Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Book Review: Kelly Cherry's Girl in a Library

Posted By on Fri, Dec 11, 2009 at 1:10 PM

click to enlarge girlinalibrary.jpg

Part memoir and part literary analysis, Kelly Cherry's Girl in a Library: On Women Writers and the Writing Life (BkMk Press, 221 pages, $16.95) could be required reading for anyone about to plunge into -- and those already immersed in -- a writerly existence. The depths explored during such a life are murky and invigorating, sometimes both. Cherry is the author of 19 books, including volumes of poetry, short stories and criticism. She presents here a collection of essays that examine her experience and output as a woman and writer, within the context of other women who write. "It will still be a long while before the term woman writer becomes unuseful -- I do hope someday it will be exactly that," Cherry writes, "and in the meanwhile women writers may look to one another for support, guidance, and a sense of the possibilities, if only by reading one another's work."

Cherry, whose own roots are there, devotes many pages to Southern writers, including one whole chapter for Bobbie Ann Mason. There's also a chapter on Cherry's favorite contemporary African American women writers, plus individual chapters devoted to the writers Elizabeth Hardwick, Mary Ward Brown and Ann Tyler. Within these and other sections, Cherry nods to dozens more scribes, both male and female, whose works influence and impress her. (The bibliography and index, combined, stretch for 12 pages.)

The mentions never devolve into name-dropping, though. Cherry is an

academic, whose studies include the hard sciences as well as the

ephemeral humanities. Her analyses of other writers' work are so

thorough that one needn't be familiar with a poem, story or critical

essay to enjoy Cherry's review of it. She quotes liberally enough to

provide a sort of Cliff's Notes context of the content and, in a

surprisingly economical way, relays the writer's background. In so

doing, she illustrates how a writer's experience as a woman may (or may

not) feed into the characters she invents.

Due to the winding

structure of the book and the fact that each chapter is its own

stand-alone essay, some details of Cherry's life get repeated. The

redundancy isn't too distracting, however at times her passing

references to significant personal experiences in her life serve as a

tease. The reader may wonder, for example, why Cherry lingers on the

failure of her first marriage, yet perfunctorily references years she

spent in love with and isolated from a Russian musician and then

suddenly reveals that late in life she met the love of her life (who we

learn precious little about).

But then, while her relationship

(or lack thereof) to a man (or children) can have a profound affect on

what a woman writes -- or if she does at all (Cherry notes the

difficulty of balancing the writing life with traditional social

expectations of women and mentions how some women to put aside writing

until children are grown or marriages end) -- overindulgence in the

author's romantic history would distract from the book's purpose. Girl in a Library

is an account of Cherry's love affair with writing, which just so

happens to involve a few men. And her parents. And that most mysterious

element of all, herself.

Tags: , , ,

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Crystal K. Wiebe

Most Popular Stories

All contents ©2015 Kansas City Pitch LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of Kansas City Pitch LLC,
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.

All contents © 2012 SouthComm, Inc. 210 12th Ave S. Ste. 100, Nashville, TN 37203. (615) 244-7989.
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of SouthComm, Inc.
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.
Website powered by Foundation