Women in Print 2011: History in Poetry and Prose

A Review by Kara Wilson

The 8th annual WOMEN IN PRINT event was held on March 9, 2011 to an audience of 45 people at the Worcester Public Library. Worcester Women’s History Project President Fran Langille commented that the date for this event was changed from February to March so it could be held during Women’s History Month, which is also Membership Month for WWHP. Following her opening remarks, Fran Langille introduced WWHP Events Committee Chair, Judy Finkel, who thanked her committee for organizing the event and the refreshments, and then introduced local author, Jessica Bane Robert.

Jessica Bane Robert is originally from Bethel, Maine, and currently teaches at Clark University. She published the poetry book Scarred Seasons in 2009 and is working on a mixed-genre memoir about growing up “off the grid” in Maine on land that has been in her family since the 1700’s. Ms. Robert read mostly non-fiction from her memoir, even though she claims to “mostly be a poet — interested in writing across the genres of poetry and prose.” She began her reading with a poem called “Awake,” which is about spring, followed by a prose piece called “Ice Skating Fantasies,” about a woman finding her voice. The latter piece talks about how magical and beautiful her home is, even though she eventually felt called to leave. Ms. Robert followed this with a poem called “Resignation,” about her home and family in Maine, and then a short prose piece called “Effigy,” about collecting sap. She finished with a poem called “What of God?” about her children being raised Catholic, even though she was not raised going to church.

Judy Finkel then introduced the next author: Janette Greenwood, who also is a professor at Clark University. Dr. Greenwood wrote a book entitled Bittersweet Legacy about race relations in Charlotte, North Carolina. She later wrote about the African American population in Worcester who had migrated north to escape slavery in the book First Fruits of Freedom. The inspiration for the latter book was a course Ms. Greenwood taught during her first year at Clark called “Black Worcester.” There was a migration during the Civil War to Worcester and other northern cities. Abby Kelley Foster and Stephen Foster were some of the people who helped runaway slaves flee to safety, as were Worcester soldiers from the Massachusetts 25th Infantry, led by General William Draper of Hopedale. Approximately 1,000 slaves came to Worcester by 1900. Dr. Greenwood followed the stories of African Americans who migrated to Worcester during this time and their families. She learned about the southern African American community that formed in Worcester around the John Street Baptist Church and interviewed people who migrated from the South in the 1930s, but claimed “the South will always be home.”

Judy Finkel then introduced the final author of the evening, poet Eve Rifkah. Ms. Rifkah has been an adjunct professor at WPI, but currently teaches at Clark University. She claims to “have spent my life in books, an informal education conducted in libraries, not in schools.” Ms. Rifkah began with reading from her book Dear Suzanne, containing poems about the artist, Suzanne Valadon. Ms. Rifkah mentioned first hearing about Valadon from her father on a trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where she saw Renoir’s painting “The Dance at the Bougivol,” for which Valadon modeled. Later Ms. Rifkah’s interest in Valadon was reignited when she found one of Valadon’s paintings at a Worcester yard sale.

Ms. Rifkah then talked about her second book of poetry, entitled, Outcasts: The Penikese Island Leper Hospital 1905-1921. She learned about this real-life hospital off the coast of Cape Cod from a PBS documentary. She showed us a PowerPoint presentation about the hospital, accompanied by short biographies of the 36 patients who were sent to the hospital for leprosy treatment. The book also contains these biographies, and the poems are written about the patients and their experiences at the hospital, including one woman giving birth, the excitement of the island receiving an electric generator in 1912, and the patients learning about the 1918 molasses disaster in nearby Boston.

Judy Finkel ended the evening by thanking the authors and giving them gifts of notecards, as well as memberships to WWHP for one year.

Women in Print 2012

Wed., March 7, 2012, 5:30pm—7:30pm
Worcester Public Library

Published Date: 
October 6, 2011