Thursday, December 18, 2008

Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975

edited by Barbara J. Love, foreword by Nancy F. Cott (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 576 pages



From the late 1970s through the 1990s, I worked in women's history - Texas women's history, with the great, late historian Ruthe Winegarten, and a sizeable group of other women who collectively formed the Texas women's history project and its successor activities. We had a thrilling time collecting artifacts for a major museum exhibit, and data and stories enough for many articles and books (many in fact still being written). One thing that experience taught me, however, was that women have not been leaving enough documentation of their/our activities, for the historians to come.

That's one reason that a book like Feminists Who Changed America is very important. It provides a starting place for looking for who was involved in the movement, where they came from and what they accomplished. The book includes 2,250 entries, almost all of them written by the subjects themselves, but subject to the guidelines and promptings of the editors. Compiling this book was clearly a labour of love, and also one that must surely have required a vast store of patience and forebearance, in working with so many strong-willed authors to set down their own contributions to women's history, mostly in 1/3 of a page or less.

As I dip into the book at random (unfortunately, it's too large to keep on the back of the toilet), I learn more about old friends and heroines. Here's Allie Hixson, for example, who has volunteered almost full-time to try to get the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution passed (nope, it's not in there yet!). Turns out she has a doctorate in English but was denied a full-time teaching position because she was a woman. Thinking about the Equal Rights Amendment, I try looking up Sissy Farenthold, who got the Texas Equal Legal Rights Amendment finally introduced and passed in the early '70s, when she was still the only woman in the Texas House of Representatives. Probably she was too modest to write her own bio.

I have to say here, in the interests of full disclosure, that I am one of the subjects in the book, and probably one of the tardiest and hardest to work with. My biggest problem was that I was being asked to write about my own accomplishments, but almost all my accomplishments as a feminist have been co-accomplishments with other women. Barbara required me to reduce this contextualization in the interests of space and conformity, and to a degree I complied.

The internal dynamics of creating the book must have also been fairly strenuous. Besides Barbara Love as the Editor, there were 31 other women working at one or another editorial level, 3 researchers, 19 advisory board members, a 3-member outreach committe with its own chair, an indexer, ten photographers whose work is included on the cover and in a 16-page black and white photo essay, a web technician, a graphic designer, and an office administrator.

Looking in the book for the biography of its editor, I find that Barbara Joan Love was born in 1937, that she joined the US National Organization for Women (NOW) very early - in 1967. She published a book called Foremost Women in Communication in 1970, and went on to be part of the Lavender Menace and work on lesbian and gay issues. She co-authored one of my favourite early books on the lesbian feminist movement, Sappho Was a Right-On Woman (1972). She was also an early matriarchalist and futurist, and despite all this managed to be appointed by the White House as a New York delegate to the 1977 National Women's Conference in Houston. The project for Feminists Who Changed America was done in collaboration with the Veteran Feminists of America.

Obviously there are various kinds of problems with this book. Despite having 2,250 entries, that is really a drop in the bucket compared to the numbers of women, surely at least in tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, who made major contributions to the US feminist movement in that period alone. This is no doubt in large measure due to the subjects themselves demurring to write their histories, either from modesty or time or not knowing about the opportunity. (I don't know if there were histories left on the cutting room floor.)

Also, the introduction by Nancy Cott is quite short and slight - a few notes on the etiology of the women's movement, decribing it as "fragmenting" into many smaller groups. I would have chosen a different term - feminists who emerged during this period all owned the feminist movement in different ways and defined it for themselves, applying it at the grassroots and personal level, and not mainly in national organizations. Professor Cott is a professor of American History at Harvard and has a book out from Yale Press titled The Grounding of Modern Feminism (1987), which goes into depth on the subject of how modern feminism came to be. I expect a lot more can be written about what it became starting from the data provided in Feminists Who Changed America.

The biggest structural handicap of Feminists Who Changed America from the point of future history writers is that the index isn't really an index - just a list of the names of the women mentioned with the pages they are on, so you can't for example search by organization or newspaper name if you've forgotten who the founder or the editor was.

My best suggestion is that this is a project that was perhaps done in the wrong medium. While it makes an impressive book (and an expensive one), it would have much more scope and utility as a web-based cache of knowledge - it would be automatically searchable and also more easily expandable for the stories that didn't get finished by the deadline. It's my hope that once Barbara Love recovers from making the book she will recover her futurism and consider a move into the 21st century medium.

Meanwhile, you can help her recover what she spent out of her own pocket to put this book together, by ordering a copy and getting your library to do the same. It will speak volumes (well one volume anyway) about your politics when you have it on your coffee table - and with its large comfy size and water-resistant cover, it will also make an excellent and symbolic chair-booster for the toddlers you'd like to see standing on their foremothers' shoulders by and by.

The publisher's listing is here:

http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/83pce6fh9780252031892.html

Or you can order through the editor herself: BJLove@msn.com

It's $80 US (but you get a discount if you're in it).

-Frieda Werden

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Last Stop Sunnyside (the first Dana Leoni mystery)

by Pat Capponi (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2006)

I couldn't put down til I finished all of Capponi's nonfiction books: Upstairs in the Crazy House (1992), Dispatches from the Poverty Line (1997), The War at Home (1999), Bound by duty: walking the beat with Canada's cops (2000/2001), and Beyond the Crazy House: changing the future of madness (2003); so, it was a thrill to find her name on a paperback in the Mystery section of the Brittania branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

The themes Capponi explored so grippingly in the earlier books - realities of life among Canada's crazy, poor, and marginalized - serve her as a rich and believable source of background for genre fiction. And the safety of the genre may help her get her core message a lot further.

This mystery has many characters, and they work together to solve the case. There is also a lot of background of the community and its institutions, including the cheap Single Room Occupancy (SRO)living spaces; the local bar that serves breakfast; the local drop-in centre, its activities, and how its staff juggle the needs and eccentricities of the people who come there; and the way that different neighbourhoods of poor and richer exist side by side on the map and yet so far apart. There is also a secondary mystery in a richer venue that interlocks with the main one. The guilt (and sometimes the anger) of those who have more wealth upon looking in the faces of those who have less are touched upon. And so are the cops, who are not the enemy exactly, but they don't care for the marginal as much as the marginal care about each other. The marginalized are also very diverse, and so among them they can put together some interesting resources for their teamwork. As in Capponi's non-fiction, the writing is clear, to the point, vivid, and unsentimental, even about emotional matters. Overall, a satisfying read for fans of the mystery genre who prefer non-cozy settings and characters.

Pat's second mystery, The Corpse Will Keep, came out this year, 2008, and is previewed in the paperback of the first one. It has the same set of characters in a progression from their first escapade. Mystery publishers usually want an author to commit to a series of at least 3 novels with the same characters to get a contract, so we should be able to expect another one in the next couple of years.

Keep writing, Pat! You're a gem.

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Capponi

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Antigone Magazine Fundraising Calendar




Dear Friends,

We REALLY need your help! With only one month left of 2008, we still have 500 copies of our 2009 Dreams for Women Calendars left to sell! The money raised by selling these calendars is instrumental for us to launch Antigone For Girls (a magazine written by and for girls aged 10-15 that will encourage them to get involved in leadership and politics).

The 2009 Dreams for Women Calendar is a non-profit calendar featuring 12 postcards sent in from around the world depicting men and women's Dreams for Women (Ex. 'I dream of a world where no woman is seen and not heard'). The funds raised from the sales of the calendar go to the Antigone Foundation (www.antigonemagazine.wordpress.com).

Please forward this e-mail on and let everyone know what a great project, organization and calendar this is. Buy copies of the calendar for yourself or as holiday gifts for family and friends. Or buy one for a special woman in your life who has helped YOU make your dreams come true!

For Bloggers:

We're giving FREE calendars to the first 15 bloggers who write about the calendars and pay a $5 shipping fee at this link:

http://antigonemagazine.wordpress.com/2008/12/02/dreams-for-women-blogger-giveaways/

For Non-Profit Organizations:

Raise money for your organization by selling calendars! We sell calendars to non-profits at half price and allow them to sell them to raise money for their organizations! Find out more information here:

http://antigonemagazine.wordpress.com/2008/10/26/its-here-the-dreams-for-women-2009-calendar-is-here/

This is a great opportunity to buy a cool feminist gift for the holidays and to support a great organization! See below for more information about the Dreams for Women project and calendar!

Take care,

Amanda Reaume
Executive Director
The Antigone Foundation
www.antigonamagazine.wordpress.com

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Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.
- Gloria Steinem


Antigone Magazine's Dreams for Women postcard art project is launching it's 2009 Dreams for Women calendar featuring postcards submitted by men and women around the world! The calendar seeks to help raise money for The Antigone Foundation and to provide a way other women's organizations around the world can also fundraise for their own organizations. As part of this launch, we have created a video in which men and women share their dreams for women equality.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBQP5uM12kg

The Project:

Featured in Ms. Magazine, in the International Women’s Museum, and on Feministing.com, the postcard art project has attracted worldwide attention and interest, garnering media attention and submissions from as far away as Japan, Germany, Brazil, France, Portugal, Romania and Los Angeles. The Dreams for Women art project asks women and men of all ages to depict their hopes and dreams for women (examples include “I dream of a world with more female leaders” and “I dream of a world where no woman is seen and not heard”) by painting, drawing, writing,sketching or decoupaging them onto a postcard.

Inspired by the popular mail-art project PostSecret.com, a postcard art project that encourages people to send in their secrets, Dreams for Women strives to be a feminist PostSecret. Instead of asking what your secrets are, the project wants to know what your dreams for women are.The Antigone Foundation began receiving submissions in January 2008 and has received hundreds of submissions so far. Their YouTube videos,which showcase the project, have also received thousands of hits.

The project, which is coordinated by a small group of dedicated young women ranging in ages from 20-24, is committed to envisioning progress for women around the world. According to founder Amanda Reaume, dreaming is essential to change: “the postcards we have received and continue to receive keep expanding our vision of the future, and keep adding more voices to the conversation of what that future will look like for women.”

The project was started out of a desire to encourage women and men to envision a better future for women and to help fund work towards that future. Dreams for Women has thus launched a fundraising calendar. The calendar,featuring 12 postcard submissions from around the world, will be sold for $20 and is available via Antigone Magazine’s blog www.antigonemagazine.wordpress.com.

Indeed,the project hopes to raise money to officially launch the Antigone Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that will encourage young women to get involved in leadership, politics and activism. The organization will continue the work started by Antigone Magazine, a publication about women, politics, leadership and activism that started at UBC and has since expanded to a national subscription base, as well as, to the University of Toronto.

Fundraising with Dreams for Women

The organization also hopes to help raise money for other women's organizations around the world. They will be selling the calendars in bulk at a discounted price so that other women's groups can use it for fundraising. Groups who buy any amount over 10 copies for fundraising purposes will pay only $10 per calendar. They will then be able to resell the calendar for $20 and raise money for their organizations. There are also opportunities for organizations to be able to raise money online using the calendars with absolutely no obligation. For more information please e-mail antigonemagazine@hotmail.com or check out their website here:

http://antigonemagazine.wordpress.com/2008/10/26/its-here-the-dreams-for-women-2009-calendar-is-here/




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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Giving for Giving - the video

My friend Genevieve Vaughan is the author and editor of many books, ranging from the long and scholarly For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange, to children's books. Some of her books can be downloaded online, as well as ordered in physical print copies. A recent film biography of her life has come out, and I want to share that with the blog readers. Here is my first attempt to embed a YouTube link. The film is about an hour long and the 8 short sections will play continuously. Enjoy!



Special thanks to Felicia Hayes for posting this video on YouTube.


MORE ABOUT GENEVIEVE VAUGHAN'S THEORY OF THE GIFT ECONOMY:

The following text is adapted from a description of Genevieve on a program where she was a featured international speaker in 2007.

Genevieve Vaughan works at the intersection of theory and practice through her theorization of the gift economy as a counter-discourse addressing patriarchy and global capitalism.

The gift economy is one in which goods are distributed to needs. The logic is based on “mothering” in which a relationship between giver and receiver is one in which the former responds to the needs of the latter. The transaction of giving and receiving creates bonds which can be seen as the basis of the circulation of goods in economies without markets as such. These gift transactions have been viewed through the market perspective as exchanges ( do ut des); however, the maternal distribution of good directly to needs can be seen as a foundational social principle which has been absorbed and co-opted by market exchange, but not eliminated.

Considering mothering as a mode of distribution that coexists with or lies beneath the market economy allows us to think of it as an economic structure with its own superstructure of ideas and values: other-oriented, people-before-profits values, coming from and validating the process of unilateral giving and receiving.

The gift principle informs Homo Donans in opposition to ego centered homo economicus and is an important element in the values that motivate work for social changes and a vision of alternative “nurturing” economics based on need and not on profit.

These values and the gift mode of distribution already exist though they are presently burdened by parasitic Capitalist Patriarchy. By bringing them forward we can create the leadership necessary for a maternal revolution.


Genevieve Vaughan has made four ebooks available (free) online at her website: Homo Donans; Il Dono/The Gift: A Feminist Analysis; Women and the Gift Economy and For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange. Website: http://www.gift-economy.com/index.html

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Elephant Rocks, by Kay Ryan

(NY: Grove Press, 1996)

A poetry publisher and vendor recommended this book to me during the end-of-conference bargain period at the US National Women's Studies Association conference, probably the year it was published.

I kept it on my headboard for a few years, and made some stabs at reading in it, but never got on the poet's wavelength. Then a month or so ago, a friend sent me a link to the New York Times story about Ryan being named the new Poet Laureate of the United States. This honour is granted by the Librarian of Congress and has nothing to do with Bush, as evidenced by the statement that Ryan lives with her partner, presumably lesbian.

Remembering that I had a book of hers tucked away, I plucked it from the shelf and put in a bit more effort on liking the poems, and the effort was rewarded.

Ryan teaches remedial English and no great reading skill is required for this book. She uses mostly short, plain words, mixed with words she has invented for the occasion, such as kinden (for becoming more kind), and goodiary (not be be confused with bestiary). Even though the words are simple, reading the work well takes good skill for paying close attention, visualization ability, and a readiness to find a joke.

All the poems are quite short. Ryan has been compared to Emily Dickinson, and I think justly so because of not only brevity but also terseness and the originality of modifiers and the way the poems give to inquiry when you start to poke them. It seems obvious she has learned something from Dickinson. However, Ryan seems more down to earth, concrete and practical.*

In fact, Ryan's work is so practical that since she became Poet Laureate, I have taken to typing out poems of hers to send to people for special occasions. On the engagement of one couple, I sent them "A Plain Ordinary Needle Can Float on Pure Water," because I knew that these folks had gone through a long period of learning to harmonize their relationship. And to a member of my high school class (Class of '64), who made a gallant public apology for the racism he had lashed out with in his youth, I sent "Age," the poem that starts "As some people age/ they kinden."

I think to Patricia Cohen, who wrote that New York Times article headed "Kay Ryan, Outsider With Sly Style, Named Poet Laureate," I might send a copy of Ryan's poem "Outsider Art." It ends with the phrase: "...We are not/pleased the way we thought/we would be pleased." But I would add that I don't mind being pleased in a way I hadn't thought I would be pleased when I first took a look at the work of Kay Ryan.
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* You can see a photo of Ryan in the NYT article, and a photo of Emily Dickinson here . I confess that I had remembered Dickinson as more of a femme, but in this picture she, too, looks rather dyke-ish. I also thought of Dickinson as young, but she lived to 56. Ryan is now 62.

- Frieda Werden

Friday, August 15, 2008

Century of Struggle

CENTURY OF STRUGGLE:
The Women’s Rights Movement in the United States
By Eleanor Flexner and Ellen Fitzpatrick
432 pages Enlarged edition, Belknap Press 1996

Reviewed by Jane Woodward Elioseff [original at The Internet Review of Books ]

In London in 1840, over strong American objections, the World Anti-Slavery Convention ruled that only male delegates would be seated. Women delegates were relegated to the balcony and asked to observe the proceedings in silence.

The gods must have been laughing. Among the banished women, Eleanor Flexner tells us, were Lucretia Coffin Mott, an ordained Quaker minister whose home in Philadelphia “was a busy station on the Underground Railroad,” and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a young wife “destined to be the leading intellectual force in the emancipation of American women.” Mott became Stanton’s preceptor.

Flexner’s wonderful Century of Struggle, first published in 1959, is the foundational book in what was to become the field of women’s studies. A friend gave me a copy in 1973, just as the second wave of the women’s movement was cresting, and the book deeply affected my thinking. I had a history minor in college and absorbed a number of narratives, but history itself had reached me as if it were a form of literature. I could not have articulated this at age twenty, and am not now suggesting that as a student I had any historiographical insight. But I do mean to convey that reading Century of Struggle in my early thirties made the historical past gloriously three-dimensional and personally relevant for the first time.

Over the years, I’ve gratefully drawn on Century of Struggle to develop scripts for two anniversary celebrations of the Nineteenth Amendment (ratified August 26, 1920). I’ve reviewed this enlarged edition for Amazon.com, used it while team-teaching an adult learning class called “Leaning Left,” and last year co-authored a Wikipedia article about Flexner’s life and work. Rereading long sections of Century of Struggle for this review, I’m astonished how rich the book continues to be.

During the first half of the nineteenth century many of the great names in the abolitionist movement, and in the increasingly separate and distinct women’s rights movement, belonged to Quakers. Best known today are Lucretia Mott, the Grimk√© sisters, who won the right for women to speak in public, the indefatigable Susan B. Anthony, and astronomer Maria Mitchell, who so opposed slavery she gave up wearing cotton. Flexner writes, “Alone among the larger religious denominations, the Quakers permitted [women] a voice in church affairs, allowed them to speak in ’meeting,’ and ordained them as ministers.”

Until New York passed the Married Women’s Property Act in 1848, women had no political rights and few legal protections in those states whose civil laws were modeled on English common law (exceptions were the legal codes of Louisiana, Florida, and Texas, which derived from Roman law). In some circumstances, a woman might own property and sign contracts as a feme sole, but she lost her separate legal identity when she married. All of her possessions and any wages she might earn became the property of her husband. Even when inherited land or money had been placed in trust for her, she could still be impoverished by her husband. In divorce, she could lose her children.

There is no better account than Flexner’s of American women’s courage and political genius in a time when they had no right of assembly and no right to petition freely. In 1834, former president John Quincy Adams, then serving in the US House of Representatives, proved himself Abigail Adams’s true son by defending women’s right to collect signatures and present petitions, against the arguments of conservatives alarmed by the political progress of the abolitionists.

It was a crushing disappointment to abolitionists that the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) expanded the franchise to include any adult male inhabitant of the United States but not women, who had worked passionately to end slavery. It required another fifty years to secure the vote town by town, state by state, and to achieve ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. In her preface to the 1975 expanded edition of Century of Struggle, Flexner quotes Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Schuler:

Hundreds of women gave the accumulated possibilities of an entire lifetime, thousands gave years of their lives, hundreds of thousands gave constant interest and such aid as they could. It was a continuous, seemingly endless chain of activity. Young suffragists who helped forge the last links in that chain were not born when it began. Old suffragists who forged the first links were dead when it ended . . . It is doubtful if any man, even among suffrage men, ever realized what the suffrage struggle came to mean to women before the end was allowed in America.


In the preface, Flexner says that her goal in writing Century of Struggle was to trace the development of the women’s rights movement “from its scattered beginnings early in the nineteenth century on a number of different fronts—education, employment, trade union organization, the professions, the law, the franchise—down to the enactment of the suffrage amendment in 1920; to keep that struggle in perspective against the growth of this nation and of such related reform movements as the abolition of slavery, temperance, and the organization of trade unions—bearing in mind that never at any time were these women without the support of far-seeing and loyal men.”

Historian Ellen Fitzpatrick’s valuable foreword to the 1996 edition of Century of Struggle includes a political biography of Flexner, who was active in the Communist Party and various other causes in the 1930s and 1940s. Flexner dedicated the book to her mother, Anne Crawford Flexner (1874-1955), who marched in suffrage parades and whose success as a playwright and children’s author made it possible, after her death, for Eleanor to live and work as an independent scholar.

Jane Woodward Elioseff is a writer and editor living in Houston.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bodily Harm

by Rachel Billington (London: MacMillan, 1992, 339 pp.)

The author of this book is a novelist, a columnist, and also a consultant to a prison newspaper. The plot is something like The Bridge of San Luis Rey in reverse; two characters start by converging in an incident of unpremeditated murderous assault by a male clerk upon a woman customer in a shop. From there the story follows each of their lives as they deal with parallel losses of liberty (he in prison, she through her injuries and trauma), denial, healing processes, how they are seen by others, and new plateaus of stability. Aside from the very end, I thought this novel a highly realistic view of all too common events that are rarely examined. An important read for our times. - FW

Monday, April 07, 2008

Anne of Green Gables and other Morally Delicious Fiction

This is the 100th anniversary of Anne of Green Gables, a revered Canadian children's book about a girl who some might say gets by just upon a smile. But the values embodied in the small redheaded foster child include cheerfulness, openness, frankness, industriousness, generosity, respect, and good will. With that, a society can be so much. This is a good moral line to adhere to.

Another morally delicious novel that is well known is The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. A young part-Cherokee woman from Kentucky sets out in an old car and passes through Oklahoma, where a motherless baby is handed to her on a Cherokee reservation. Her car breaks down in Tucson and she develops relationships with women of various types there - sharing housing, work, child-minding, etc. The heroine is industrious, frank, loyal, generous, respectful, as cheerful as she can manage, psychologically insightful, and of good will. She knowingly communicates in symbols, gestures, and words, with her housemate and with the child she has been given. She affects people's self-image and their behaviour in very subtle and incremental ways. Most of the story is about attachment, how people attach to each other, and very specifically about invisible support systems that people provide for each other. The bean tree is exposed by the end as a metaphor of this.

A novel more artistically thrilling than either of these yet clearly related is Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson. Here the principal image and eponymous symbol is a gun. The lead character is a runaway wife who falls back on her patrimony and makes a living creating fishing flies. Her two friends, a mother and daughter, are on her wave length. The mother formerly juggled guns as a travelling performer; she still has one gun. She uses it to do a psychological and moral intervention in the path of the abandoned violent husband, who is careering toward violent vindictiveness. The heroine becomes a cook at a fishing camp where the owners have a child. Through symbolic and psychological intervention, and willingness to exercise her own specific powers, she works skillfully at pulling people who are pushing their home apart through anger, back towards a functioning community.

In each of these three books, the drama of building cooperative life is very gripping.

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If you like the concept of these books, you might also like to read my review of Gwethalyn Graham's Swiss Sonata

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Gone Quiet by Eleanor Taylor Bland

published by the Penguin Group, 1994

Long ago, I ran into a woman I otherwise respected reading a romance novel, and, knowing she had a gay husband, I joked that this type of fiction was a "squirrel cage for the heart." Turning the joke on myself, a loather of romance novels and reader of mystery novels, I dubbed mysteries as "squirrel cages for the mind." But even this cheap form of mental exercise can be done well or badly. To me, the best mystery novels are the feminist ones, and I prize the names of feminist series writers who can be relied upon for multiple works in this genre.

Eleanor Taylor Bland is such a writer. In this book, the third featuring her black female detective Marti MacAlister, Bland deals with the painful and hard to face subject of child sexual abuse and its long-term consequences. The book before it in this series, Slow Burn, which I have not yet read, but hope to, deals with arson against an abortion clinic and child pornography.

I like the tone of Bland's books. Her main character is sensible, respectful of others, cautious but not timid, and has a good sense of herself. She takes note of sexism but she picks her battles. She brings an urban sensibility to a small-town police department, and sometimes contrasts the police forces of the two locales. She is widowed with a daughter and shares housing with another single mother. She is recovering from grief and has a prospective boyfriend who is a widower and a single father. I know from books I have read from later in the series that Marti and Ben do become a couple, but in Gone Quiet they are only starting to get beyond just-friends. Unlike many mystery novels featuring female detectives, this one doesn't rely on a romance-novel subtext to appeal to women readers.

Bland herself is a woman of colour, which not always the case with writers who have lead characters of colour. This spares one the uneasy feeling attached to reading books in which an author appropriates a culture not his or her own (even if the authors do what seems to be a bang-up job of a good read, like Tony Hillerman's Navaho detective series and Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency set in Botswana.)

Bland was born in Boston on December 31, 1944, earned degrees in Accounting and Education from Southern Illinois University (accountants figure as characters in Gone Quiet ), and moved to Waukegan, Illinois in 1972. According to the Who Dunnit website, "The town of Lincoln Prairie, fictional location for her novels, is actually a mix of Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion." This site also reports that Bland is a charter member of the twenty-year-old feminist mystery writers group Sisters in Crime.



As of this writing, there are at least 13 published books by Bland, and luckily I have only read three of them, so I have a treat ahead. Here's the list as found on a UK site:


Series
Marti MacAlister
1. Dead Time (1992)
2. Slow Burn (1993)
3. Gone Quiet (1994)
4. Done Wrong (1995)
5. Keep Still (1996)
6. See No Evil (1998)
7. Tell No Tales (1999)
8. Scream in Silence (2000)
9. Whispers in the Dark (2001)
10. Windy City Dying (2002)
11. Fatal Remains (2003)
12. A Cold and Silent Dying (2004)
13. A Dark and Deadly Deception (2005)

Since that list was published, she's released:

Suddenly A Stranger (2007)

There's probably one for 2006, though I haven't located it on the web yet.

She's also edited an anthology:
Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors (2004).

Capsule descriptions of this and ten of the mysteries can be found on the African American Literature Book Club site

The photos on this page are borrowed from the African American Literature Book club and from a biography/criticism site online called V/G - Voices from the Gaps

Additional link of interest: http://www.answers.com/topic/eleanor-taylor-bland

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Murder Off Mike

by Joyce Krieg (NY: St. Martin's Press, 2003

This is the second murder mystery I've read in a week where big corporatization threatens a small, well-run business. This one makes a strong plea against the onslaught of satellite-run right-wing-programmed radio stations buying out local radio stations. It's written from the point of view of a female talk show host at a local station in Sacramento, California, and has nice details of how a station is run. Instead of knowing karate, Shauna K. Bogart's touch of machisma is having a first class radio-telephone operator's license. It's timely to read right now her reminder that it was Bill Clinton who signed the Teleommunications Act of 1996 that set this consolidation spree in motion. There is also a swipe at greenwashing (related to a gubernatorial candidate handily named Greene), an insight into how radio contests are rigged and by whom, and of course a couple of handsome guys for the heroine to choose from.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blue Grit: Making Impossible, Improbable and Inspirational Political Change in America

by Laura Flanders

(NY?: Penguin, 2008)

I haven't yet read this book, but I received a self-promotional email from the author that I thought I'd post. I also found a customer review on Amazon that starts like this:


Blue Grit is what the Democratic Party needs. It's a little bit like soul it's a lot like grits. Whether they get it or whether they will ever get it is another story.

The story that Laura Flanders tells in her prescient book is one that the fourth estate--fawning over Barack Obama's rout in Iowa--would have been well advised to read. They might have learned a thing or two: That progressive movements are not built over night and that they are not built on the backs of candidates, no matter how inspiring they are. Flanders is not a conventional campaign correspondent...


I know Laura Flanders from her feminist radio days at New York's WBAI-FM, back in the 1980s. She went on to be a radio host in left-leaning commercial and internet radio, and the author of several books. You can find out more about here on her own website and in Wikipedia.Here's her note to the friends on her email list about the re-issue of this book:

Dear Friends,

Blue Grit is just out in paperback, from Penguin Books, updated and with a new intro by Naomi Klein (Shock Doctrine.)

The extraordinary turn out in the Democratic primaries so far only confirms the hypothesis I laid out in Blue Grit that somethiing is shifting in this country -- from the bottom up.

The picture of our political process is changing (check out my story on Suites vs. Streets in the new "Reseeding the Grassroots" issue of the Nation magazine.) But the real work lies ahead.

For a glimpse of the grassroots upsurge that I believe is giving the status quo a push, check out the new, updated Blue Grit: Making Impossible, Improbable and Inspirational Political Change in America.

As Blanche Cook wrote in Ms, the Blue Grit folks I write about offer "a roadmap for our journey out of the darkness".

There are fascinating implications for the future of our country -- and our movement work.

Please read the book, review it at Amazon/Powells/Barnes and Noble and/or your favorite site.

And pass this message on. This is the moment to make sure that grassroots organizers get the credit they deserve. Is history made by a few great women or men? I don't think so. Right now it's being made by Americans with Grit. Find out who -- and how -- in Blue Grit: Making Impossible, Improbable and Inspirational Political Change in America.

Links to feminist reviews in Internet Review of Books

Ellen Bravo has an illustrious background with the US working women's organization 9 to 5. Her book is

TAKING ON THE BIG BOYS:
Or why feminism is good for families, business and the nation
By Ellen Bravo
294 pp. The Feminist Press $15.95

Here's a salient quote from the review by Marilee Kenney Hunt


Bravo relies on her lifetime experience in 9to5 and as a speaker and activist for equity to provide real-life stories that illustrate her points. Using humor along with seriousness of cause, she dispels the myth that all feminists are sourpuss men-haters constantly grinding their axes on those around them. She certainly wields her weapons—mostly her tongue and pen—but in such a way as to help those with good intentions and a desire for change, and an understanding of what needs to be changed, find out how to embrace the cause and move it forward.


She notes that the big boys’ tactics are minimizing, trivializing, patronizing, catastrophizing and demonizing.


You can read the rest at:

http://internetreviewofbooks.com/nov07/taking_on_the_big_boys.html
====================================

Back before Hillary Clinton was in the Senate, it was Kay Bailey Hutchison, the first female US Senator from Texas, who received more corporate donations than any other Senator. Kay Bailey ran on a pro-choice ticket, but once she got elected she voted for all the anti-abortion bills in sight. It was once speculated that she would be a Republican candidate for US President, but it didn't come to pass, at least not yet. The reviewer gives Kay Bailey more or less a C grade on this book:

Talk to my Aunt Mabel
LEADING LADIES: American Trailblazers
By Kay Bailey Hutchison
416 pp. Harper $25.95

Reviewed by Ruth Douillette


Salient quote from review:

Hutchison writes, “Hillary Clinton, at this writing, is the most serious woman candidate for president in our nation’s history.” She says of Laura Bush, “Laura Bush has blossomed as First Lady and is universally respected for her beautiful manners. And she is likely the most well-read First Lady our country has ever had.”



Read the rest at:

http://internetreviewofbooks.com/oct07/leading_ladies.html

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bella Abzug: How One Tough Broad from the Bronx Fought Jim Crow and Joe McCarthy, Pissed Off Jimmy Carter, Battled for the Rights of Women and ...


[NB: To hear Bella Abzug, visit the WINGS archive and scroll down to #32-06 & #33-06 Women's Agenda to Save the Planet - a radio documentary in about the World Women's Congress for a Healthy Planet, convened by Bella Abzug in Miami in 1991, to hammer out women's demands for the UN environment summit in Rio. Women's Agenda 21 is still ahead of its time today. - FW]



Guest Review by Jo Freeman - original at seniorwomen.com

Bella Abzug: How One Tough Broad from the Bronx Fought Jim Crow and Joe McCarthy, Pissed Off Jimmy Carter, Battled for the Rights of Women and Workers, Rallied Against War and for the Planet, and Shook up Politics Along the Way: An oral history

by Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007, 320 pp


The subtitle tells it all. Love her or hate her, Bella Abzug never failed to make an impression. She pushed and shoved her way through life, pursuing good causes with single-minded determination and trampling over friends and foes alike.

This oral history is not a conventional one; most of the words are not Bella’s but those of over a hundred people, compiled, edited and shaped into a rough narrative by two former Ms. editors. The result is like an impressionist painting, using vivid flashes of memory to evoke a subjective understanding more than provide the actual facts of Bella’s life story.

Fortunately the "authors" provide a chronology at the beginning of each chapter from which one can glean the basic outline of her life and the crucial events of the times in which she lived. Between her birth as Bella Savitzky on July 24, 1920 and her death on March 31, 1998 Bella experienced the Depression, Zionism, World War II, left–wing causes, the Cold War, the civil rights, feminist and antiwar movements, the U.S. Congress, globalization, and the United Nations.

In many ways this unconventional woman led a very conventional life. One of two daughters in an extended family of Russian Jews, her father ran a butcher shop and her grandfather took her to synagogue, where she sat upstairs in the women’s section. Her sister reports that "we were good kids – nothing like the rebellious kids today."

Bella’s childhood cause was Zionism, though she later became disillusioned with the kind of state Israel turned into. While at Hunter College she joined the left-wing American Student Union, became student body president and made life-long friends.

Married at age 24 to Martin after a "stormy courtship," their mutual devotion transcended his death 42 years later. She had one miscarriage, two daughters, and a black housekeeper who raised them in Westchester County. Known for her hats, she took pride in being well dressed, from her carefully applied make-up to her girdle.

But in other ways she defied convention from an early age. An athletic tomboy, she wanted to be a lawyer at a time when very few women even thought of trying to enter that male domain. She graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1945 after making law review, joined the National Lawyers Guild and worked for a while for a left-wing law firm which represented unions.

Concluding that she couldn’t work for someone else, she opened her own law office in New York City, though from the brief descriptions of her cases it appears to have been mostly a pro bono practice. Fortunately her husband made good money as a stockbroker or Bella’s life might have had a different trajectory.

Free to devote her time to good causes, she represented a black man on death row in Mississippi and actors called before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. She was very active in Women’s Strike for Peace, constantly prodding it to lobby Congress as well as demonstrate. These connections came in handy when she successfully ran for Congress in 1970. During her three terms she became such an expert on procedure that even those Members who hated her asked her advice. Bella was just beginning to make a place for herself in the House when she gave it up to run for the Senate in 1976.*

That was a fateful decision; in a four person race she lost the Democratic primary by one percent. She spent the next decade trying to get back into the House, or some other elected office, while also working to advance a women’s political action program.

Gradually she went global, eventually co-founding the Women’s Environment and Development Organization to put gender on the agenda of the United Nations. After a few international conferences, women around the world looked to her as a role model; after her death the UN General Assembly honored her with a special tribute.

Understanding Bella Abzug requires reconciling some serious contradictions. While this book provides some hints, it still leaves one wondering exactly how Bella succeeded as well as she did. Her performance as a politician gets such mixed reviews that it’s hard to believe everyone is speaking of the same person.

On the one hand, everyone agrees that she had an extremely abrasive personality. Most of the people in this book describe her yelling and screaming and making nasty comments to them. One the other hand, she had a band of devoted friends and followers and was never estranged from her family. Where outsiders saw anger, they saw affection and dedication. When she needed them, they rallied around her.

Bella’s public appeal made her an international celebrity who could excite a crowd even of those who didn’t like her politics. But New York voters, from 1976 onward, chose someone else to represent them.

This is a tantalizing book. It tells some good stories, but makes you want more. Consider it a tasty appetizer to the serious biography of Bella Abzug that awaits its author.

* I worked on that campaign, and later interviewed many of those involved as part of a project to study women’s campaigns by the Center for the American Women and Politics. Ruth Mandel, then director of CAWP, incorporated my research into her book, In the Running: The New Woman Candidate, but it was not separately published.

Like everyone who knew her, I have my own Bella stories. I wrote one of them as part of my report on the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. Go to http://www.jofreeman.com/womenyear/beijingreport.htm and "find" Bella.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Jo Freeman’s next book, We Will Be Heard: Women’s Struggles for Political Power in the United States will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in March.

Jo Freeman is a political scientist and attorney. Her most recent book is At Berkeley in the Sixties: Education of an Activist (Indiana U. Press 2004). Her previous book, A Room at a Time: How Women Entered Party Politics, (Rowman and Littlefield, 2000) was reviewed by Emily Mitchell, a Senior Women Web Culture Watch critic.

Other books include The Politics of Women's Liberation, winner of the 1975 American Political Science Association's prize for the Best Scholarly Book on Women and Politics; five editions of Women: A Feminist Perspective (ed.). Jo edited Social Movements of the Sixties and Seventies and (with Victoria Johnson) as well as Waves of Protest: Social Movements Since the Sixties. She has a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago and a J.D. from NYU's School of Law. Visit her website, www.jofreeman.com and email her at joreen@jofreeman.com

©2007 Jo Freeman for SeniorWomenWeb

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms

by Amy Stewart (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004. 213 pp.)

You might ask what's feminist about earthworms. Well, for one thing they have no gender discrimination problems - they're all part male and part female, and as I would find out from reading this book they choose their mates partly by which other worm is the right length to match up the male and female holes of each to each.

Another thing they have in common with women is that working mostly completely beneath notice they can move mountains.

Not only can worms move mountains of earth - making it fertile as they go - they can move mountains of vegetable peelings and even mountains of shit. There's a lot in this book about the "domestication" of earthworms into waste recycling factories. I started googling for updates and found that pig-farm waste, a huge source of river pollution, is on some farms being turned into good fertilizer, thanks to masses of Eisenia fetida - the red wrigglers. As Stewart explains, there are engineering requirements to preserve the worms' health and get good product results, but these are pretty manageable.

Also, earthworm castings are much better for soil sustainability and productivity than chemical fertilizers. But, if this is to become a principal method of waste disposal, there has to be a market for the result. This and other tidbits in her book about nutritional values have convinced me that I ought to consistently choose organic produce when I shop, not just for my health, but to do my bit to drive up demand for better agricultural practices.

Of course, you can grow your own - including your own worms. Back in 1997, I interviewed the author of one of the early books on this subject: Worms Eat My Garbage, written by Mary Appelhof. I'm pleased to find that her recommendations are catching on quite widely. There are now several types of worm bins on the market for the small gardener, and Stewart cites ten different worm websites and web forums. Mary Appelhof's is www.wormwoman.com . Appelhof passed away in 2005, but her website, like the worms, is more or less immortal.

Worms are wonderful, but they are not good for everything, by the way. When the dominant wormstock (immigrants from Europe) are introduced into forests that didn't have them before (by for example careless fishing-bait disposal) - the worms can destroy the indigenous ecology by eating up all the leaf-mould ("duff") that local plants and creatures require.

There's quite a lot about Charles Darwin in the book. When he'd retired from world traveling, he wrote his last book based on research in his backyard and home laboratory: The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms, With Observations on Their Habits (1897). The old boy was apparently looking forward to being eaten by worms after his death (yes, it seems he really was an atheist - a believer instead in the mysteries of co-creation of beings) - but he was too famous for the burial he'd planned, and his corpse was carted off to lie next to other scientists immured away from the soil, in Westminster Abbey.

I think I picked this book up on sale at the Simon Fraser University bookstore. It was originally going to be a present for my sister who teaches school science, but I'm glad I read it before sending it away. I strongly recommend it as a pleasant and enlightening read, and also as a gift for anyone who reads at middle school level or above. I guess that's one more thing I'd call feminist about this book - it's sensible and plain-spoken - and, dare I say it? down to earth.