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LeSueur

Meridel LeSueur

 

The Harvest

The Girl, book cover

 

Biography  
               Meridel LeSueur was born February 22, 1900, in the small town of Murrary, Iowa. When Meridel was ten years old her mother, Marian Wharton, left her father, William Winston Wharton, an itinerant Church of Christ minister, taking Meridel and her younger brothers Mac and Willam Winston II with her. Meridel spent the next years in Perry, Oklahoma, at the home of her grandmother, Mary Antoinette Lucy, a third-generation Puritan, a pioneer and an ardent temperance worker. A feminist socialist, Marian earned her living by traveling the Chautauqua circuit and lecturing on women's issues, including education, suffrage, and birth control. In 1914 the family moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, where Marian headed the English department at People's College. There she met and married Arthur LeSueur, a lawyer and committed socialist, formerly mayor of Minot, North Dakota. After anti-socialist vigilantes destroyed the college during WWI, the family fled to St Paul, Minnesota, where they worked with the Non Partisan League and were hosts to meetings of Wobblies, anarchists, socialists, and union organizers.

After a year studying dance and physical fitness at the American College of Physical Education in Chicago, Illinois, Meridel moved to New York City, where she lived in an anarchist commune with Emma Goldman and studied at the American Acadamy of Dramatic Art. Her brief acting career included work on the New York stage and in Hollywood, where she was a stunt woman and an extra in films such as The Perils of Pauline and Last of the Mohicans. Fed up with the Hollywood meat market, LeSueur decided to concentrate on her writing, which she had pursued faithfully since her late teens. By 1924 she had joined the communist Party and she soon began publishing in labor and left wing journals such as The Worker and New Masses. Her writing career took off in May 1927 when her short story, "Persephone," was published in Dial. LeSueur became known for her stories, essays and reportage focusing on the suffering of the working class, mainly women, and her distinctive, lyrical style, which set her apart from most of the socialist writers of the day.

Around 1926, LeSueur married Harry Rice. She had two children, Rachel (1928) and Deborah (1930). Early in the 1930s LeSueur and Rice divorced.

LeSueur continued to publish prolifically throughout the late 1920s and up until the end of WWII, when the onset of the cold war brought with it the blacklisting and harassment of those involved in the socialist movement. During the height of the "red scare," LeSueur mader her living publishing children's books, tecahing writing, and holding a variety of odd jobs. In the 1960s she traveled around the country, participating in campus protests and interviewing people, listening to their stories and struggles.

The freer political climate and the burgeoning feminist movement of the 1970s brought new attention to LeSueur and her work. LeSueur maintainted an extensive correspondence with writers, artists, and activists, many of whom were drawn to her dedication to liberal political, economic, and environmental causes. During the period from the late 1970s through the 1990s, she published a number of anthologies and stories, including many written during the 1930s but rejected for publication at that time. Several of her works, including The Girl, Annunciation, and The Dread Road were adapted for the stage by other writers. LeSueur continued to write and give interviews, readings, and talks around the country until her death in November, 1996.


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Published Work  
  Harvest, West End Press, 1977

This book is a collection of Meridel LeSueur's earlier stories from her first, Harvest, written in 1929 , to We'll Make Your Bed, which appeared in one of the last issues of New Masses in 1946. This book also includes What Happens in a Strike, (1934), Women on the Bread Lines (1932); four short stories, Harvest, Fudge (1933), Autumnal Village (1940), God Made Little Apples (1942); and two humoristic pieces, To Hell with You, Mr. Blue! (1941) and We'll Make Your Bed (1946).

The Girl, West End Press, 1978

This story takes us back to the Thirties and a culture of poverty and oppression. LeSueur gives an historical document of how people, specifically women, actually felt, and how they lived and survived those dark years.


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Writing Samples  
  Harvest

"From Women on the Breadlines":
She hadn't had work for eight months. "You've got to give me something," she kept saying. The woman in charge flew into a rage that probably came from days and days of suffering on her part, because she is unable to give jobs, having none. She flew into a rage at the girl and there they were facing each other in a rage both helpless, helpless. This woman told me once that she could hardly bear the suffering she saw, hardly hear it, that she couldn't eat sometimes and had nightmares at night. (Page 23)

The Girl

Then Amelia said a thing I didn't know, that she had had six children already when the strike was on. She said, And I said to my husband that morning it was dangerous to go to the picket line, he might be killed, and he said to me and I never forget it, he said he'd better die fighting than be a scab or live like a rat. I said a raise wouldn't do us any good if he was dead. And he said he didn't live just for ourselves. It would do the other sisters and brothers good, and all the children that come after. (Page 54)


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Quotes  
  "Each generation must go further then the last or what's the use in it?"

"Human history is work history. The heroes of the people are work heroes."

"The history of an oppressed people is hidden in the lies and the agreed myth of its conquerors."


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Meridel as an Inspiration  
  Meridel Le Sueur's writing of I Was Marching inspired the song "Go" on the album Come On Now Social, by the Indigo Girls. Below is a portion of her spoken word which appears in the song:

"The truth is I was afraid, I felt inferior. I felt I excelled in competing with others and I knew instantly that these people were not competing at all, that they were actiing in a strange, powerful trance of movement together and I was filled with longing to act with the fear that I could not."


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