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One Writer's World

Delving into the Past: A Conference from 1993

For years, since the 1980s, I've kept notebooks on my day's events, recording talks and tidbits about books and writing that I want to remember. Sometimes the notes are more crucial, such as passwords someone has given me to help them with their website or POD manuscript, or other contact information. This morning I noticed how high the stacks of small notebooks had grown, and wondered that I hadn't organized them properly. Curious about what I'd been thinking about in earlier years, I pulled out one and paged to a conference I attended at Wellesley College in November 1993. "Women Reviewing, Reviewing Women" was sponsored by The Women's Review of Books, and brought together several writers I was eager to hear, two in particular.

Margaret Atwood called reviewers "the bridge between reader and writer." She went on to trace two streams of reviewing. The first was scholarly, academic work on art and literary analysis, which she traced back to biblical exegesis. This tradition uses jargon and specialty language, screening out the general reader. The younger tradition has roots in Roman satires, eighteenth-century newspapers, and magazine reviews. The reviewer is an ordinary person and the aims are secular. Women penetrated this area earlier. This review tells you whether or not you should read the text; whereas the first type assumes you have read it.

The other writer I wanted to hear was Carolyn Heilbrun, whose mysteries written under the name Amanda Cross were among my favorites. She said she no longer read mysteries, and didn't review fiction. When she was a student, Lionel Trilling told her, "Forget you're a woman when you read literature." Her response was that what she is as a woman is essential to how she reads. One of the duties of art, Heilbrun went on to say, is to give us experiences we haven't had.

Founded in 1983, the Review is today published by the Wellesley Centers for Women. The back issues are online on JSTOR, but I didn't find any reference to the conference.

And now that I've spent half of the morning enjoying a nostalgic trip to a conference I still remember fondly, it's time to get back to other work. Anita Ray, my MC living in India at her aunt's tourist hotel, is about to get herself into a huge load of trouble. Just the way she likes it. This is the sixth Anita Ray, entitled "The Lure of Mohini."

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