Coming Attractions: Audre Lorde; “Elaine Wept and Was Lost”

cover, Audre Lorde, Sister OutsiderI’ve entered that state of “oh no, fall semester is just around the corner!” quite a bit earlier than usual, because I’m doing two presentations at the upcoming Society of American Archivists conference, both on August 3. One for a panel on trigger warnings and primary-source instruction at SAA’s Teaching with Primary Sources unconference, and the other for the SAA Women’s Collections Roundtable, “Documenting Diverse Women.” I’m having a phone conversation on Thursday with the other presenter for the primary-source instruction one to get a sense of how we’ll organize what we do, but I’m expecting to present on/talk about three sources that I used for the dating-history course that addressed date rape. The Roundtable talk is going to be about intellectual girls in the archives, and will focus on Audre Lorde, whose paper—including her girlhood journals—are at Spelman. I’m spending a day at Spelman next week to dive in, and I can’t wait. I read Sister Outsider (2007 edition) while on vacation and I’m halfway through the University of Mississippi Press collection Conversations with Audre Lorde (2004; ed. Joan Wylie Hall).

Lorde talks about beginning to write poetry as a girl in terms that get me very excited, so much so that I can’t quite order my thoughts to get them into a suitable form here. The presentation is going to start with my recent inclination to return to the structure of my dissertation—i.e., focus on individual girls and their intellectual communities, however defined, the way I focused on four individual poets—rather than focus on spaces as I’d originally thought I’d do. Eve Sedgwick’s assertion of “respectful attention” for 9-year-old Eve Kosofsky’s claim to being an intellectual has shifted my thinking a little. Ever since I came across Kosofsky’s review in Seventeen, I’ve wanted to focus on Kosofsky the girl, rather than just on Kosofsky-to-become-Eve-Sedgwick, and I’m thinking now that focusing on individual girls (relying heavily on Sedgwick’s point about attention to the girl as intellectual in her own right) and their communities/milieux as a way of highlighting both girlhood intellectual effort/activity and communities, however they formed. Lorde and her friends at Hunter College High School seems like a path into that.

Additionally, Lorde as an adult talks about her early thought processes in ways that I can’t quite put into words yet (largely because I’m worried about not doing them justice). So I’d rather let her speak for herself. Just a bit, from her 1979 interview with Adrienne Rich:

From her 1979 interview with Adrienne Rich:

I remember trying when I was in high school not to think in poems. I saw the way other people thought, and it was an amazement to me—step by step, not in bubbles up from chaos that you had to anchor with words. . . . If I read things that were assigned, I didn’t read them the way we were supposed to. Everything was like a poem, with different curves, different levels. So I always felt that the ways I took things in were different from the ways other people took them in. I used to practice trying to think.

Audre Lorde, “An Interview: Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich,” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Rev. ed (Berkeley, Calif: Crossing Press, 2007), 83, 84.

I’m so eager to see what her journals look like: not just for what she writes, but for how she writes it.

Still thinking about who the other chapters might be on. I’ve wanted to steer away from Sylvia Plath because so much has already been done on her and I really want to showcase other girls who’ve received less “girl” treatment (much the way I wanted to steer away from Whitman and Dickinson in my dissertation), but I’m thinking maybe a coda or epilogue on her, since she is a known girl-poet figure. And, like Sedgwick and Lorde, Plath also published in Seventeen. Not that I’m determined to have every girl I focus on be a girl who appeared in Seventeen. Not a requirement.

As for the other presentation, well, my date-rape sources are going to be:

  • Career Girl, Watch Your Step! (1964): excerpt touching on dating and how a career gal should line up a married man who she can “phone, using the magic word or words that mean ‘Come at once and bring some muscle.'” (p. 67) Written by Max Wylie, “Auxiliary Police, 22nd Precinct, New York” in a very “My name is Max Wylie. I wear a badge” style.)
  • cover, Henry Gregor Felsen, Two and the Town

    Cover from 1953 paperback reprint. Click to enlarge. Does Elaine look all right to you? No. No, she does not. The last line in the description of the, uh, “conception” is “Elaine wept and was lost.”

  • Two and the Town (1952), a novel for teen boys about the heartbreaking (/sarcasm) story of football Buff Cody, who ruins, ruins!! his future by date-raping getting a naive girl, Elaine, pregnant. He’s ruined, of course, because she gets pregnant. The girl is to blame for not knowing enough to stop him. And by the way, the girl contemplates suicide but realizes this would kill the baby, too. In the least happy ending, the couple reunites after Buff deserts her for the Army, where he meets an older soldier with children who teaches Buff to value family. Elaine’s father, unsurprisingly, is reluctant to let Buff have his daughter/grandchild again until Buff calls him “Pop,” which immediately warms his heart and convinces him that Buff has changed. No one really cares about how Elaine feels, but when I finished this book (the first time I tried to read it, in library school, I had to stop after the description of the date rape not even remotely consensual sex but hey, who cares? conception because it was so disturbing). Click here for the WorldCat record and note that the date rape aspect is completely elided in the book’s description: Elaine and Buff “become outcasts from their own group and have to adjust to an entirely new way of thinking and living.” Yeeeah. And come the 1970s, Elaine is going to be outta there.
  • And finally, this item from the GSU student newspaper, the Signal:
    GSU Police Program Teaches Rape Refusal (page 4) (“I would prefer not to”?). One of my students used this as one of her sources, and it’s worth talking about for what it implies about “rape refusal” and for how the class responded to it. (We laughed. Nervous laughter. Dark humor. Like what I just did by quoting Bartleby. Which is something I also want to talk about).

The Career Girl, Watch Your Step! and Two and the Town readings are both linked from the course website, under “Advice Manuals” and “Popular Fiction.” I’ll be updating that site soon for the new version of the course, but those two readings will definitely remain.

If the presentations seem showable after they’re done, I’ll link them to my publications/presentations page. But now I’ve got to sit down and actually write them!

Find: Audrey Lorde, “Spring,” Seventeen, April 1951

You know you want to see Audre Lorde’s first published poem, appearing (with a photo of her!) in Seventeen‘s April 1951 issue. It’s a sonnet!


(Click to enlarge)

Due to the poor scan quality, not entirely legible, so, transcribed:


By Audrey Lorde

I am afraid of spring; there is no peace here,
The agony of growing things is in my veins.
Where they shall bury me (no tears, no sad refrains)
Shall be none of this frightening green, grass-fear.
If I could only dream of other winters
Or of the summer, clean and promise fulfilled!
Long other springs wherein I’ve waited hinder.
The voice from out the earth cannot be stilled.

If the green turmoil could leave my soul at rest,
Not fling forgotten perfumes against my hair
Nor whisper coaxing love words within my ear,
I would not feel green sobs beneath my breast.
But I have seen spring sun on a robin’s wing;
There is no peace here. I am afraid of spring.

* * * * *

The biographical blurb reads:

AUDREY LORDE is sixteen and a senior at Hunter High in New York. She is a collector of folk songs—which she plays on her guitar—and old books. Prizes found to date in her searches through Fourth Avenue bookshops are a French Geometry and an ancient and yellowed copy of the romantic Poets.

* * * * *

As I wrote a little earlier here, I’m guessing that guitar is Genevieve Johnson’s. Also, it looks like Seventeen used the same photo of Lorde for the “On the Book Beat” column she published in Seventeen in January 1953. Again, given that Kelley Massoni has noted conflict between Helen Valentine (Seventeen‘s first editor-in-chief) and publisher Walter Annenberg over Valentine’s inclusion of photographs of teens of color, it’s interesting that Lorde’s photo is included, along with photos of the two white girls and white boys whose work is also represented on that two-page spread. She’s a little separated spatially. But she’s also unquestionably there. By 1951, Valentine had been replaced by Alice Thompson, so perhaps Thompson was pushing the envelope a little?

Lorde describes the publication of this poem in her essay “My Words Will Be There.” I’ve quoted that elsewhere on this blog, but quoting it here, too, to keep the information together:

My critics have always wanted to cast me in a particular role, from the time my first poem was published when I was fifteen years old. My English teachers at Hunter High School said that this particular poem was much too romantic (it was a love poem about my first love affair with a boy), and they didn’t want to print it in the school paper, which is why I sent it to Seventeen magazine, and, of course, Seventeen printed it. (Audre Lorde, “My Words Will Be There,” in Audre Lorde, I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde, eds. Rudolph P. Byrd, Johnnetta Betsch Cole, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, p. 160, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009; emphasis added).

cover, Audre Lorde, The First Cities“Spring” did not appear in her first volume of poetry, The First Cities (1968), and it is not reprinted in the 1997 Collected Poems of Audre Lorde (which does include, on the front end papers, a reproduction of handwritten poetry from July-August 1952). Interestingly, The First Cities includes two poems, “Second Spring” and “Spring III,” which suggests that she may have considered “Spring” as the first “Spring” followed by these two poems. using the word “spring” in the title which suggest that they were meant to follow this first “Spring.” Both continue the themes of grief and love set in the context of seasonal cycles laid out in “Spring”. (“Second Spring” and “Spring III, in The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde [New York: W. W. Norton, 1997], 10, 11.

Side note: I’m working my way through the 1951 microfilm now (will I finish before I leave for vacation on Saturday? The suspense!!) and it looks like the “On the Book Beat” column is being written by a staffer, Alberta Eiseman, who appears in the staff list (always on the table of contents page) as an editorial assistant. A search in the 1940 Federal Census (via shows an Alberta Eiseman living in New York; she is listed as being 27 in 1940, married to a Polish-born carpenter named Paul Eiseman, and she worked as a “typist.” (Kelley Massoni interviewed Eiseman for her dissertation-turned-into-book Fashioning Teenagers [2010] and identifies Eiseman as a young immigrant from Italy [p. 43]). So she would have been 38-ish in 1951 (if that’s her)—definitely not a teenager.

Two Quotes

cover, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the ClosetMired in the unbloggable, but here are two quotes I’m thinking about a LOT.

Ignorance and opacity collude or compete with knowledge in mobilizing the flows of energy, desire, goods, meanings, persons. If M. Mitterand knows English but Mr. Reagan lacks—as he did lack—French, it is the urbane M. Mitterand who must negotiate in an acquired tongue, the ignorant Mr. Reagan who may dilate in his native one. … [I]t is the interlocutor who has or pretends to have the less broadly knowledgeable understanding of interpretive practice who will define the terms of the exchange.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (1990), p. 4

Requoting from my very first post on this blog:

Second Language

Outside, the night is glowing
with earth and you
in the next room take up
your first language.
All day it has waited
like a young girl in a field.
Now she has stood up
from the straw-flattened circle
and you have taken her glance
from the hills.

The words come back.
You are with yourself again
as that child who gave up the spoon,
the bed, the horse to its colors
and uses. There is yet no hint
they would answer to anything else
and your tongue does not multiply the wrong,
the stammer calling them back
and back.

Tess Gallagher, “Second Language,” Under Stars (1993)

Also from that inaugural post, a reminder to myself that I’ve meant this blog to be an attempt at creating a space where I can speak my first languages, Historian and Poet. Space for speaking those languages—”You are with yourself again”—is important.

Random Notes of Still-Hereness

ZamiI’m still here. I had a Rough Semester* and it’s been difficult to get myself focused on scholarship in a bloggable way (or on anything bloggable, really). A girls’ intellectual history panel I helped organize has been accepted for OAH’s 2017 conference in New Orleans, which is great news. I will be presenting my revised version of the Seventeen paper there. I got an extremely generous critique of my earlier draft from Kelly Schrum, whose work on Seventeen was the starting point for mine, and that’s given me a lot of good stuff to think about. But the writing itself is progressing slowly (not that that’s anything new) and in a piecemeal kind of way. Very pleased to have a deadline of sorts.

The call for papers for UVA’s Global History of Black Girlhood conference has gotten me thinking about Audre Lorde and slowly (everything is slow—blame the 9-to-5ery) reading about her.

Lorde published her first poem in Seventeen and was also the first teen to publish a full book-review column in Seventeen (January 1953). Her byline for “On the Book Beat” (subtitled, “A Science-Fiction fan discusses the growing appeal of stories from the Outer Reaches”) reads “Audrey Lorde, Age 18, Stamford, Connecticut.” Here’s the short biographical statement Seventeen published:


Having just finished Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), I’m guessing the guitar had belonged to Genevieve Johnson, Lorde’s first (apparently unconsummated) love; Stamford was also where Lorde had her first lesbian sexual experience. Seventeen‘s editor at the time, Alice Thompson, was probably pushing a line somewhat by publishing a photograph of an African-American girl (according to Kelley Massoni, Seventeen‘s founding editor had clashed with published Walter Annenberg over a photograph of an African-American girl). Audrey Lorde here is portrayed as a girl working hard to keep herself in college and who enjoys science fiction (the theme of her review), books in general, and guitar playing. Notice the allusions to class: she is a scholarship student, “trying to make expenses” (i.e., working). At the same time, Seventeen also published articles on how to afford college, so, Lorde also falls within that discourse: she has earned a scholarship, she is working now, but it’s to pay for college. No mention of what Lorde was actually doing in Stamford (she was working at an electronics company, being exposed to harmful chemicals and X-rays); what’s important to Seventeen, apparently, is her status as a college student.

I’m especially interested in Lorde’s experience at Hunter College High School, a high school for gifted girls and the location of her first experience of a writing group (a group of classmates who came to call themselves The Branded, including Diane di Prima). From Zami:

In high school, my best friends were ‘The Branded,’ as our sisterhood of rebels sometimes called ourselves. We never talked about those differences that separated us, only the ones that united us against the others. My friends and I talked about who studied german or french, who liked poetry or doing ‘the twist,’ who went out with boys, and who was ‘progressive.’ We even talked about our position as women in a world supposed to be run by men.

But we never ever talked about what it meant and felt like to be Black and white, and the effects that it had on our being friends. Of course, everybody with any sense deplored racial discrimination, theoretically and without discussion. We could conquer it by ignoring it.


We were The Branded, the Lunatic Fringe, proud of our outrageousness and our madness, our bizarre-colored inks and quill pns. We learned how to mock the straight set, and how to cultivate our group paranoia into an instinct for self-protection that always stopped our shenanigans just short of expulsion. We wrote obscure poetry and cherished our strangeness as the spoils of default, and in the process we learned that pain and rejection hurt, but that they weren’t fatal, and that they could be useful since they couldn’t be avoided. We learned that not feeling at all was worse than hurting. At that time, suffering was clearly what we did best. We became The Branded because we learned how to make a virtue out of it. (Zami, 81-82)

Lorde followed those paragraphs with two paragraphs entirely in italics:

How meager the sustenance was I gained from the four years I spent in high school; yet, how important that sustenance was to my survival. Remembering that time is like watching old pictures of myself in a prison camp picking edible scraps out of the garbage heap, and knowing that without that garbage I might have starved to death. The overwhelming racism of so many of the faculty, including the ones upon whom I had my worst schoolgirl crushes. How little I settled for in the way of human contact, compared to what I was conscious of wanting.

It was in high school that I came to believe that I was different from my white classmates, not because I was Black, but because I was me. (Zami, 82)

I’m also curious about Hunter College High School as a girls’ intellectual space. Girls had to pass an examination to be accepted. More to read up on about that. Another Seventeen reviewer, Corinne Demas, also attended Hunter College High School and mentioned it in her 2000 autobiography, Eleven Stories High: Growing up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948-1968. But I’m quite sure her experience was different from Lorde’s.

I’ll be reteaching the dating-history course in the fall, and am hoping to write up the syllabus for Syllabus. I’m not sure yet what form that will take. I have ideas about writing it as an article rather than as a “syllabus” piece, but I’m having trouble getting my thoughts together on that. This is the time of year when I wish I had academic summers: 40 hours a week in a cubicle just isn’t all that conducive to writing. I miss being able to move around, work in coffee shops, work at home with laundry and cooking underway (laundry and cooking to me = natural pomodoros). I don’t miss teaching 4-4 during the semesters though. Just saying, there are tradeoffs, and I feel those the most when the spring semester ends and there’s not as clear of a “woo hoo, freedom!” moment.

*Which I wish I could write about, because I think some of the roughness of the semester bears talking about—indeed, should be talked about—but only if I’d made this blog more securely pseudonymous.

Righteous Anger: And Yet Another Blog Post I Won’t Be Writing

Georgia Guns on Campus

A pedestrian climbs a stairwell to the library at the Georgia State University campus Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Atlanta. Anyone licensed to carry a gun in Georgia could carry concealed handguns on public college campuses under a bill passed Monday by the Georgia House. The bill now goes to the state Senate for review. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Just gonna leave this story from the Atlantic here in honor of campus concealed carry passing my state’s legislature today. Story focuses on Georgia Tech; photo is from the Atlanta campus of Georgia State University.

Thanks, armed robbers, for helping bring about this the passing of this law! You are the gift that just keeps giving.

Random Scholarly Notes: Bits and Pieces from February

cover, Anne Boyd, Writing for Immortality: Women and the Emergence of High Literary Culture in AmericaIt’s still February. I’m still in the thick of instruction.

I’m bouncing back a bit from my grumpy “I don’t wanna read this literature” stance earlier about the antebellum literary-history stuff, but it’s been interesting to see that what I’m missing more is the work I did with the poets themselves, and less the other scholarship on it, if that makes sense. When I was working on the book review that pulled me back towards the nineteenth century, what I found most engaging was looking at the scholarship on postbellum women’s writing and their engagement with ideas of genius and intellectual/creative effort. I was always uncomfortable with the “private women/public stage” model, which I think was why I initially didn’t want to write about antebellum women writers. I felt like that had been done, and that the questions I was really interested in—questions about the desire to write poetry and the choices involved in actually doing so—seemed better approached through writing about men, who had more options to choose from. Anne Boyd’s Writing for Immortality (2009), on postbellum women writers, spoke in some different ways to the questions I had wanted to address. After having moved forward into writing about postwar-era girls’ intellectual culture, I feel almost more at home with Boyd’s women/analysis than with my older materials. But I still find the questions from my older work engaging—I wonder if I’m just wanting to find different populations to ask them of. Different would-be poets, perhaps.

cover, Peter L. Laurence, Becoming Jane JacobsI came across Peter L. Laurence’s Becoming Jane Jacobs (2016) yesterday in my purchasing and was immediately drawn to it. It looks like something I absolutely need to read: an intellectual biography of a woman focused on postwar cities, communities, and spaces. For a brief moment as a teenager I was interested in becoming an urban planner (I attended some kind of presentation on urban planning in school, I think); not so much anymore, but it sounds like this book touches on themes that are of great interest to me. Bought it for the library, waiting now for it to come in.

cover, Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique

The 1984 edition.

Yiiiiikes re the flower imagery given Friedan’s denigration of “the sexual sell.”

Speaking of aesthetic/intellectual women, for Monday’s Meeting with Your Work I ended up looking over some more general “notes towards a book proposal” written a few months ago, and my writing grew out of following some prompts there about Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963). I was writing from memory about some passages where Friedan warns women against pursuing art/creative work in an amateurish, dabbling way (I’m pretty sure she used a variant of “dabble”) and instead pushing themselves to do serious, “professional” work. I remember it as a distinction between artistic work and “serious” professional work (i.e. work done reliably for pay). I spent some time writing from that as a prompt, and got some good ideas out onto paper. Later, I looked up my old copy of Feminine Mystique, a 1984 reprint, from the semester I TAed for the second half of the US history survey (probably spring 1997). The professor had assigned the whole book, so I reread it then—I’d read it in college previously, I think on my own rather than for an assignment. Helpfully, at some point, probably since 1997, I’d left a bookmark at exactly the page where those passages began. They had jumped out at me because I was interested in (and dissertating on) larger questions about gender, vocational choice, and art as a vocation/”job,” so those passages were particularly salient for me.

1997 would also have been around the time when I was reading Anne Emery’s books, which meant that I was reading about a lot of girls who were serious about pursuing artistic careers. Dinny, of course, but Dinny was always represented as being more about ancient history, with art appearing more in the context of Dinny not quite understanding her friend Blythe Brisbane’s famous artist father’s abstract paintings, but diligently trying to when her friend, Julie Jennings—who consistently expresses the desire to illustrate children’s books—praises them.

cover, Anne Emery, A Dream to Touch

This is the reprint edition (mod!) I have. (Boy, boy, crazy boy…. just keep it cool, boy…. reeeeeeeal cool…)

But Emery’s other series and stand-alone books often featured girls actively pursing artistic careers in pragmatic ways: not merely dreaming about becoming famous artists or musicians, but charting real courses towards real careers in the arts. Emery’s would-be musicians practice diligently and mindfully: the “wrong” boys (and girl friends) for these girls are the boys who distract them or actively remove them from their practicing; the “right” boys (and girl friends) are the ones who are pursuing similar musical goals, or have serious commitments to other fields.

In Emery’s A Dream to Touch (1958), Marya Rose, the daughter of poor Polish immigrants in Chicago, must choose between sexy bad boy/thief Tony Marino (though it’s not explicitly stated, it’s strongly implied that one of Marya’s friends has had sex with Tony) and Nicky Kowalski, who like Marya is poor but highly gifted musically. Marya and Nicky regularly explore the high-culture world of Chicago after their city youth orchestra rehearsals, and it’s clear that Nicky rather than Tony is the right boy for Marya, since they share both a common background and common goals: Nicky and Marya share goals that will take them beyond their immediate environment, which Tony (and the friend of Marya’s who slept with him) will never escape. The theme of artistic effort and accomplishment is fascinatingly strong in this book: Marya plays her father’s old violin, and struggles with and finally comes to terms with competition from a rich girl who seemingly has no problems. Interestingly, A Dream to Touch ends with Marya’s family moving from their squalid tenement on Weed Street (yes, really) into a shiny new public housing development. … Marya is a rare example of an ethnic heroine in Emery’s work (indeed, in the immediate postwar period junior literature in general)—and, interestingly, it looks like Image Cascade hasn’t republished it!—but many of Emery’s other heroines also engage in diligent effort in artistic fields: Pat Marlowe settles on acting as a career choice (pragmatically aware of the possibility of becoming a speech teacher).


High Note, Low Note (1954), in which Jean Burnaby gets serious about the piano and struggles with a boyfriend who wants to go steady more than she does. This is the reprint edition I have; love the representation of space and the relationship of all of the characters shown to the piano.

Jean Burnaby takes her piano lessons more or less seriously (with Significant Consequences when she takes it less seriously) through the entire Burnaby girls series.

So I’m interested in these fictional heroines for their seriousness. But I’m also interested in them for how they relate back to Friedan’s point about “dabbling” in the arts as v. serious “professional” effort put into artistic work. Emery provides examples of girls working hard towards distinctly aesthetic career goals, even noting options available if they would fall short of becoming a concert pianist or great actress (teaching music, teaching speech). These are girls who, as girls, embody the kind of “professional” effort Friedan is calling for; unlike characters written by other junior lit novelists (Betty Cavanna, I’m looking at you), these girls progress towards their careers through concentrated effort, rather than through spontaneous or innate talent alone.