Wednesday, May 26, 2010
What is this series doing in this blog? Lakin is a longtime Californian who still resides here. She had a successful television career, both as a writer and eventually as a producer. She wrote many movies of the week, and has won a variety of awards, including the prestigious Edgar Allen Poe Award for mystery writers.
So you have a mother retired in Florida? Here's what to send as a mitzvah to give her a dose of the best medicine, lots of laughs. Ok, she may kvetch back, but just roll your eyes and keep quiet. Of course, read the book first for your own pleasure.
Rita Lakin also has a blog, and a new book about to come out, Growing Old is Tres Dangereux.
Monday, May 24, 2010
We met as novice sociologists at a woman's group. She had managed an unfortunately short-lived job at Stanford and lived in SF. Coming from the east, as I did, we were sympatico from the start. I was a single mom, and she lived with a sweet Japanese photographer, David, who taught me to surf fish. We both shared a fascination with photographs in sociology, and Barbara's first book was on professional photographers. Her home was a welcoming respite during some hard times for me, both for her intense intellectualism and her wild sense of fun.
We were less in touch when our personal lives shifted. She shifted into a gay life style, and I was unhappy with one of her choices for a partner. We had some fights, good ones, that we eventually got over. Then I remarried and she found Sandy, the kind of opposite that works so well in building a solid relationship. In her forties, Barbara was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. She remarked that she guessed she would have to teach the rest of us about dying, which she did with abandon. She travelled, she continued her intellectual and teaching life. The last time I saw her, I took a portable microscope and tiny flowers for her to study. She was honest to the end, and kept all of her friends informed of her condition. I still miss her, over 25 years later, and regret we can't wonder over the latest political morass.
She and Sandy co-wrote one of the best books ever on intimates dealing with a fatal disease, Cancer in Two Voices. It won some awards, but I don't think it remains in print. Find a copy if you can.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
During the early 1920s she toured as an accompanist for the Metropolitan Opera, performed as a soloist with symphony orchestras, and published in her favorite format, the choral work. Moving to Los Angeles, she studied orchestration and wrote her first symphonic work, "The Harp Weaver," set to the poem of Edna Vincent Millay. Critics described the work as "melodious, picturesque, and imbued with appropriate feeling...effective tone-painting" and praised the composer's "genuine creative talent." The premiere of was conducted by Antonia Brico at Carnegie Hall in 1936. Warren found herself set among other neo-romanticists, such as Samuel Barber and Giancarlo Menotti.
Intensely private and comitted to her craft, she continued with numerous songs, choral pieces, and symphonic works, often referring to English poets for inspiration. This accompanied a full family life with a supportive husband, a professional singer, who kept the children away when she was working. Despite the rise of atonal music, she refused to shift her preferred style, and had the satisfaction of seeing her works performed throughout the country. Further evidence of her achievement was the commissioning of works, such as her "Symphony in One Movement."
To understand obstacles what she faced, consider this exchange, and note the recent date:
"I don't think compositions, whether they're large or small, have a gender, as far as the music goes, and I think it makes no difference to state `this is a woman composer,' `this is a man composer,'" Warren commented in a 1987 interview.
"I've had many people say to me `You play like a man,' or `Your music sounds as if it were written by a man.' I think they associate any kind of music that is rather strong or powerful with manliness."
When the interviewer observed, "Because the work is so big and we just don't expect that of a woman," Warren shot back, "I don't know why. Women have thoughts too!"
More than 200 of Warren's works remain available in publication form, and several major works in CD by leading artists. One of these was created when she was 86, when Cambria Records asked her to accompany singers on an album of her works. An organization
On a personal note, I wonder about my own stifled musical career. What if the orchestras I visited in my youth included women? What if my education had included the long line of noted women composers? And why did it require a web search to learn about Warren when I have been in choral groups all my life? After all, the repertoire of my current group includes Samuel Barber. I think I have some education to do with some local conductors....and send them to the Elinor Remick Warren Society.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
One unexpected source concerns an index of newspaper articles from the Press Democrat between 1969 and 1978. Clicking a box in the graphical display offers the headline and particular source information. The first two articles in 1969 exquisitely reflect the cusp of change. One concerns a Candlelight Ball, while the other announces a luncheon for war mothers, this being the era of Vietnam. Skimming over later titles, one is reminded of the enormous commitment of women then to establish support groups in various fields, to rally against discrimination, to pressure for new laws, and more. Those of us who lived through that time wonder why that history has been relatively forgotten. How often do my cohort members comment upon the set belief of so many young California women that equality is here, when that is not the case? We feel cranky, but when I survey what we attempted, perhaps we deserve to feel such annoyance.
Monday, February 15, 2010
I read Leffland's 1970 novel Rumors of Peace several years ago, yet many of its scenes still resonate. The story takes place at the start of World War II in fictional Mendoza that resembles Martinez or Carquinez. Told through the viewpoint of young Susie Hansen, the war's approach takes on the particularity of its location. A tomboy when the bombers attack Pearl Harbor, she has learned to appreciate her burgeoning womanliness by the time of Hiroshima. Guiding her on this journey is the radical and brilliant older sister of her best friend. Susie's mentor helps her to navigate a self-acceptance that acknowledges her new sexuality without compromising and swallowing the standard female role of the time. So it is a path many, including myself, have followed.
This book works on so many levels, as coming-of-age, as the war's effect upon California, as a commentary on the difficulties of friendship, and more. I was dismayed to discover it is no longer in my library, though that absence means someone else is enjoying my copy, perhaps a purchase at a library sale. Highly recommended for all readers, and would serve a special gift to young adult readers and fans of California history.
Leffland's latest book, which I have yet to read, concerns a biography of Hermann Goering. One of these days...
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I look forward every time this excellent publication appears in my mail box, and read it through. Unfortunately, it is not something that will come before the purview of the average Californian, let alone one who wanders into the Society in San Francisco. I would love to be an editor at a publishing house right now and sign up people to fill the gap in the book shelves.
Meanwhile, another source that once available in local bookstores is The Californians. This magazine was well-designed for the general public, well-illustrated with historic photographs and artwork, well-referenced articles, and complete primary documents. Its demise years ago is still missed by those of us fascinated with state history, and notably that of its women's role.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Intrigued by Strunsky's commitment and intellectuality, London invited her to collaborate on The Kempton-Wace Letters, published anonymously. The imaginary epistolary exchange concerns the existence of love, whether it is real and the basis for a strong marriage (Strunsky) or whether science should determine the selection of partners (London). London did marry on the basis of his wife Bess Maddern's solid potential as a progenitor of strong children. Two years into the marriage London and Strunsky fell in love, though she spurned him once she learned his wife was expecting a second child. He remained the great love of her life nonetheless.
Anna Strunsky's place in California history is thus not very significant, except as she represents one of many women of her time participating in the socialist movement of the Bay area. Had she remained in the state, instead of marrying William Walling and moving east, she would doubtless have played a larger role in California political movements. She also came from a Jewish family that grew in influence in San Francisco as a center for intellectual and political discussion.
James Boylan's Revolutionary Lives (University of Massachusetts Press) is the only book to date to explore Strunsky's socialism, which continued with her marriage to Walling. The couple spent two years in Russia, along with sister Rose, during a time of revolutionary outbreak, and were eventually jailed before being expelled from the country. They returned to New York to become key founders of the NAACP. Strunsky's promise as a writer and activist were squelched by the demands of her husband, who belittled her capabilities. They eventually parted ways when she remained a pacifist during WWI. As her children reached adulthood, she was once more active in political causes and writing. She died in 1964, survived by four children.
Sister Rose also moved to New York, settling in Greenwich Village. She became a noted translator of Russian works, notably those of Leon Trotsky. Rose married Louis Lorwin in 1920, and died in 1963.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Juana and her siblings grew up in the San Francisco presidio, where in 1820 she married one of its soldiers, Apollinario de Miranda. There she bore eight children and adopted a Native American child as well. When her husband retired, they moved to what is now North Beach in Yerba Buena, where she kept a vegetable and herbal garden, as well as raised cattle for the hide-and-tallow trade. From her extended family she had learned the complex skills of natural medicine and was a renowned midwife and curandera who treated visiting sailors as well as local residents. She also learned from Native Americans, whose instructions helped her manage a small pox epidemic in Marin in 1834, and the setting of broken bones.
Briones challenged even the church authority by appealing to the bishop for a sancioned separation from her alcoholic and physically abusive husband in 1844. "Your Lordship, my husband is the greatest obstacle placed before my children, because from him they learn nothing but swearing, blasphemy, and ugly, lewd, and dissolute behavior. How will I excuse myself before God, if I do not seek, as much as I can, all possible means of ridding my family of such as bad example?" Nevertheless, the curate repeatedly ordered her to return her family home, which she refused. This was a most rebellious act for a woman of her belief and culture. Eventually she dropped her husband's name and referred to herself as a widow.
Juana had always been close to her sisters, using them at times for refuge, and purchasing with them lands beyond Yerba Buena. In 1844 she acquired the 4,400 acre Rancho La Purisima Concepcion covering parts of what is now Palo Alto and Los Altos. The adobe home she built remains and is part of a historic preservation effort. There continued her very successful ranching business and contributions to her community, with help from no men, including any of her sons, nor other male relations.
Briones is one of many Spanish-speaking women from this early period who broke beyond the restricted Mexican culture. Of mixed-race, she was able to achieve what would have been impossible in her mestizo grandparents' homeland, where emphasis on whiteness was obsessive and essential to advancement. She was able to take advantage of the Spanish culture's more liberal view towards women owning or inheriting property. Finally, in her standing up to the church, she would represent one of many whose challenge would spark a move toward secular government and society.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Ryan, a lifelong Californian and graduate of UCLA, was recently named our 16th Poet Laureate. [Ryan, on right, with Emily Warn at a poetry conference. Photo: Star Black,Flickr]
It was only after this announcement that I became familiar with her writing. What I discovered was someone who is unafraid of the most commonplace as the basis for wonder. A friend e-mailed me "Home to Roost," which begins:
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
These charming first lines, with the almost childlike rhyme of day/way soon unfurls to offer a metaphorical commentary open to various interpretations. See the entirety of "Home to Roost" and several other of her poems at this PBS poetry page.
Ryan lives in Marin County, where she is also a mountain biker, so you could perhaps have a sudden encounter with her on Mount Tam. She admits to preferring a hermetic life, and is now forced to deal with publicity and perhaps more appearances than she would prefer.
Ryan has been published in many literary journals and magazines. Her collections of poetry are: Dragon Acts to Dragon Ends. Fairfax, CA: Taylor Street Press, 1983.
Strangely Marked Metal. Providence, RI: Copper Beech Press, 1985.
Flamingo Watching. Providence, RI: Copper Beech Press, 1994.
Elephant Rocks, New York: Grove Press, 1997.
Say Uncle. New York: Grove Press, 2000.
Niagara River. New York: Grove Press, 2005.