For more than half a century, poet and essayist Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929 — March 27, 2012) explored with equal parts courage and conviction such complex cultural phenomena as identity and ideology, gender and politics, oppression and freedom. The recipient of numerous honors, including the National Book Award for Poetry, two Guggenheim fellowships, and a MacArthur “genius” grant — Rich is celebrated as one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century.
For Rich, art was as much a tool of creative expression as it was a vehicle for empathy, for expanding one’s understanding of the world beyond the limits of the individual. In a 2005 conversation at the Kelly Writers House, she articulates her ethos with a beautiful definition of art:One of the great functions of art is to help us imagine what it is like to be not ourselves, what it is like to be someone or something else, what it is like to live in another skin, what it is like to live in another body, and in that sense to surpass ourselves, to go out beyond ourselves.
Rich’s own life was anything but ordinary. In 1953, she married Harvard professor Alfred Haskell Conrad, who fathered her three children. Over the decade that followed, her career exploded, in the process catapulting her into a spurt of personal growth, self-discovery, and political awakening. In 1970, stifled by the institution of marriage, Rich divorced Conrad. In 1976, she met and fell in love with Jamaican-born novelist and editor Michelle Cliff, who became her lifelong partner and inspired Rich’s Twenty-One Love Poems (1977), her first literary exploration of lesbian desire and sexuality, later included in one of her most celebrated works, The Dream of a Common Language (1978). The two remained together for thirty-six years, until Rich’s death in 2012. In a lamentable manifestation of the current failings of marriage equality, as of this writing, her Wikipedia entry still lists Conrad as her only spouse.
In 1997, in protest against the growing monopoly of power and the government’s proposed plan to end funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, Rich famously became the first and only person to date to decline the prestigious National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed upon an individual artist on behalf of the people of the United States, previously awarded to such luminaries as Ralph Ellison, Georgia O’Keeffe, John Updike, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and fellow reconstructionist Maya Angelou.
But despite the strong undercurrents of political and sociocultural commentary, Rich’s work was driven first and foremost by the irrepressible stirrings of her inner life. She reflected in an interview:A poem can come out of something seen, something overheard, listening to music, an article in a newspaper, a book, a combination of all these… There’s a kind of emotional release that I then find in the act of writing the poem. It’s not, ‘I’m now going to sit down and write a poem about this.’
No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone
The accidents happen, we’re not heroines
They happen in our lives like car crashes
Book that change us, neighbourhoods
We move into and come to love.
- Adrienne Rich
[Image: drawing of Rich, with quote above]
- Reblogged from thereconstructionists
[Image of street art depicting Batman and Robin kissing.]
[Image: lecturer in front of class]
Congratulations on writing some of the most impressive dissertations I’ve ever read. Unfortunately I’m failing most of you for exceeding the 140 character limit.
- Reblogged from mikejacobsen
Sudanese Australians use music to reflect on their war experiences. This group performed for the Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) in Western Sydney. One performer says:
When you’re happy, you sing it out; when you’re sad, you sing it out… You talk to people, you make an announcement – anything at all, you make a song.
Another singer says:
It looks like fun, but it’s not fun… I’m not a young woman, I’m an old woman. I can’t come if it’s [just] fun. We want the people that doesn’t know what happened a long time in the past, and that is why we are here.
STARTTS Chief Executive says:
Dance brings people together, but also brings people together in a way that turns thoughts and feelings into action, and that’s tremendously therapeutic.
Source: SBS News.
Margaret Mead (December 16, 1901—November 15, 1978) intended to make a life out of painting. Instead, she became the world’s best-known cultural anthropologist, becoming the discipline’s most revered patron saint.
A 1959 audio interview captured Mead’s deceptively ordinary extraordinariness:Doctor Mead is of small build, she has blue eyes, she’s plain folks — there are no wares about her. You get the impression that she’d be at home anywhere — in an igloo, a native hut, or a Park Avenue penthouse.
And, indeed, she did. Mead dedicated her life to the study of indigenous societies and the translation of those observations into invaluable insights on Western culture. Through her tireless work and its eloquent articulation in her books — including her now-legendary volumes Sex and Temperament and Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization — as well as in her mass media appearances, she popularized modern anthropology, giving it shape and cultural credibility both as a field of practical study and as an area of intellectual inquiry.
Mead is credited as the originator of the viral aphorism “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Though the authorship of the now-ubiquitous quote has never been ascertained, it endures as a beautiful and fitting meta-testament to Mead’s studies of how ideas spread and are assimilated in a culture.
Mead opposed the over-academization of anthropology and its preoccupation with terminology rather than crisp, plain insight. She wryly admonished in her 1979 volume Some Personal Views:If one cannot state a matter clearly enough so that even an intelligent twelve-year-old can understand it, one should remain within the cloistered walls of the university and laboratory until one gets a better grasp of one’s subject matter.
Both her anthropological observations and her personal experience led Mead to defy a number of Wester conventions, instilling in her the conviction that one’s sexual orientation can evolve over the course of a lifetime and that it is possible for a person to have more than one beloved at the same time. In a collection of Mead’s letters, published in 2006 with her daughter’s permission, she writes:[I believe] that one can love several people and that demonstrative affection has its place in different types of relationship.
Mead also objected to the limiting social structures and labels of Western society, especially those that confined sexual identity and behavior to artificial categories, including those of “heterosexual” and “homosexual.” Mead herself had three marriages to men — all anthropologists — and a daughter with her third husband, the renowned British anthropologist Gregory Bateson. She also had two long-term romantic relationships with women: One with her mentor Ruth Benedict, fourteen years her senior, who died in 1948, and another with the prominent anthropologist Rhoda Metraux, thirteen years her junior, who edited much of Mead’s work and with whom Mead spent the last 23 years of her life.
Several weeks after her death, in January of 1979, Mead was posthumously awarded the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, which cited her far-reaching and inextinguishable legacy:Margaret Mead was both a student of civilization and an exemplar of it. To a public of millions, she brought the central insight of cultural anthropology: that varying cultural patterns express an underlying human unity. She mastered her discipline, but she also transcended it. Intrepid, independent, plain spoken, fearless, she remains a model for the young and a teacher from whom all may learn.
- Reblogged from thereconstructionists