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Better Red : The Writing and Resistance of Tillie Olsen and Meridel Le Sueur - Constance Coiner

Better Red

The Writing and Resistance of Tillie Olsen and Meridel Le Sueur

Hardcover Published: 30th March 1995
ISBN: 9780195056952
Number Of Pages: 284

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Better Red is an interdisciplinary study addressing the complicated intersection of American feminism and the political left as refracted in Tillie Olsen's and Meridel Le Sueur's lives and literary texts. The first book-length study to explore these feminist writers' ties to the American Communist Party, it contributes to a reenvisioning of 1930s U.S. Communism as well as to efforts to promote working-class writing as a legitimate category of literary analysis. At once loyal members of the male-dominated Communist party and emerging feminists, Olsen and Le Sueur exhibit in their writing tendencies both toward and away from Party tenets and attitudes--at points subverting formalist as well as orthodox Marxist literary categories. By producing working-class discourse, Olsen and Le Sueur challenge the bourgeois assumptions--often masked as classless and universal--of much canonical literature; and by creating working-class women's writing, they problematize the patriarchal nature of the Left and the masculinist assumptions of much proletarian literature, anticipating the concerns of "second wave" feminists a generation later.

"Olsen and Le Sueur have not faltered in their determination to raise the voice of working class women. Nor have they ceased to encourage, work for, anticipate a just world. Better Red is a meticulous scrutiny of two exceedingly important creative and political lives."--Alice Walker "Better Red is a great read a dense, fact-filled, lively book about two women writers who were active Communist Party members and who, out of a deep understanding of working women's lives, wrote against the often bossy, misogynist grain of the Party line. Many know Olsen and Le Sueur as feminists, but this is the first book I've read that tells us about these writers' involvement in the Communist movement. Like Olsen and Le Sueur, Coiner has not been afraid of the word 'Communist'."--Grace Paley. "What a joy to read Better Red! It's the best book I've read on American working class writers since Cary Nelson's Repression and Recovery. Coiner gives us a brilliant study of the hard and committed lives and triumphantly birthed works of Tillie Olsen and Meridel Le Sueur deeply enmeshed in the stories of their lives as working women and as Left-wing political activists. She works her way in and out of these vibrant Thirties fictions to note the way these fiercely talented women negotiated between necessary labor and creativity in the family and the Left communities they fought to keep alive. The anguish and struggle over political issues and life with men and children captivates and heartens the reader who reads with fascination the story of some unjustly neglected Left feminists as Coiner reweaves the torn fabric of the history of American literature and intellectual life."--Jane Marcus, The City College of New York and CUNY Graduate Center "Better Red is a unique interrogation of the relation of the 'personal' to the 'political' in the writings and careers of two of the richest and most relevant authors of the Great Depression generation. Other feminists scholars may have first opened the door on the hitherto hidden tradition of radical women writers of the Old Left, but Coiner's engaging multifaceted study of Tillie Olsen and Meridel Le Sueur deftly removes the door from its very hinges so that scores of other fascinating and talented left-wing artists may be reclaimed by Coiner's successors. Coiner accomplishes this through a felicitous blend of revisionist cultural history, dual biography, and a feminist literary criticism distinguished by its gendered view of class."--Alan Wald, University of Michigan "Better Red helps a new and often sceptical fin de siècle generation perceive the artistry and the reach of two of the most striking writers to emerge from America's 'forgotten' decade, the 1930s. Coiner's book presents a rare combination of theoretical sophistication and political dedication."--Paul Lauter, Trinity College and President, American Studies Association "Incisive and beautifully argued, Better Red goes a long way toward explaining the blindness of the critical establishment regarding issues of class. Coiner brings working-class writing into the heart of discussions of twentieth-century American literature."--Linda Wagner-Martin, University of North Carolina "...[a] scholarly and sympathetic study."--Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature "...[a] fascinating study....I was most impressed by Coiner's deft and nuanced analysis of particular works both as reflections of and resistances against the accepted proletarian aesthetic....Scince feminists have made Meridel Le Sueur into a virtual goddess figure, it is as refreshing as it is necessary to find a scholar who is willing to point out the ironies and inconsistencies in her writings....I recommend this book....This book is solid history, subtle literary analysis, and just plain absorbing reading."--Minnesota History "...Coiner's study gives us hope, a reasonable expectation, that the needed democratic mass movement for freedom and justice will rise again."--Monthly Review "Better Red demonstrates that [Coiner] is, indeed, a theoretical whiz....[an] incredibly rich portrait...of two legendary left-wing female writers."--The Journal of American History "Olsen and Le Sueur have not faltered in their determination to raise the voice of working class women. Nor have they ceased to encourage, work for, anticipate a just world. Better Red is a meticulous scrutiny of two exceedingly important creative and political lives."--Alice Walker "Better Red is a great read a dense, fact-filled, lively book about two women writers who were active Communist Party members and who, out of a deep understanding of working women's lives, wrote against the often bossy, misogynist grain of the Party line. Many know Olsen and Le Sueur as feminists, but this is the first book I've read that tells us about these writers' involvement in the Communist movement. Like Olsen and Le Sueur, Coiner has not been afraid of the word 'Communist'."--Grace Paley. "What a joy to read Better Red! It's the best book I've read on American working class writers since Cary Nelson's Repression and Recovery. Coiner gives us a brilliant study of the hard and committed lives and triumphantly birthed works of Tillie Olsen and Meridel Le Sueur deeply enmeshed in the stories of their lives as working women and as Left-wing political activists. She works her way in and out of these vibrant Thirties fictions to note the way these fiercely talented women negotiated between necessary labor and creativity in the family and the Left communities they fought to keep alive. The anguish and struggle over political issues and life with men and children captivates and heartens the reader who reads with fascination the story of some unjustly neglected Left feminists as Coiner reweaves the torn fabric of the history of American literature and intellectual life."--Jane Marcus, The City College of New York and CUNY Graduate Center "Better Red is a unique interrogation of the relation of the 'personal' to the 'political' in the writings and careers of two of the richest and most relevant authors of the Great Depression generation. Other feminists scholars may have first opened the door on the hitherto hidden tradition of radical women writers of the Old Left, but Coiner's engaging multifaceted study of Tillie Olsen and Meridel Le Sueur deftly removes the door from its very hinges so that scores of other fascinating and talented left-wing artists may be reclaimed by Coiner's successors. Coiner accomplishes this through a felicitous blend of revisionist cultural history, dual biography, and a feminist literary criticism distinguished by its gendered view of class."--Alan Wald, University of Michigan "Better Red helps a new and often sceptical fin de siècle generation perceive the artistry and the reach of two of the most striking writers to emerge from America's 'forgotten' decade, the 1930s. Coiner's book presents a rare combination of theoretical sophistication and political dedication."--Paul Lauter, Trinity College and President, American Studies Association "Incisive and beautifully argued, Better Red goes a long way toward explaining the blindness of the critical establishment regarding issues of class. Coiner brings working-class writing into the heart of discussions of twentieth-century American literature."--Linda Wagner-Martin, University of North Carolina "...[a] scholarly and sympathetic study."--Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature "...[a] fascinating study....I was most impressed by Coiner's deft and nuanced analysis of particular works both as reflections of and resistances against the accepted proletarian aesthetic....Scince feminists have made Meridel Le Sueur into a virtual goddess figure, it is as refreshing as it is necessary to find a scholar who is willing to point out the ironies and inconsistencies in her writings....I recommend this book....This book is solid history, subtle literary analysis, and just plain absorbing reading."--Minnesota History "...Coiner's study gives us hope, a reasonable expectation, that the needed democratic mass movement for freedom and justice will rise again."--Monthly Review "Better Red demonstrates that [Coiner] is, indeed, a theoretical whiz....[an] incredibly rich portrait...of two legendary left-wing female writers."--The Journal of American History "This is a valuable and important book."--American Literature "Better Red [is a] vital contribution to how we theorize literature written by and about the working class...Coiner's book...can be thought of as nothing other than a personal, political, and academic achievement."

Introductionp. 3
The Thirties' Literary Leftp. 15
"Scratch a Communist ...": Women and the American Communist Party During the Depressionp. 39
Meridel Le Sueur: Biographical Sketch and Reportagep. 72
Le Sueur's The Girl, "Our Fathers," "Annunciation," and "Corn Village"p. 108
Tillie Olsen: Biographical Sketch and Thirties' Publicationsp. 141
Olsen's Yonnondio: From the Thirtiesp. 174
Literature as "No One's Private Ground": Olsen's Tell Me a Riddle and Silencesp. 192
Conclusionp. 226
Notesp. 241
Works Citedp. 261
Indexp. 275
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9780195056952
ISBN-10: 0195056957
Audience: Professional
Format: Hardcover
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 284
Published: 30th March 1995
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 24.33 x 16.2  x 2.57
Weight (kg): 0.65