The Oxford Book of Women's Writing in the United States

Linda Wagner-Martin, Editor, Cathy N. Davidson, Editor
Linda Wagner-Martin, Editor, Cathy N. Davidson, Editor Oxford University Press, USA $35 (608p) ISBN 978-0-19-508706-2
Reviewed on: 05/01/1995
Release date: 05/01/1995
Paperback - 608 pages - 978-0-19-513245-8
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Wagner-Martin (Telling Women's Lives) and Davidson (Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji) offer a generous survey of American women's voices that is as remarkable for its quality as it is for its breadth. Asserting that much writing by women has been neglected because ``it did not fit into existing literary categories,'' they have organized their selections--written by almost 100 writers from the colonial era to the present--into six spacious categories: short fiction (from Sarah Orne Jewett to Helena Maria Viramontes); poetry (Anne Bradstreet to Carolyn Forche); public lives (Revolutionary War-era feminist Judith Sargent Murray to Anna Quindlen); acting out (a speech by Sojourner Truth, an excerpt from Anna Deveare Smith's performance piece Fires in the Mirror); private lives (personal letters of Abigail Adams, Emma Goldman and Mary McCarthy); and bodily pleasures (Alice B. Toklas's Haschich Fudge recipe; surprisingly, Emily Dickinson's poetry is included in the category of ``Erotica.''). The forms include short stories, novellas and poems as well as more informal chants, meditations and monologues. The entries also are cross-referenced by topic: childhood, identity, love relationships, etc. Read front to back, the book dwells at first on women's power struggles with loutish, insensitive men, but it segues effectively into explorations of sexuality, ethnic and political issues and internal conflicts. Some of the pieces, such as Abigail Adams's letter to John (``I desire you would Remember the Ladies'') highlight what women have been able (and unable) to say with language at various points in American history; others, like Cynthia Ozick's ``The Shawl,'' testify to what women can do with language. As textbook, reference work or cover-to-cover recreational reading, this collection is an outstanding editorial achievement. (June)
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