How Am I to Be Heard?: Letters of Lillian Smith

How Am I to Be Heard?: Letters of Lillian Smith

by Margaret Rose Gladney
     
 

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This compelling volume offers the first full portrait of the life and work of writer Lillian Smith (1897-1966), the foremost southern white liberal of the mid-twentieth century. Smith devoted her life to lifting the veil of southern self-deception about race, class, gender, and sexuality. Her books, essays, and especially her letters explored the ways in which the

Overview


This compelling volume offers the first full portrait of the life and work of writer Lillian Smith (1897-1966), the foremost southern white liberal of the mid-twentieth century. Smith devoted her life to lifting the veil of southern self-deception about race, class, gender, and sexuality. Her books, essays, and especially her letters explored the ways in which the South's attitudes and institutions perpetuated a dehumanizing experience for all its people—white and black, male and female, rich and poor. Her best-known books are Strange Fruit (1944), a bestselling interracial love story that brought her international acclaim; and Killers of the Dream (1949), an autobiographical critique of southern race relations that angered many southerners, including powerful moderates. Subsequently, Smith was effectively silenced as a writer.

Rose Gladney has selected 145 of Smith's 1500 extant letters for this volume. Arranged chronologically and annotated, they present a complete picture of Smith as a committed artist and reveal the burden of her struggles as a woman, including her lesbian relationship with Paula Snelling. Gladney argues that this triple isolation—as woman, lesbian, and artist—from mainstream southern culture permitted Smith to see and to expose southern prejudices with absolute clarity.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
This collection reveals a great deal about Lillian Smith as person, artist, beleaguered social critic and lover.

New York Times Book Review

An invaluable collection.

Voice Literary Supplement

These letters reinforce and expand the image of Smith that emerges from a reading of her books.

Progressive

Gladney's perceptive, sensitive presentation of a woman too long ignored for her influence and acumen is exemplary.

Women's Review of Books

Makes a significant contribution to American cultural studies.

Journal of American History

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This collection of 145 letters by author and social activist Smith (1897-1966) are accompanied by informative biographical essays written by Gladney, an assistant professor of American studies at the University of Alabama. The letters reveal the strength of a single voice reflecting on a singular life. As a white woman who was outspokenly opposed to the racism that permeated the American South, where she had been raised, Smith addressed the issue prominently in her literary magazine, South Today , co-edited with her lover, Paula Snelling. After publishing Strange Fruit , a controversial novel about an interracial love affair, Smith lectured widely. Letters to Martin Luther King Jr., to Eleanor Roosevelt and to other activists testify to her involvement in the civil rights movement. Other correspondence here documents Smith's concern with the interaction between sexual and racial attitudes and the impact on children, the subject of her autobiographical work, Killers of the Dream. Illustrated . (Sept.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807845806
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
02/05/1996
Series:
Gender and American Culture Series
Edition description:
1
Pages:
406
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 9.00(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
As powerful and passionate as her fiction, Smith's letters demonstrate that she was more than just an artist. . . . You should get to know Lillian Smith. And this book is a good place to start.—Journal of Southern History

People who care about the history of progressive thought in the South and about human freedom owe Margaret Rose Gladney many thanks for her work in gathering, editing, and commenting on these letters. . . . Perhaps these letters will help [Smith] achieve the stature she deserves.—Southern Exposure

Gladney's perceptive, sensitive presentation of a woman too long ignored for her influence and acumen is exemplary.—Women's Review of Books

This collection reveals a great deal about Lillian Smith as person, artist, beleaguered social critic and lover.—New York Times Book Review

Makes a significant contribution to American cultural studies.—Journal of American History

An invaluable collection—Voice Literary Supplement

Splendid. . . . A chance to rediscover a unique Southern white woman, a North Georgian who spoke out all her life against racism. . . . Gladney draws a clear and fascinating portrait of the artist as activist. . . . Gladney's collection is an eloquent reminder of Smith's importance, but not only to the South. Lillian Smith needs to be read by those who still cling to what she called the 'New York line about Southerners all being evil or fools or idiots.' . . . Gladney, with her thorough, well-written introductions and careful notes, makes Smith's vigor, commitment, wit, and intelligence available to us all. She, too, should be heard.—Emily Toth, Washington Post Book World

A truly wonderful book. . . . Lillian Smith's remarkable life and writings belong to our current crisis in American democracy as much as to hers. Her letters are history on a grand and a personal scale, searching out the meanings of southern identity, the deep effects of racism on whites as well as on African-Americans, the connections between art, teaching and politics, and the rudiments of a feminist understanding of all these. She was a woman/writer/teacher/editor/activist who used her social position to undermine the existing social order; whose fiery, independent-minded life carried her into the thick of our national conflicts. Many of her flashes of understanding seem radical today. And the limits of her vision are such as we can well critically ponder now—her hostility toward Marxism being one. These are greathearted, searching, passionate letters by a writer of splendid imagination and courage.—Adrienne Rich

These letters reinforce and expand the image of Smith that emerges from a reading of her books. She practiced, in race relations, precisely what she preached: a comprehensive sharing of life with others on the planet as equals.—Progressive

Meet the Author


Margaret Rose Gladney is associate professor of American studies at the University of Alabama.

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