328_Feminist Literature.pdf - Kingsolver Barbara 309 two-year sojourn in the Congo she read female authors\u2014Louisa May ALCOTT Doris LESSING Carson

328_Feminist Literature.pdf - Kingsolver Barbara 309...

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Unformatted text preview: Kingsolver, Barbara 309 two-year sojourn in the Congo, she read female authors—Louisa May ALCOTT, Doris LESSING, Carson MCCULLERS, Margaret MITCHELL, Flannery O’CONNOR, Christina ROSSETTI, Eudora WELTY, and Laura Ingalls WILDER—and developed pacifism and compassion as the bases of empathetic class consciousness. During her undergraduate days studying zoology and English at DePauw University she began shaping her idealism with readings of Betty FRIEDAN and Gloria STEINEM and with internal debates on ABORTION and gender equity. The unusual coupling of science with composition presaged a career writing about nature and ECOFEMINISM. Through essay and fiction Kingsolver crusades for respect for nature, peace, and fair treatment of all humankind. In explanation of her blend of ethics with fiction she explained to an interviewer: “I devise a very big question whose answer I believe will be amazing, and maybe shift the world a little bit on its axis. Then I figure out how to create a world in which that question can be asked, and answered” (Rubinstein, 254). Her works alert readers to the treachery of polluters and clear cutters of forests, to the waste of materialism, and to profiteering and malfeasance throughout the political structure, from the local mayor to conservative U.S. presidents. She supports “responsibility to our future, the political choices we make, how to begin paying back the debt to rivers and air and oceans and soil we’ve been borrowing on, cheating on, for decades” (Ross, 289). These ideas she transforms into fictional themes of social justice, freedom, and nature stewardship. The author’s candid portraits extend over an array of female characters who willingly risk their all for a chance at self-fulfillment. In the muckraking style of the early newspaper reporters Nellie BLY and Winifred Bonfils, Kingsolver and her coauthor, Jill Barrett Fein, compiled a feminist documentary, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 (1989), an enlargement of their article for the March 1983 issue of Progressive magazine entitled “Women on the Line.” Based on the experiences of Anglo and Chicana women during a labor crusade at Ajo and Clifton-Morenci, Arizona, against the Phelps Dodge Copper Corporation, the book cites interviews conducted “in bars, in cars, in their kitchens and back-porch swings, and on the picket line” (ibid., 289). Their working method violated the journalistic tradition of quoting ponderous male commentary by owners, management and union officials, and law enforcement agents. Kingsolver championed the civil liberties of some one thousand female workers and housewives who took to the streets on June 1983 for 18 months of picketing a faceless bureaucracy. Kingsolver discloses a granite streak in females. In the glare of state troopers armed with automatic weapons and tear gas, the women protested racist hiring practices, a wage freeze, the loss of cost-ofliving adjustments, and reduced dental, medical, and retirement benefits. Their courage cost them employment, near starvation, loss of homes, and eviction as a result of jailing and mortgage foreclosures. Justifying her pro-woman chronicle, Kingsolver insisted, “You can’t walk into a situation like that and pretend you don’t know which side you’re on” (ibid.). She praised the women’s persistence as the source of public speaking and organizational skills developed on the scene. Early in her career Kingsolver made toughness a standard attribute of female characters. In the short story “Homeland,” anthologized in Homeland and Other Stories (1989), she pictures Great Mam, a Cherokee matron and WISEWOMAN, maintaining cultural folkways and reverence for Earth in her family’s lives. A second model of strength, Jericha, the young Caribbean hero of “Jump-up Day” (1989), is wise enough to find direction in a pagan Obeah culture that black slaves transferred from West Africa. In Kingsolver’s quest novel, The Bean Trees (1988), female networking rescues women and children from hunger, pedophilia, and tyranny. Mattie, the widowed owner of the Jesus Is Lord tire dealership, establishes a reception center of a late 20thcentury underground railroad to aid Guatemalan and Salvadoran political dissidents and their families from Central America on their way to way stations north of her Arizona business. Taylor Greer, with mountaineer logic, expresses the women’s creed: “You can’t just sit there, you got to get pissed off” (Kingsolver, 1988, 150). Balancing the women’s corps is a sprinkling of altruistic males—Dr. Pelinowsky, Terry the barefoot priest, 310 Kingston, Maxine Hong the magistrate Jonas Wilford Armistead, and Estevan, a Mayan political dissident who gently reminds racists that cooperation can ease the world’s worst hurts. Kingsolver’s dedication to the dispossessed increased in intensity in subsequent fictional settings. She creates as a model of selflessness the volunteerism of Hallie Noline, an agronomist in Animal Dreams (1990), whom a macho mafia guns down by the roadside in Nicaragua. The range of Kingsolver’s empathy with female laborers encompasses Alice Greer, a retired domestic worker, and her minimum-wage-earning daughter, Taylor, a third-shift clerk at the 7-Eleven in The Bean Trees; the idealistic Cherokee attorney Annawake Fourkiller in Pigs in Heaven (1993); and Orleanna Price, a homemaker and mother of four girls, and her daughter, Leah Price Ngemba, the tutor of West African refugees in The Poisonwood Bible (1998). In the latter Kingsolver levels the chasm between Congolese and American women at the funeral of Ruth May Price, who dies of the bite of a green mamba. Women converge at a leafy funereal arbor to keen and mourn in their customary style. To acknowledge the bond that women share, Orleanna, Ruth May’s devastated mother, distributes her curtains, pots, and kitchen utensils, domestic gifts that express both thanks and a shared life of PATRIARCHY and housewifely duties. More recently the author interwove motifs of compromise and cooperation in Prodigal Summer (2000), a romance that features the idealistic naturalist Deanna Wolfe and the savvy farmer Lusa Maluf Landowski, two mediators in the clash of profit motive versus conservation. Bibliography Kingsolver, Barbara. The Bean Trees. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. ———. Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997. ———. Prodigal Summer. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Murrey, Loretta Martin. “The Loner and the Matriarchal Community in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven,” Southern Studies 5, no. 1–2 (Spring–Summer 1994): 155–164. Ross, Jean W. “Interview.” In Contemporary Authors. Vol. 134. 284–290. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Rubinstein, Roberta. “The Mark of Africa,” World and I 14, no. 4 (April 1999): 254. Tischler, Barbara L. “Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983,” Labor Studies Journal 17, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 82–83. Kingston, Maxine Hong (1940– ) A first-generation Chinese American from Stockton, California, Maxine “Ting Ting” Hong Kingston applies inferences from multiple cultures to describe universal female strengths that ward off PATRIARCHY. Like Brave Orchid, the heroine in her autobiographical female Gothic novel The WOMAN WARRIOR: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts (1976), Kingston was born to a family who love peasant oral tradition. She grew up speaking the Say Yup dialect and reading and writing both English and Chinese. With a degree in American literature from the University of California at Berkeley she taught literature and composition in California and Hawaii. Among the feminist authors she promoted was Tillie OLSEN. Using words as a form of social protest, Kingston began a career as a fiction writer and essayist published in American Girl, American Heritage, English Journal, Mademoiselle, Mother Jones, MS., New Dawn, New West, the New Yorker, the New York Times, Viva, and the Washington Post. In addition to becoming one of the most studied books on high school and college reading lists, The Woman Warrior earned a Time Magazine nonfiction books of the decade citation, National Book Critics Circle Award, Mademoiselle Magazine Award, and Anisfield-Wolf Race Relations Award. Kingston crafted The Woman Warrior into a feminist touchstone from strands of myth, history, ghost stories, warrior lore, saga, and personal reportage. She employed an Asian staple, intercalary TALK-STORY, a form of cautionary and supportive narrative that girl children receive informally from members of their matrilineage. The most cited of Kingston’s characters is “no-name woman,” a tragic victim of Confucian PATRIARCHY. In anger at her illegitimate pregnancy, villagers vent their disapproval: “Like a great saw, teeth strung with Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press 311 lights, files of people walked zigzag across our land, tearing the rice” (Kingston, Woman, 5). That night she gives birth in a pigsty, then drowns herself and her infant in the family well, taking with her both shame and the name of the child’s sire. Not only is the unnamed mother permanently silenced, but even the story of her death, spoken in whispers, becomes a woman-to-woman confession of feudal misogyny that always blames the female. As a feminist antidote to family cautionary figures, the author created Fa Mu Lan, an epic Christ figure who bears her people’s crimes carved on her back. A more realistic model is Brave Orchid, a wielder of subversive action against SILENCING, servility, and other forms of male control. Kingston later explained the unusual blend of legend, myth, memoir, and history in her feminist novel: “It’s important for me to show that racial or feminist writing doesn’t have to sound like polemics” (Kingston, 1998, 3). Empowered by woman-affirming “[stories] to grow up on,” the protagonist acts out female convictions and desires that society had previously suppressed (ibid., 5). For balance Kingston composed a complementary novel, China Men (1980), which honors the first Chinese males to immigrate to North America. The text details a humiliating truth—the anti-woman curses of a father to the protagonist that “make me sicken at being female” (Kingston, China, 14). For Kingston’s candor about Chinese sexism she generated the antipathy in the male Chinese-American authors Jeffery Chan, Frank Chin, and Benjamin Tong and the regard of feminists. In 1998 President Bill Clinton presented Kingston a National Humanities Medal. Bibliography Kalfopoulou, Adrianne. A Discussion of the Ideology of the American Dream in the Culture’s Female Discourses. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000. Kingston, Maxine Hong. China Men. New York: Vintage, 1989. ———. Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston. New York: Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1998. ———. Woman Warrior. New York: Vintage, 1989. Yuan Shu. “Cultural Politics and Chinese-American Female Subjectivity: Rethinking Kingston’s ‘Woman Warrior,’ ” MELUS 26, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 199–224. Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press The nation’s first all-female literary outlet and the first national advocacy organization operated by nonwhite and lesbian women, Kitchen Table / Women of Color Press expands the outreach of feminist fiction, pamphlets, and art. Discussed in the late 1970s by the black lesbian poet Audre LORDE, the Chicana author Cherríe MORAGA, and the black lesbian activist Barbara Smith, the idea originally focused on a literary journal or another periodical rather than a publishing firm. Smith was a particularly vocal critic of exclusive school curricula that omit or discredit writings other than those of a white, middle-class male Protestant canon. To end exclusionary policies in schools, college curricula, and libraries, the editorial staff met in New York City on Halloween 1980. They decided to form a publishing house and, the next year, went into production. Shortly before her death from cancer Lorde wrote of the “othered” author’s fear of leaving no evidence of thought on important issues. She declared nonwhite and LESBIAN AUTHORS’ writings as “part of a continuum of women’s work, of reclaiming this earth and our power, and knowing that this work did not begin with my birth nor will it end with my death” (Lockett, 39). Because of the relevance and authenticity of such female writings and scholarship, the consortium, aided by the Laguna Sioux author Paula Gunn ALLEN, turned niche marketing of “othered” writings into a revered vehicle for formerly suppressed or ignored writers. Through the print versions of works by the lesbian poet Cheryl Clarke, the radical philosopher and teacher Angela DAVIS, the Jewish writer Evelyn Torton Beck, the Japanese poet Mitsuye YAMADA, and the lesbian short story author Hisaye YAMAMOTO, Kitchen Table / Women of Color Press issued perspectives and experiences that had previously failed to reach readers, teachers, students, and researchers. In 1981 the editors Cherríe Moraga and Gloria ANZALDÚA realized a breakthrough in feminist literature with a best-selling anthology/textbook, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Composed of the prose and verse of third world American authors, the book won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus ...
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