Cover Image: Radicals, Volume 2: Memoir, Essays, and Oratory

Radicals, Volume 2: Memoir, Essays, and Oratory

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Member Reviews

DNF’d this one even though I haaaate doing that, especially for gifted Netgalley books. I tried and tried to get past the 20% mark and couldn’t get into it. It’s entirely too dry for me personally, though I have no doubt the right reader will thoroughly enjoy this.
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In this second, companion volume to the first in the Radicals series (which I reviewed here if you are interested!), we’re taken through a series of non-fiction writings by some of the same audacious women (did I say how much I love the word audacious? Well, I do) we met in the first volume, as well as some new faces. The selections take us through Sarah Mapps Douglass’s anti-slavery appeal “A Mother’s Love” (1832) and Maria W. Stewart’s “Address Delivered at the African Masonic Hall” (1833), to Zitkala-Sa’s memories in “The Land of Red Apples” (1921) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s moving final essay “The Right to Die” (1935). These are powerful, challenging and intelligent statements of womanhood, belonging and power – those who have it and those who don’t. These are lesser known writings, many of which have been out of print for some time prior to this book.

Like the first volume, this is a powerhouse selection. Each piece stands alone as an important record of these radical women’s lives, as well as standing together as a statement on the world we live in and how much, or indeed how little, has changed. Placing these texts alongside each other, perhaps for the first time, written in all cases in the women’s own voices, provides a poignant and important comment on slavery, systemic racism, oppression and the rights of women. The collective weight of so many voices left me reeling even after I finished reading.

It is a dense collection, and one that cannot be consumed in a couple of sittings (which I did with the first Volume) – it’s one that needs to be slowly worked through, considered, reflected upon. This is the kind of text we need to be putting on university and school syllabuses – there is so much to learn, so much to understand and so much to challenge ourselves on as a result. This is one I will come back to again in the future, I’m sure.
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Radicals Volumes 1 and 2 are anthologies that are perfectly designed for an undergraduate syllabus. Whether it is an American Studies class, a gender studies survey or a history overview, the texts in these volumes would be relevant to the material taught. I particularly appreciate that the editors have not picked the most commonly anthologized selections and called it a day. The healthy mix of classic texts with lesser-known-but-no-less-essential works provides a great reading experience. I did find that these books weren't ideal for cover-to-cover reading; they are more the kind of texts one would dip in and out of as necessary. I didn't necessarily find that there is an argument that develops as one reads the books and moves from one text to the next.

Volume 1 is a collection of creative writing - primarily fiction and poetry - while volume 2 focuses on nonfiction. At first, I thought the separation of creative and didactic writing was a good idea as it would allow the books to stand on their own but be enhanced as a collective. However, the separation is instead between nonfiction and all other genres. Creative autobiographical nonfiction jas been included in volume 2 which distracts from the largely didactic content in the rest of the collection. While the editors do a wonderful job of selecting content, I only wish they had focused a bit more on choosing which text goes where and what they place in conversation with what. I would love to see these same texts organized in thematic sections or placed in conversation with each other in more creative ways,

All in all, I would say Radicals is a well curated collection that is only equal to, and no more than, the sum of tis parts.
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Coming from a European perspective I thought that I would lack the context to read and interpret these texts, but nothing farther from the reality, because these essays, memoirs, and speeches have provided me with more context about the period and space that I thought at first.
The selection is incredible and diverse, which I feel is a major point for this book, the fact that it gives priority to marginalized voices and lesser authors. As a reader, a contemporary reader, you are not going to agree with some of the opinions, but none of that matters because if something gives us this kind of literar¡ture is room for discussion and debate. Talk about the centrally of God in some of these essays or think about why some authors identify womanhood with motherhood. This book is a constant discussion and I genuinely believe it is the greatest thing about literature.
If someone is interested in reading about civil rights and women's rights, about the injustice face by women, indigenous women, and women of color. Magnificent,
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I enjoyed the first Radicals book and this definitely lived up to the predecessor. I loved how I was introduced to some women, that I had never heard or read about before. It is a great introduction to learn about these women, their thoughts and what they represent.
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You know a women knows her history when she’s well read. And this is a book I’d recommend to read up on your essays. Great read, great pick of authors, like the variety of subjects.
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Meredith Stabel and Zachary Turpin, Radicals, Volume Two Memoir, Essays and Oratory, Audacious Writings by American Women, University of Iowa Press, 2021. 

The foreword states that ‘This collection reminds us that it [a period of violence against women, indigenous Americans and African Americans] was also a time of great social and intellectual excitement’.  The writers also warn us that there are glaring shortcomings in some of the material, where the authors either ‘go too far’ or are in themselves often racist, sexist and classist, as well as exhibiting the failure to understand or appreciate other valid stances. However, they also suggest that such shortcomings were ‘common features of the “progressive” thought of the era’. It is well to read these caveats before embarking on the papers in this wide-ranging collection, some of the views are indeed shocking, and it is the work of the reader to look for where such material can be useful. I am assuming that the collection is mainly seen as a support for academic endeavour and have had that proviso before me in writing this review. Where can the researcher use the material in this volume? 

Firstly, the writings are new, sometimes the authors are hitherto unidentified, where they are familiar, the papers are unknown.  This provides the academic and non-academic reader with a wealth of material from which new observations about radical writing, women’s role, racism, sexism, and classism can be made. At the same time, much of the writing needs diligent unpacking before it can be useful. How does the non-academic reader deal with this task? Do they want to? Are the new observations worth the work? And, for the academic, does the material bring new information to further enlighten their writing? How do they unpack the, at times, contrary views expressed by the radicals of this volume? How useful will such conflicting views be in making a case for radical views, mixed as they are with such non-progressive stances? 

For example, the indigenous American story, Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden is a delightful first-hand account of this woman’s life and her agricultural work. It is briefly observed, lively and informative. However, it does not introduce new information about the way in which indigenous Americans lived. For the academic researcher its value is in its being a first-hand account, providing researchers with some wonderful quotes to humanise their work. In contrast, Emma Goldman’s writings, A New Declaration of Independence (1909); Minorities…versus…Majorities (1910) and Marriage and Love (1910) raise a host of inconsistencies and repugnant ideas amongst the arguments that contribute to the thriving debates of the time. These are not arguments to be glossed over, they raise too many ideas that are familiar amongst supporters of the current voter suppression legislation being enacted in America (see Minorities...versus…Majorities in relation the current ‘quality versus quantity’ claims for an ‘improved’ voting system). 

This is not to say that such works should be censored or that the non-academic reader may not find such writing fascinating, but possibly it could be useful to sell the papers independently, as I have seen with other collections in which there is a variety of texts (See Jocelynne Scutt (ed), Women, Law and Culture, Conformity, Contradiction and Conflict, Palgrave McMillan, 2016, in which my article about the populist television programs, Big Brother and The Apprentice,  is less likely to attract the serious reader than those that deal more directly with the law). 

Secondly, there is a wide range of material in the collection from authors whose voices have not been heard in such proximity to each other. Rather than one or two items from black Americans, or papers relating the political movements aimed at ending slavery, there are many papers. This alone propels the reader into a greater understanding of the way in which slavery and racism impacted on the past, with its tentacles informing the present. Again, these papers provide additional material for academic writing. Here, together with the debates around women’s equality, the vote, women’s role, and universal suffrage the conflict with modern day thought, and conflicts within the papers and arguments they express, lend themselves to specialist studies. I find it difficult to envisage some of the works as useful supplements to general studies arguing for women’s or black Americans’ rights.  The conformity with religious teachings, conservative values, and classism in many of the papers that argue so cogently for rights that do not undermine these values make them distinctive, perhaps weakening their value to generalist studies.  

Where the collection excels is in the foreword and introduction. Here the authors explain their reasons for the choices, describe the value of the papers in the volume and provide an overview of the arguments that they have so diligently assembled to give readers new perspectives on known writers, and voice to unpublished writers. The preponderance of black American authors, descendants from slaves, or women freed from slavery is admirable. Although I have some reservations, articulated above, I am impressed by the authors’ dedication to giving unheard voices a platform. It is these voices that resonate throughout, and, together with the introduction, deserve the four stars I have given the volume.
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I will absolutely be adopting this text for the classroom. It’s very likely I will use the set with my seniors next year, as I think it would be a fun way to maneuver into some edgier literature that older kids might really enjoy. I was really particularly fond of the Charlotte Gilman Perkins stuff as I have always been a Stan of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” but not overly familiar with her other work.
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The second volume contains some essays that I have never come across, which was thrilling, to say the least. Overall, an empowering and timely anthology.
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