Two Committed Women

Meridel Le Sueur (1900-1996) was an American writer and activist.  She was the author of a novel, short stories, poems, essays and journalistic pieces. Her  writings reveal her commitment to  progressive political movements, and to documenting the lives and language of the agricultural Midwest, most notably the lives of women.

Some of her short stories were anthologized in O. Henry Prize Short Stories, and she published in journals such as The New Masses, The New Republic and many others.  In evoking her motivations as a writer and artist she once said  “I had a passion for writing down what was unknown, unrecorded, anonymous and lost.”

lesueur_portrait

Portrait of Meridel Le Sueur. Photographer unknown. From the Neala Schleuning Meridel Le Sueur Collection, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark Delaware.

Le Sueur’s literary activities were seriously hindered when she was blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947.  Later, however, she resumed publishing and continued up until the time of her death.  Many of her works are still in print, including the collection Ripening: Selected Work 1927-1980.

In 1978 scholar Neala Schleuning produced a doctoral dissertation in American Studies, devoted to the life and work of Le Sueur. In researching the thesis (at the University of Minnesota) Schleuning had access to Le Sueur’s journals and other writings. The two women became friends, and worked together in the Twin Cities Women’s Film Collective, which produced the film My People are My Home in 1976. The film is narrated by Le Sueur, and features her poetry and prose, as well as interviews in which she describes her growth as a writer and activist.

Cover photo from DVD verison of “My People Are My Home.” From the Neala Schleuning Meridel Le Sueur Collection, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark Delaware.

 

Neala Schleuning went on to a very productive career as an academic. She taught Women’s Studies and American Studies,  and wrote four books. She also served as director of the women’s center at Mankato State University. 

University of Delaware Special Collections is the home of  both the Meridel Le Sueur Papers and the Neala Schleuning Meridel Le Sueur collection. The first collection contains some of Le Sueur’s poems and stories in manuscript form, letters, postcards, and photographs. The second collection contains correspondence, manuscripts, typescripts, published books, journals, periodicals, news clippings, photographs, artwork, audio tapes, video tapes, research materials and notes, and ephemera from Neala Schleuning’s research and archival collection, most of which was used toward her 1978 dissertation and subsequent book on the American writer Meridel Le Sueur.

The majority of information for this blog post came from the finding aids for the two collections.

Curtis Small

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