Kate Millett Article and Bibliography


FYI Posting From Mary Schweitzer schweit2@ix.netcom.com 26 June 1998

Those of you who are studying third wave feminism might want to know what has happened to Kate Millett--there is a very sad story in _The Guardian_ about her fight with poverty in the past years, along with other friends who were feminist writers in the late 60s, early 70s. _Sexual Politics_ is out of print and the [publisher keeps putting of doing another run because they want an "introduction" from an active scholar. I have a copy of the article that I can email to anyone who is interested.


"The feminist time forgot"

In 1970, Kate Millett wrote Sexual Politics, a groundbreaking, bestselling analysis of female oppression. And what is she doing now? Read her and weep

The Guardian (London), Tuesday June 23, 1998

Another season at the farm, not that bad, but not that good either: the tedium of a small community, shearing trees, so exhausted afterward that I did nothing but read. A season without writing or silk screening or drawing. Back to the Bowery and another emptiness. I cannot spend the whole day reading, so I write, or try to. A pure if pointless exercise. My books are out of print, even Sexual Politics, and the manuscript about my mother cannot find a publisher.

Trying also to get a job. At first the academic voices were kind and welcoming, imagining I am rich and am doing this for amusement, slightly embarrassed as they offer the new slave wages. I hear the guilty little catch in the administrative voice, forced maybe to make a big concession of $3,000 in my case. But I couldn't live on that, I demur. "Of course, no one does," they chuckle from their own $50-80,000 "positions". A real faculty appointment seems an impossibility, in my case as in so many others now. I have friends with doctorates earning as little as $12,000 a year, eking out an existence at five different schools, their lives lived in cars and on the economic edge. I'm too old for that and must do better. "Oh, but our budget," they moan, "we really have no funds at all, much as we'd love to have you." "Surely I'm qualified?" I ask, not as a "celebrity" but as a credentialed scholar with years of teaching and a doctorate with distinction from Columbia, an Oxford First, eight published books. They'll get back to me.

But they never do.

I begin to wonder what is wrong with me. Am I "too far out" or too old? Is it age? I'm 63. Or am I "old hat" in the view of the "new feminist scholarship"? Or is it something worse? Have I been denounced or bad-mouthed? By whom? What is the matter with me, for God's sake? Has my feminism made me "abrasive"? Surely my polite, St Paul manner should be reassuring. God knows I'm deferential enough to these people.

I begin to realise there isn't a job.

I cannot get employment. I cannot earn money. Except by selling Christmas trees, one by one, in the cold in Poughkeepsie. I cannot teach and have nothing but farming now. And when physically I can no longer farm, what then? Nothing I write now has any prospect of seeing print. I have no saleable skill, for all my supposed accomplishments. I am unemployable. Frightening, this future. What poverty ahead, what mortification, what distant bag-lady horrors, when my savings are gone? And why did I imagine it would be any different, imagine my books would give me some slender living, or that I could at least teach at the moment in life when every other teacher retires, having served all those long years when I was enjoying the freedom of writer and artist, unsalaried but able to survive on the little I'd been used to and to invest in a farm and build it into a self-sufficient women's art colony and even put a bit by. The savings might last 10 years, more like seven. So in seven years I should die. But I probably won't; women in my family live forever.

Much as I tire of a life without purpose or the meaningful work that would make it bearable, I can't die because the moment I do, my sculpture, drawings, negatives and silkscreens will be carted off to the dump.

The Feminist Press, in its first offer last fall (it took them 12 months to come up with this), suggested $500 to reprint the entire text of Sexual Politics. Moreover, they couldn't get around to it till the year 2000, since they'd need to commission one or two fancy prefaces by younger, more wonderful women's studies scholars. My agent and I were happy to refuse this offer, and the next, for $1,000.

The book also fails to attract interest from the powers that be at Doubleday, who have refused to reprint it, even though another division of the company is celebrating Sexual Politics with a long excerpt in an anthology of the 10 most important books the house has published in its 100 years. A young female editor at Doubleday gave my agent to understand the work of more recent feminist scholarship had somehow rendered my book obsolete in the "current climate". I am out of fashion in the new academic cottage industry of feminism.

Recently a book inquired Who Stole Feminism? I sure didn't. Nor did Ti-Grace Atkinson. Nor Jill Johnston. We're all out of print. We haven't helped each other much, haven't been able to build solidly enough to have created community or safety. Some women in this generation disappeared to struggle alone in makeshift oblivion. Or vanished into asylums and have yet to return to tell the tale, as has Shula Firestone. There were despairs that could only end in death: Maria del Drago chose suicide, so did Ellen Frankfurt, and Elizabeth Fischer, founder of Aphra, the first feminist literary journal.

Eizabeth and I used to run into each other at a comfortable old hippy cafe in Greenwich Village that I visited in the afternoons, writing some of the darker passages of The Loony Bin Trip in public to avoid the dangers of suicidal privacy at home. She'd just finished a book that was her life's work. Probably it wasn't getting the reception she'd hoped for in the already crowded new market of "women's studies" texts written by sudden specialists in this field. Elizabeth and I would eat an afternoon breakfast and chat, carefully disguising our misery from each other. Feminists didn't complain to one another then; each imagined the loneliness and sense of failure was unique. Consciousness-raising groups were over by then. One had no colleagues: New York is not a cosy town.

Elizabeth is dead and I must live to tell the tale, hoping to tell another generation something I'd like them to know of the long struggle for women's liberation, something about history and America and censorship. I might also hope to explain that social change does not come easy, that pioneers pay dearly and in unnecessary solitude for what their successors take for granted. Why do women seem particularly unable to observe and revere their own history? What secret shame makes us so obtuse? We did not create the community necessary to support each other against the coming of age. And now we have a lacuna between one generation's understanding and that of the next, and have lost much of our sense of continuity and comradeship.

But I have also spent 40 years as a downtown artist habituated to the existential edge and even as I proclaim that all is lost, I am planning a comeback . . . imagining a sinecure in human rights for extreme old age, matched editions of my collected works, and final glory.

Just last week, after a good dinner and a good play (Arthur Miller's American Clock), I lay awake scheming, adding up the farm rents and seeing the way to a summer of restoration, figuring to replace the slate roof on the farmhouse, to paint every building, the lavender house, the blue barn. Bundling my sums together, ecstatic that I have finally paid off my credit cards, scribbling at three in the morning that I will plant roses again, the ultimate gesture of success. I will have won out after all. Living well is the best revenge.

And then a trip to see my elder sister, the banker/lawyer, caps my determination. The Elder has a computer programme that guarantees you survival on your savings at 5 per cent interest if your withdrawal rate does not exceed 7 per cent - a vista of no less than 30 years. My savings plus my rat's turd of social security: the two figures together would give me a rock-bottom, survival existence. Thanks to the magic of programmed arithmetic, I am, at one stroke, spared the humiliations of searching for regular employment, institutional obedience, discretion or regimentation. Looks like I can stay forever footloose and bohemian, a busy artist-writer free of gainful employment. Free at last - provided I live real close to the ground.


A longer version of this article appears in the summer issue of US magazine On The Issues.

Kate Millett's life

Born 1934 in St Paul, Minnesota. Educated at University of Minnesota, St Hilda's, Oxford, and Columbia, New York.

Moved to Japan in 1961. Married fellow sculptor Fumio Yoshimura in 1965; split up in the 70s.

Published Sexual Politics (1970); The Prostitution Papers (1973); Flying, her autobiography (1974); Sita (1977), about her doomed love affair with another woman.

Active in feminist politics in late 60s/70s. In 1966 became committee member of National Organisation for Women. In 1979 went to Iran to work for women's rights; was expelled.

In 1990 published The Loony Bin Trip, about her mental breakdown.

In 1991 was back in the news after Oliver Reed, drunk, tried to kiss her on C4's After Dark.

In 1994 published The Politics Of Cruelty.

(c) Copyright Guardian Media Group plc.1998

Responses:

From Debra Michals dam3385@is.nyu.edu 27 June 1998

The summer issue of "On The Issues," a feminist magazine published in New York, has an article by Kate Millett that is really worth reading. Not only does it catch you up on where this feminist pioneer is these days, it also offers a fascinating and incisive critique of academia. It may be up on the mag's site...http://www.echonyc.com/~onissues or http://www.igc.apc.org/onissues.

The article is called "Out of the Loop and Out of Print: Mediations on Aging and Being Unemployable" and it's on p. 38.

From Anne B. Keating abk1@nyu.edu 29 June 1998

I am writing to you in response to the following posting to your list:

>From: Mary Schweitzer[SMTP:schweit2@ix.netcom.co >Those of you who are studying third wave feminism might want to know >what has happened to Kate Millett -- there is a very sad story in the >Guardian about her fight with poverty in the past years, along with >other friends who were feminist writers in the late 60s, early 70s. >"Sexual Politics" is out of print and the publisher keeps putting off >doing another run because they want an "introduction" from an active >scholar.

I do not expect that you will wish to post this long message to your list. However, I ask that if you do post messages as list moderator that you might consider posting an abbreviated or rewritten version of this message.

The above posting is misleading as it implies that Kate Millett has fallen on both personal and professional hard times. (I refer here in particular to the wording of "Those of you who are studying third wave feminism might want to know what has happened to Kate Millett -- there is a very sad story in the Guardian about her fight with poverty in the past years . . .")

While it is true that a number of feminist warriors from the late 60s and early 70s, Millett included, have not received recognition consistent with their contributions, it is important not to do them a further disservice by transmitting such information on the 'net without at least asking list members first if they have any current news of Millett. This is a disservice in particular to Millett who has consistently remained an active participant and contributor to the movement and regularly publishes new books--"The Politics of Cruelty" (1994) and "A.D." (1995)--as well as teaches, gives lectures on a wide variety of topics from the use of torture in the 20th century to psychiatric abuse. She also continues to be an active artist as evidenced by the retrospective show of her sculpture held in 1997 at the University of Maryland (Baltimore) and in New York City. It is true that "Sexual Politics" goes in and out of print and that more should be done to get this important book back in print. However, we can do more to help get "Sexual Politics" in print by sharing our resources and contributing to an interest in all of Millett's work rather than by choosing to ignore her work after "Sexual Politics" and then inadvertently casting her as an out-of-work feminist. Therefore, to add to the information that is available on Millet I would like to offer the following, by no means comprehensive, bibliography:

Marcia Cohen, The Sisterhood (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988).

Suzanne Juhasz, "Towards a Theory of Feminist Autobiography: Kate Millett's Flying and Sita; Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior" (1979) in Women's Autobiography: Essays in Criticism, ed. Estelle Jelinek (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1980), 221-237.

Anne B. Keating's "'A World We Have Invented Here': Exploring Community, Identity and Art in the Construction of 'The Farm', Kate Millett's Feminist Art Colony, 1978-1994" (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Maryland, 1995 UMI AAT 9632206)

Anne B. Keating, "Kate Millett." "Encyclopedia of Homosexuality: Lesbian Histories and Cultures" eds. Bonnie Zimmerman and George Haggerty. New York: Garland Publishing, forthcoming.

Anne B. Keating, "Kate Millett." "Contemporary Lesbian Writers of the United States: A Biobibliographical Critical Sourcebook" 361-369. eds. Denise C. Knight and Sandra Pollack. Westport,CT: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Annette Kolodny, " "This Lady's Not for Spurning: Kate Millett and the Critics" (1976) in Women's Autobiography: Essays in Criticism, ed. Estelle Jelinek (Bloomington, IN: U Indiana University Press, 1980), 238-259.

Kathy O'Dell, "Kate Millett, Sculptor: The First 38 Years" (New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 1997) -- catalogue for 27 February - 5 April show held at the Fine Arts Gallery, University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Tom Steinbuch, "'Take Your Pill, Dear': Kate Millett and Psychiatry's Dark Side" Hypatia 8:1 (Winter 1993), 197-204.

Mike Woolf "Henry Miller and Kate Millett: Strange Bedfellows, Sexuality and Introspection" Dutch Quarterly Review of Anglo-Saxon Letters 15 (1985), 278-292.

From Judith Travers jtravers@suffolk.lib.ny.us 30 June 1998

...an article in the Summer 1998 issue of "On the Issues"...in which she discussed her inability to get an academic position, and the hard times experienced recently by other second-wave feminists such as Ti-Grace Atkinson, Shula Firestone, etc.