In this week’s Wednesday 5: Poet Ntozake Shange wonders, “What if poetry isn’t enough?”; rejection letters of Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro found at Harry Ransom Center; Google Doodle honors legendary costume designer Edith Head; the women of the Supreme Court now have their own portrait—together; the world’s largest university for women is (ironically) located in Saudi Arabia.




Ntozake Shange: What if Poetry Isn’t Enough?

for-colored-girls-bookThe New York Times headline read, “A Poet With Words Trapped Inside.” The poet is Ntozake Shange, the now 65-year old best known for her troubling and groundbreaking 1974 collection “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” The trap has been a decade of health issues: “A pair of small strokes left her temporarily unable to read; then, in 2011, a neurological disorder called chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy took control of her hands and feet, leaving her unable to type or write without difficulty. Until recently, she could not even stand or walk.” 

And yet, last week Shange was at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City’s East Village for the reading of her newest work, “Lost in Language and Sound: Or How I Found My Way to the Arts,” her first in more than a decade. As her physical body now battles her, the question on Shange’s mind these days is “What if poetry isn’t enough?” Her story forces us to ponder what happens to our artists after they’ve made their hits. Her longtime friend Claude Sloan offered the following:

 “Her body is conspiring against her. Her art has always told the story of people who are suffering, and given meaning to their struggle. Now she’s looking back and asking, ‘What is art going to be for me in the body that I have now?’ ”



Rejection letters of Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro found at Harry Ransom Center

Ah, the sweet, sweet sound of poetic justice. Rejection letters from publishers addressed to author Alice Munro, the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature,  were recently found in the Harry Ransom Center. Munro is the thirteenth woman and first Canadian to win the award. In her ode to Munro, our Eleanor Foa Dienstag wrote:

What is most amazing and refreshing about Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize in Literature is that her body of work is so largely focused on women and their domestic lives. Politics are absent. Feminism is implicit, but never explicit. Yes, there are male narrators in Munro’s fiction, as in “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” reprinted in last week’s New Yorker, but her drama is largely that of the human heart—what used to be pigeonholed as  “women’s fiction.” Munro transcended that genre decades ago.

But the editors at Alfred A. Knopf saw things differently. Among their critiques of Munro’s works were these judgments:

One letter written in 1968 by Knopf’s editor Judith Jones after reading Munro’s first book of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades, said her book had nothing particularly new or exciting, and it could be easily overlooked. In another letter from Jones to Munro on her first novel, Lives of Girls and Women, in 1971, she credited Munro’s style but still rejected the novel for publication.  “There’s no question that the lady can write but it’s also clear she is primarily a short story writer,” Jones wrote. [via The Daily Texan]

Read more at The Daily Texan.

Alice Munro and Diana Athill at IFOA talk about books, writing, and what they’ve learned so far in life.



Google Doodle Honors Legendary Costume Designer Edith Head

google doodleOn Monday, October 28, on what would have been her 116th birthday, Google paid Edith Head, the famed costume designer behind some of old Hollywood’s iconic ensembles, the ultimate honor—her own Google Doodle! Karis Hustad of The Christian Science Monitor tells us:

The 20th century costume designer created the iconic wardrobes of movies ranging from Hepburn’s “Sabrina” to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” over a half-century long career that earned her critical acclaim as well as a hand in designing a page in fashion history books.

Among the stars she dressed are Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Grace Kelly. Thanks, Google, for adding a 21st century technology flare to the work of Edith Head.

Edith Head talks about her work on Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn.



A Work of Art: The Women of the U.S. Supreme Court

Scotus Women PortraitThis week, the new oil portrait of our nation’s four female U.S. Supreme Court Justices was revealed at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. We are told that Justices Sandra Day O’Connor (retired), Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan all sat for four hours for famed portrait artist Nelson Shanks in what he deemed “semi-controlled chaos,’ with the justices “talking and joking” amiably throughout” [via The Blog of Legal Times].

“The scale of this painting speaks to the grand accomplishments made by these four women and the example they set for future generations,” museum director Kim Sajet said of the portrait. “I imagine this portrait will spark a conversation among young people, particularly young women, about breaking barriers.” [via The Huffington Post].



The World Largest University for Women Is Located . . . Where?


Where would you imagine the world’s largest women’s university would be located? Certainly NOT the country that’s been in the headlines for banning women from driving, right? Wrong. The world’s largest women’s university—Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU)—is in Saudi Arabia. Consider the paradox that Ariel Schwartz outlines in Fast Company:

Saudi Arabia ranks near the bottom of the world on women’s equality. In the country, women aren’t allowed to drive and are required to have male guardians, who sometimes grant access to basic needs like medical care. In 2011, women made up only 14.4% of all employees in the workforce . . . And yet, despite all of this, women in Saudi Arabia can get a solid education. More women than men receive postsecondary degrees in the country . . .

Quoting a representative from the architectural firm that designed the 32-million=square=foot campus, Schwartz points out how the architecture of the buildings mirrors the cultural landscape of the nation itself.

According to Bosch, the buildings on the campus are akin to the women who learn in them: incredibly sophisticated, and veiled on the exterior (in this case, to protect from searing heat and sun). “We’re taking from traditional architecture the strategies of multiple-layer facades, and we talk about buildings de-veiling as you progress more into the interior,” she says. The buildings are “layered on the exterior,” says Bosch, but as you progress into the main campus quad, the buildings become more transparent, with courtyards that open up to the classrooms.

Read more on “This Gorgeous Campus Is The World’s Largest Women’s University–And It’s In Saudi Arabia” at Fast Company.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Diane Dettmann October 30, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Really enjoyed the interview and clip about Edith Head and her beautiful creations. What a talented woman who “transformed” stars through her wardrobe designs. The scary thing? I remember those old film projectors! 🙂