I was reminded of their importance when I had the privilege of looking at a few—a very few—of the documents in the Kate Millett archive, left to the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
The fact that Millett chose to leave this written evidence of her life here is a great credit to the reputation, and the excellent staff, at the Center.
The first letter of Millett’s I read, undated, went to her friend Beth Hodges in Georgia. In it, Millett reflects on an idea, which Hodges had presented, that revolutionized her thinking. Millett recalls a day when, in Budapest, she was reading the manuscript of Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born—a book that influenced me deeply—at the same time as a poem by the unjustly forgotten Rosemary Daniell, reflecting a statement in a speech by Mary Daly, who was pulling apart and recreating language.
Millett writes, “…I assume that these occurrences are not isolated events but are evidence of a communal consciousness…the result of our sharing a common heritage…given us by our artist-writers, our true mothers.”
This is what I miss today. There are artist-writers among us, eloquent and even, at times, published, but we have few public speakers, or public forums, or media in any form (forgive me Bitch Magazine) for the distribution of these ideas. And so we lack the “transformational moment” which Millett ascribes to these thinkers and writers, a group that included, of course, herself.
And so we seem to work in isolation.
Of course, isolation is to some degree essential for all writers. But if our coming together seldom includes our work, and is largely social, our influence on our communities—including, possibly, children and grandchildren—is limited.
I remember very well a reading I gave here some years back of my newest short story collection. My then ten-year-old granddaughter insisted on standing beside me to turn the pages. I’m not sure she ever read that collection, but her role at my reading is, I think, an image of what Millett believed we did create—at least for a time.
Surely, we could create it again.