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Monday, November 23, 2009

The WomanSpirit Index (updated 5/11 and 6/11)

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WomanSpirit Index: Your Comprehensive Guide to the Decade of Women's Spirituality. Index to the ten year run of WomanSpirit , 1974-1984 (1989)

This index was a project of mine. Most of what I know about collaborative work I learned from WomanSpirit Magazine, though I only came to realize that later in life. A vital cultural Happening, manifesting as a publication, WomanSpirit was published for ten years by Jean and Ruth Mountaingrove, along with a collective of women to make it all happen, out of Rootworks, women's land in Wolf Creek, Oregon. The whole story of this unusual magazine would justify an extended essay or book and someone ought to write it. Someone who was there.

Arriving in my mailbox (on the other side of the continent) quarterly, at equinoxes and solstices, WomanSpirit accompanied my inner and outer journey through several years of my life -- and I even got over my shyness enough to contribute a small article or two in the last issues. Jean, with the great generosity of spirit she's famous for, kept in touch with me over the years, as she did with many women who had expressed to her a special spiritual connection with WomanSpirit, and I finally did find my way to Rootworks to see the fabled place, and meet Jean in person. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The magazine WomanSpirit was a reflection of the women's community then inventing itself; inclusivity was one of the basic principles in the culture, with the result that famous names are found on its pages side by side with newcomers in an egalitarian mix reflecting the active re-creation of culture. It was an exciting time, and the best part is that it lives on. You won't find it recognized in the mainstream, but it's there in our culture if you know how to see it.

When Jean and Ruth decided ten years of coordinating, producing, and distributing a magazine had been enough, they gracefully brought the project to a close and when Jean suggested that someone might produce an index of the entire run, I volunteered. This was before the Internet as we know it now. So it was all done by mail -- snail mail. In the mid-eighties, few nontechnical types owned their own computers yet, and I had to drive across town to borrow a word processor when it was available. This and other things slowed progress on the Index and it took several years to finish the project. It felt like forever at the time, but I did it. (!) The work included coordinating a wonderful crew of volunteers from several parts of the country (by snail mail, remember) as well as doing a lot of indexing myself, and then reworking any indexing done by others so that it was all as consistent as I could make it.

One of the challenges in doing the index was keeping track of, and figuring out how to consolidate, the different names women made themselves known by at different points in the ten-year run. As I'd learned in other jobs tracking down the availability of work by women authors, even changing a single name to a married name creates an alias situation that can make a woman's identity invisible to scholars. On top of that, in women's culture, other new names come into being as vision quests provide them and life takes new turns. As an indexer I had an additional challenge here, too: in the spirit of the magazine, I had to follow certain conventions that reflected the values of the culture, such as indexing on first names rather than last (Tee Corinne, for example, will be found under "T", not "C").

Through correspondence Jean oversaw the whole project, wrote a beautiful introduction, and I added a Foreword. It had a small print run and is ephemeral, but the Index shows up from time to time in searches when copies become available, and Jean says she occasionally hears from scholars that they find it useful in researching women's history and the history of the feminist movement. Perhaps it's time to digitize it, if nobody has done that yet.

Linda Long, goddess bless her
The University of Oregon has now a special collection dedicated to lesbian history in Southern Oregon. Here's a great interview with the collection's Manuscripts Librarian, Linda Long. (originally from Lambda Book Report and on the Web at http://www.scribd.com/doc/30877835/A-Lesbian-Archivist-Discovers-a-Hidden-Literary-Treasure-in-Southern-Oregon )  In the interview she recognizes the importance of WomanSpirit: "It was the first feminist/lesbian periodical solely dedicated to the topic of feminism and spirituality, and it struck a chord with thousands of women across the country....[The publication] dovetailed nicely with the rise of the alternative feminist press network that flourished during the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, so WomanSpirit was able to reach a large audience of women."

Another favorite publication - Heresies
I was a big fan of many of those publications; they probably saved my life. They showed me the way back to myself when I was a very lost and badly broken young person; taught me I could throw off destructive habits, grow in strength and health, be resilient, hope in the future, dream impossible but beautiful dreams, defend myself in street fighting, swim long distances, support myself financially, rediscover the strength of my own mind and judgment, and (in short) become who I really was. Feminist separatism, in the context of the women's spirituality movement, was the key to all this, in my inner journey.

I tried to buy all the feminist magazines, either by mail-order or at Mary Farmer's wonderful Lammas Women's Books and Music shop in Washington, DC, and I devoured and held onto most of the them, lugging them across the country with me to Oregon years later and eventually adding mine to the many that Rootworks donated to the University archives. I suspect most of these titles are very rare now; none could have had large publishing runs at the time. Many of the ones at Rootworks--some possibly the only remaining copies--were received as exchange copies by WomanSpirit and future scholars are fortunate that they were lovingly kept by Jean until this wonderful librarian, Linda Long, came along, to see their value.

Fortunately, this history--which belongs to and honors all women, not just lesbians; in those days, many of us who were woman-identified and separatist found a place in the culture--is now honored and preserved in the Special Collections and University Archives at the University. The collection also houses the Tee Corinne Papers.
(http://libweb.uoregon.edu/speccoll/mss/tee.html )

And here's something about Rootworks, the home of WomanSpirit, a place now becoming recognized for its historical significance. The land trust is still there, enjoying new life; the women's movement might seem to have skipped a generation of two, but younger woman are now rediscovering the roots of women's spirituality through sustainability and other Earth-centered justice movements. At least I think so, and I hope so.

Thanks to Jean Mountaingrove's pack rat inclinations, and the fact that there was room in The Barn (Natalie Barney) to store boxes of back issues indefinitely, original printings of back issues of WomanSpirit are once more available, while they last, and if you're interested in women's history and culture, this is an artifact worth holding in your hands and exploring anew. Looking at the magazine now, it's part time travel and part rediscovery -- and as inspiring and lovely (and loving) as ever.

Here's a gallery of the beautiful covers, and where you can still order back issues:



The Index itself is sold out now, but as I say, copies sometimes become available. And surely it's time to make it available again. Probably, some special collections own it. Certainly any special collection covering the subject of feminism, or spiritualty, ought to own it.

To bring this story up to date, Jean and WomanSpirit were always lodestars for me. For 25 years, living on the East Coast, I carried a little map to Rootworks in my car, just in case. WomanSpirit certainly helped determine my choice to move back West, to a location in Oregon nearby, after I retired. And in my new life here, I was able finally (25 years later) to meet many of the wonderful writers and artists who had contributed to the magazine, and still live in this part of the country, some on women's land trusts. At one gathering, a birthday party for Jean that happened soon after I moved here, I heard several other women express the same feeling, saying, "This is like meeting rock stars!"

Jean in 2009
The women who have been here since the 70s (some even longer) are amazing people -- with wonderful senses of humor -- and their writers group, which I am able to attend sometimes, is a high point in my life here and now, helping shape my life as a writer just as WomanSpirit helped me shape my character when I was beginning to become myself. Living the women's land trust life was not the path I followed, but it was always an ideal in my imagination , a meta-home, that (along with various imaginary friends such as Xena, the Warrior Princess) somehow helped me find my way in alien lands. For me, meeting these women now is like coming full circle. And they -- they ARE the circle.

PS: I finally made it to Rootworks: my camping spot, 2009
Perched on the edge of the known world - my camping spot at Rootworks, 2009


-eleanoralice said...

That is a lovely, moving story. thank you so much for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Shalom & Boker tov...In ?1984 ?1978, Nelle Morton published in WomanSpirit a paper she expanded as 'The Goddess as a metaphoric image', which she printed in her 1985 The Journey is Home. I've never found a precise citation for the original essay, and your Index is not available to me. I am writing a book, the opening chapters focusing on pre-5th century Hekhalot/Merkavah clairvoyants (including the three Jewish women clairvoyants in The Testament of Job), and I quote Ms Morton. Do you have information?
Tzeth'a LeShalom VeShuvh'a LeShalom...go in peace, return in peace.
STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham
Temple Illuminatus G-ddess Jew / Starfleet Yeshiva Epikoros Spiritist

Christine Menefee said...

Thanks eleanoralice!

Shalom & Merry Meet Stephan. I find three by Nelle Morton in the Index and include them all below in case you are interested in the other two as well. Hope this helps and do let me know if you need more info. Thanks for the query and best wishes with your project! - Chris

The Goddess as metaphoric image (with footnotes) Spring 1984 p. 34-42

Rising woman consciousness in a male language structure (with book refs) Winter 1974 p. 59-61

The birth of Charlotte Ellen (poem) Spring 1980 p. 48

zenkatwrites said...

Chris, I was published in WomanSpirit! Only place that ever published me! Everyone else thot my writing too edgy . . . on losing my baby. I was so sorry to see the magazine go. Enjoying your blog as I get more time . . .

Chrism929 said...

Thanks zenkawrites. I'll have to look up your piece. That's an interesting insight into something that made WS special among feminist publications. Its inclusiveness made for a very different sort of magazine than old-style "controlling" publishing culture most others were practicing at the time. Come to think of it, WS was more like the many-to-many style that the Web enables now (in the face of governments and corporations efforts to control it). That includes new kinds of self publishing (such as blogging) that are emerging now. The spirit was there in the WS group for that culture-changing opening-up.

Your blog looks interesting and I'll be exploring it too. I was a student artist for several years when I was much younger, but gradually bent to the reality that I was better at working with language. It sometimes irks me that a lot of people don't understand that the creative process is the same no matter what medium you're working in - or whether it's fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. So I'm intrigued by artists like you who write.

Tangren Alexander said...

I remember Tee Corinne saying that WomanSpirit Magazine was the first place who would publish a labia image of hers. I remember Ruth and Jean being a bit surprised when they heard that: they had not thought twice about publishing the exquisite, controversial drawing. Shows how open they were to many things! As was the culture they lived in and helped to create.

Wendy Griffin said...

I have the indexes published in Fall 1977 and Spring 1979. One extremely helpful thing they do is index the authors of letters and articles by their full names, although at the time they may have been signed with just a first name. I am doing academic research on the importance on WS and wonder if there is any way I could get a xeroxed copy of your index. I know it is out of print, but I am hoping you kept a copy and might be willing to help. Of course, I would be willing to buy a copy if you could provide one. I bought a copy of every issue that Jean still had a few years ago, but, unfortunately, several issues were sold out. My research is incomplete without knowing who was publishing at the time. Many thanks.

Wendy Griffin
Professor Ermertia

Chrism929 said...

Hi Wendy - my apologies for taking so long in answering your comment. I've been in the process of moving house and got way behind. Jean and I are interested in your research on WS and hope you'll keep us informed about your progress! (forgive my ignorance, but what's a Professor Ermertia--I've heard of Emerita, but you look way too young for that title- and where is CSULB?)

RE names of letter writers, when I unpack my own back issues I can check on how the letters were handled. Not sure if last names were given or not. Perhaps someone could fill in the blanks later once we get around to digitizing the Index.

No printed copies of the Index are left to sell, so if you're still interested perhaps I can check with a local copy place to see how much it would cost to make a photocopy of mine for you. You might also be able to pick one up on the secondary market. (And it's possible some more back issues of the magazine have been found since you bought yours from Jean; have you checked the site linked? Seems to me there weren't many numbers that were entirely sold out.)

We're hoping to make the Index available online (probably as a searchable pdf) later this year so that should simplify things for researchers, if you want to wait for that.

(And this is for anyone who also owns a copy of the Index: you too are welcome to digitize it; just check with me about the next steps - publicizing and distributing it online - as Jean would make the final decisions there).


Chrism929 said...

Thanks Zenkawrites! How did I miss your comment? I remember reading your piece in WS! Edgy is good, where called for. Glad your voice was heard.