the woman as writer. We will expand this year to include women in theater and the performing arts who are committed to a theater of passion, poetry and feminist vision. Just as we have successfully developed a network

column 7
of comunication for the writer we will begin to bring women of the performing arts together in order that connections can be made among them and their feelings of isolation lessened. Dolores Brandon

Karen Malpede spent the summer in the country, sitting on the front porch watching the mountain weather change, writing and planning the New Cycle Theater. She writes:

Dolores Brandon, whose words you have just read, will act a major role in my newest play, The End of War, which will be the first production of the Brooklyn-based New Cycle Theater. The End of War was premiered in Dallas, Texas, last spring where it received a production I embraced for its warmth, its passion, for the dedication and truthfulness of the young actors who gave it life, all of them students at Richland College. Two young women from the Dallas production will take part in the play's Brooklyn run.

The New Cycle Theater was conceived this summer by myself and Burl Hash who will direct the cycle plays. Our intention is to create, over the next few years, an association of theater workers here and in Dallas who are committed to plays in which a direct language of emotion and feminist analysis combine to transcend the deprivations and alienation of the past and to forge a vision of a new and human future.

Those of us in the New Cycle Theater will, of course, be working outside of the established theater systems. Some of us, myself, Dolores and Jan Cohen, who was in Rebeccah last year, have worked outside the system for all the years of our theater work. We have done so because we have believed, against all fashion, that ethics and esthetics are not two separate and distinct areas of intellectual pursuit but form the intensely interwoven fabrics of our daily lives.

Working with actors and directors who are not for hire because they treasure too highly the potential of their crafts to define their own actions in the world is, for a playwright, a profound creative sharing. I have always felt that none of my plays could have been written were it not for the close working relationships I have had with the actors and directors of the previous play. And as I labor on the third cycle play, I am constantly strengthened by memories of past productions and by the commitment of the current company to The End of War.

Column 8
The bravery of actors enthralls me. It in a special kind of sharing, this revelation before an audience of one's own engagement in moments of deep sorrow, sight and transformation. The playwright who works with such actors maintains a joyous responsibility to delve deep Into the areas of self where the changes happen, so that, in hours of rehearsal her words and structures can be given living form and then, through the actors' abandonment to the need of the moment, can breathe the transcendent life of change into an audience.

The Woman's Salon is another place where intense sharing among artists increases the responsibility to dream. So often when the outside world has been the harshest, the needs of the Salon and the warmth of the woman in it have brought me back to my own vision and have given me the strength risk exposing it again.

I work in the theater and in the Salon to learn the art of living in a community which demands I give my highest aspirations, my finest unrealized dreams and longings. I work in the theater and in the Salon because I believe that the images of compassion, of true union and of caring we might imagine and then give form become, in these dark and violent times, the only lights we have, the only proof we might deserve the immortality we crave. Karen Malpede

Carole Spearing McCauley sends this message - "As usual summer flashed past. I spent it researching and interviewing for a new manuscript, my sixth book; participating in regular meetings that bug television executives about images of women in broadcasting and commercials; and recovering from two kinds of surgery.

The book manuscript is medical-psychological non-fiction on cancer research counseling programs and alternative therapies. Tentatively titled WOMEN ALIVE: WHO THEY ARE AND HOW THEY SURVIVED, it will be published by E. P. Dutton next year. Besides a computer conference in California where I learned more of the programming language APL, my other summer trip was to National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, where I once worked, to interview epidermiologists, physicians, researchers in breat cancer, and of course, women themselves on their care.

My hospital stay was a crash course in the gentle art of negotiating with surgeons and other personnel to continue my stay on the planet. I am hopelessly addicted to life.

HERESIES, a feminist publication of arts and politics, wants written and visual material for the next issue. Feminists in anthropology, art, crafts, dance, film, folklore, history, literature, music, philosophy, political science, and other disciplines are asked for ideas on anonymous and recognized art forms practiced by women. Box 766, Canal Street Station, NYC, NY 10013. SOUTH SHORE, ìan international review of the artsî seeks contributions. They asked us to mention in our newsletter that they have not had as many women offer manuscripts as men. P. O. Box 95, AuTrain, Michigan 49806

FEMINIST NEWS ñ East and West Coast writers have joined to form the Feminist Writers' Guild ìto act as both a service group and a political body for feminist writersÖto combat the current backlash against Feminism in the patriarchal press' Membership fee is $10 a year ($5 for the unemployed, $20 for groups). You need not ear your living as a writer in order to join. For Information write Feminist Writers' Guild, P.O. Box 9396, Berkeley, Cal. 94709

Please send in announcements of events of interest to women in literature and the related arts for our next newsletter.

Do not reproduce information from this site without acknowledgement.
For questions, email to Ruth Wallach, USC Libraries

Back to Women's Literary Salons' Newsletters