Meridel LeSueur, 1900 - 1996

ga04721@vnet.net
Mon, 25 Nov 1996 08:43:06 -0500 (EST)


In Memory, Meridel LeSueur
1900 - 1996

i imagine there are some a-infos readers familiar with the work of
Meridel LeSueur -- and probably some who aren't. she was blacklisted for
many years, and during long stretches of her life only alternative
publishers would print her work, as often as not getting poor distribution.
not much of her work is now in print. many of her books were for children,
and many of them dealt with gender and race prejudice, and with native
american cultures. she felt it crucial to work in these areas with children
before their prejudices had become deeply seated -- when they were still
receptive to new ideas and not yet too beaten down to believe that they
could contribute to making things better, whatever their social or
ecconomic status.

despite her large output, she remained an activist throughout her life,
not simply a commentator. and since royalties from her writing were usually
minimal, she often had to make a living by scrubbing floors, working in
canneries, and doing other marginal jobs, trying to stay at least a month
ahead of right wing organizations whose members informed her bosses who
she was, and got her fired. unlike many activist writers of her time, she
did not see the disenfranchised and abused people who make up the cast of
her fiction from a detatched or distant point of view.

since she was born in february 1900, it was easy to remember her age when
talking or writing about her -- all you had to do was look at the calendar.
but it could be hard to remember her age when you were with her. i first
met her in 1980, at which time she was still charging around the u.s. on
buses giving lectures and conducting workshpops for people of many
political and social orientations, and taking active part in
demonstrations and other actions.

many activists develop a sort of conservatism as they grow older, so
obsessed with the struggles and accomplishments of their youth and middle
age that they become oblivious to how the world has changed. had Meridel
gone this route, i certainly wouldn't have felt less respect for her. she
had earned it, as had many others of her generation. but that just wasn't
for her. she was going to tell you what she'd done and what she thought
(no question about that!), but she also listened to what younger people
had to say, and participated in activities organized by people her
grandchildren's age. in this she may have been almost unique among her
generation -- and i have a hunch that this flexibility was one of the
things that kept her active and sharp, and that she just plain had more
fun than she would have if she had spent her later years consolidating
the thoughts of her youth.

she was born before the first bomb was dropped out of an airplane -- as
a matter of fact, she was born before the first airplane had lifted off
the ground -- but in many ways the world hasn't caught up with her.

she had been a protege of Emma Goldman when she was young. i think she
could have said, like Goldman, that she drank the cup of her life without
leaving a drop.

best,

karl young

>Date: Sun, 24 Nov 1996 18:13:35 -0600
>From: jo grant <jgrant@bookzen.com>
>Subject: Re: Meridel LeSeuer message distribution
>
>karl,
>
>Good. Let's get the word out that Meridel is gone--and in the process of
>doing so lead people to her work.

[snip]

>I'm going to make a special effort to encourage people to buy WORKER
>WRITERS, Meridel's manual on writing, for all children on a person's gift
>list. It is a wonderful little book--and only $2.00
>
[i'd second that.]

>
>Date: Mon, 18 Nov 1996 02:00:06 -0600
>From: jo grant <jgrant@bookzen.com>
>Subject: Meridel LeSueur: 1900-1996
>
>
>Friends,
>
>Very sad to inform the many Iowa Citians who were friends of Meridel
>LeSueur that she died yesterday. For those who attended her last appearence
>in Iowa City, at Old Brick, during her final Iowa Tour will remember her
>telling us:
>
>"I was born at the beginning of the swiftest and bloodiest century at
>Murray, Iowa, in a white square puritan house in the corn belt, of two
>physically beautiful people who had come west through the
>Indian and the Lincoln country, creating the new race of the
>Americas by enormous and rugged and gay matings with the Dutch,
>the Indian, the Irish; being preachers, abolitionists, agrarians, radical
>lawyers on the Lincoln, Illinois, circuit.
>
>"Dissenters and radicals through five generations.
>
>
>That night at Old Brick Meridel spoke about the years of being
>blacklisted by McCarthy and the difficult time she and her children
>had trying to survive during the reign of the House UnAmerican
>Activities Committee. At one point her agent told her she could sell
>more books if she would write like Ernest Hemingway. She responded "I
>would, but I have better things to do with my time than write about
>fighting, fishing and fucking."
>
>A feminist decades before the term entered everyday use, she spent her
>life on the front line fighting for the rights of women, minorities,
>Native Americans, gays and the disabled.
>
>A review of her most recent book, THE DREAD ROAD, and an article about her
>can be found at www.bookzen.com. Both have been downloaded by newspapers
>from around the world, along with embarassingly few from the U.S.
>
>The book review is at: <http://www.bookzen.com/books/0000066r1.html>
>
>The article is at: <http://www.bookzen.com/books/0000066a1.html>
>
>Both were written by Chuck Miller. When Meridel read them she was so
>touched she cried. It was rare when anything as insightful as Miller's
>article and review had ever been written about her. After many hours
>of audio and video recording of Meridel over a period of 13 years it
>was the first time I witnessed her crying.
>
>But what a life...
>
>As a young girl she marched with Mother Bloor in Colorado to protest
>the massacre of miners and their families at Ludlow; during her early
>teens lived with Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman; grew up a
>prolitarian writer who counted as her friends: Agnes Smedley,
>Josephine Herbst, Nelson Algren, Grace Lumpkin, Upton Sinclair, Jack
>Conroy, Richard Wright, Zona Gale, Theodore Drieser, Kenneth Fearing,
>Mari Sandoz...Boris Israel and too many others to name here. Her
>grandfather, whose wife was identified only as a squaw--since the
>state of Ohio didn't include names of Native Americans who married
>white men--was a friend of John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed)....
>
>I've gone on too long.
>
>I'll close with this quote from Miller's article:
>
>"Henry Miller, Kerouac and Bukowski are all dead. There is no one else
>left of LeSueur's stature in American literature today. She stands
>alone, a giant, waiting to be discovered by her own nation."
>
>Amen to that, or rather, A(wo)men!
>
>
>Some people have contacted me and asked if they can share thoughts
>about Meridel and have them posted where their friends could find them
>and respond. We're setting it up with all comments being printed and
>copies being placed in the LeSueur collections in MN, WI & IA.
>
>j grant
>---------------
>