Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

A circle of golden  light shone on the silk purple iris and white cherry blossoms in the large vase (really a Florida-themed umbrella stand) in my hallway tonight, around sunset.  I couldn’t tell where the light was coming from, it was so bright and so focused on those flowers in an otherwise dark hallway. 

Eerie.  It occurred to me it might be my brother Loren, sending me a message.  What a weird thought, I thought.  
Then I learned that poet and feminist Adrienne Rich died today, in Santa Cruz, CA, where she had lived for some thirty years with her partner Michelle Cliff.  She was 82 years old.

Truth be told, I had not followed her or read her poetry in many years.   But Loren had kept up with her all along.  “So that’s what Loren wanted me to know!” I looked back at the flowers.  The light was gone. 

Rich was among the pioneers of women’s rights, gay rights and  women’s writing in America in the 1970s.  She remained a progressive, feminist, and anti-war activist to the end.  

I remember when Of Women Born came out, in 1976.  I had just finished my dissertation and finally received my PhD degree in history at UW-Madison.  I was asked to teach a women’s history course, rare at the time, and at first I protested: “We didn’t have women’s history at Wisconsin,” I said.  “We didn’t even have a woman on the faculty.”  In fact, I was one of the few women in our graduate seminars, and only dogged determination and persistence saw me through to the PhD.   But friends encouraged me to develop and teach the course.  “You can do it!”  And I did.  I started the women’s history course at the University of Toledo, and taught it for many years thereafter.    At a time when there was little scholarship but burgeoning interest I jumped into the subject with enthusiasm.  I started at the beginning.

Of Women Born was part of that beginning.  That’s why Loren wanted me to know about Rich's death.     

My brother was still keeping track.  She was one of the many women writers he had collected and read thoroughly, knew them almost word for word, in his search for understanding and insight, during his evolving embrace of feminist spirituality.   Loren also loved Mary Daly (Beyond God the Father); Barbara Walker (Restoring the Goddess); and Charlene Spretnak (The Politics of Women’s Spirituality).   He carried these book with him wherever he went.  I have them now, lovingly underlined and written in his hand in the margins.  He quoted passage and verse.  He taught me.   

Rich would have loved to know Loren.   Maybe now they will meet.

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