10 Classic Indian Women Poets, from Akka Mahadevi to Meena Alexander

India is a rich mosaic when it comes to languages, cultures and states. This diverse selection keeps in mind the feminist angle as it journeys from the 12th century through the 21st. These classic Indian women poets are presented here in order of birth, from Akka Mahadevi (1130-1160) through Meena Alexander (1951-2018).

Though all have passed on, their voices and influence echo through the ages. Pictured at right, Kamala Das as a young woman.

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An Analysis of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson

This analysis of We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), Shirley Jackson’s last novel, has a special emphasis on Mary Katherine (Merricat), the younger of the Blackwood sisters central to the story. Excerpted from Girls in Bloom: Coming of Age in the Mid 20th Century Woman’s Novel by Francis Booth, reprinted by permission.

In Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial and The Haunting of Hill House, she used an old house as a brooding, malign presence in the novel, almost a character in its own right. She did the same, though in a completely different way, in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, her last completed novel. Read More→

The Field House by Robin Clifford Wood — Rediscovering Rachel Field

A compelling blend of biography and memoir, The Field House: A Writer’s Life Lost and Found on an Island in Maine by Robin Clifford Wood (She Writes Press, May 4, 2021) recounts the remarkable life of writer Rachel Field (1894 – 1942) from the perspective of a woman who lived in Field’s old, neglected island home in Maine, sparking a unique sisterhood across time.

Born of illustrious New England stock, Rachel Field was a National Book Award-winning novelist, a Newbery Medal-winning children’s writer, a poet, playwright, and rising Hollywood success in the early twentieth century. Her light was abruptly extinguished at the age of forty-seven, when she died at the pinnacle of her personal happiness and professional acclaim. Read More→

Shirley Jackson: Mother of the Fictional and Real-Life Teen

Shirley Jackson

This look at the depiction of adolescent and teen girls in the fiction and nonfiction of American author Shirley Jackson is excerpted from Girls in Bloom: Coming of Age in the Mid-20th Century Woman’s Novel by Francis Booth, reprinted by permission.

In the works of Shirley Jackson (1916 – 1965), there is an absence of sex of any kind, other than the veiled implication that Natalie Waite in Hangsaman has had a sexual experience that she does not remember, and which is not described in the novel.

One reason for this lack of sex among her teenage protagonists might be that Jackson had daughters of her own who might read her work. She did know a lot about the adolescent girl; she wrote several of them into her novels and stories, chief among them, the aforementioned Natalie Waite; Harriet Merriam (The Road Through the Wall), and Merricat Blackwood (We Have Always Lived in the Castle). Read More→

Beryl Markham, Aviatrix, Adventurer, Author of West with the Night

Beryl Markham (October 26, 1902 – August 3, 1986) is perhaps best remembered as a pioneering aviatrix, becoming the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic nonstop from Britain to North America. She was also a racehorse trainer and had torrid love affairs and tepid marriages, all of which she recounted in her famed  1942 memoir, West with the Night.

Born Beryl Clutterbuck, she seemed at first destined to lead the kind of life described in old English novels – an uneventful childhood in a grand country house; schooling in literature, language, and sewing by a Jane Eyre-like governess; attending swish parties and tea dances until the day a handsome man from a fine family proposes, and that would be that. Then, having babies, supervising the staff, gardening, and fox hunting for the rest of her life.

But Fate had other ideas. Beryl spent her childhood in Kenya, and grew up to breed champion racehorses and pilot planes. Encouraged by Antoine de Saint Exupery, she wrote what would become a classic memoir about Africa, West with the Night. This book, Ernest Hemingway opined, was so good it made him feel ashamed because “she can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers.” As is well known, Hemingway was rarely complimentary towards fellow writers. Read More→

The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers: A review

The Age of Phillis by Honoree Fannonne Jeffers

The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers illuminates the life and significance of Phillis Wheatley Peters, the enslaved African American whose 1773 book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, challenged prevailing assumptions about the intellectual and moral abilities of Africans and women.

In The Age of Phillis (Wesleyan University Press, 2020), which won the 2021 NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Literary Work—Poetry” and was long-listed for the National Book Award, Jeffers portrays the life of the poet both before she was taken from her home in West Africa and throughout her lifetime in the United States, first enslaved and later free.

I became aware of the book by attending a virtual reading and can attest that Jeffers’s reading style is dynamic and worth searching out in audio and video recordings on the internet. Read More→

Fearlessly Facing Aging: Poems by Grace Paley

Grace Paley

A poet has the ability to bring to the light our most inexpressible fears and doubts. When the subject is aging – the subject most of us try to avoid – it is the poets we turn to find the comfort and the clarity we need. Grace Paley is one of the poets who can instruct the heart and mind on living with death, as evidenced by this selection of her poems on aging. 

For the last ten years of her life, Grace wrote poetry on the complexities of living with death as we grow older. “Nature takes its course,” is how we have been instructed to perceive our passing, but what about our other contradictory emotions and realities. Read More→

Isabelle Eberhardt, Fearless Nomad and Seeker

Isabelle Eberhardt, intrepid traveler

Isabelle Eberhardt (February 17, 1877 – October 21, 1904) was a Swiss-born traveler and writer. From an early age she dreamed of escaping to North Africa, a dream that was nourished by the exotic fantasies of desert life that were popular at the time, and in her early twenties, she left Europe to make Algeria her home.

Her exploration of the deserts and cities of the Mahgreb, usually disguised as a man, has become legendary. She was a prolific writer, but much of her work — including travelogues, diaries, and short stories — was only published after her death in a freak accident at the age of twenty-seven. Read More→