Neglected Writer

You may be familiar with the names of some of the major women authors of American literature in the twentieth century: Marianne Moore, Anaïs Nin, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Mari Sandoz, Carson McCullers – but you may not be familiar with the name of Marguerite Young, a friend and in some cases a mentor of these renowned writers. Flannery O’Connor, a student of one of Young’s protegés, Paul Griffith, referred to her as her “dearest grand-mére.” But Young’s work is not included in anthologies of American Literature, even those that claim to include the work of disenfranchised women and minority-group writers. For those who have read her work and appreciate the munificence of her literary talent, she is the heir apparent to Hermann Melville, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, an American James Joyce – a feminine Homeric Muse whose words are the notes of a magnificent symphony. Why has Young’s beautiful poetic prose not received wide acknowledgement, her name not been entered into the canon of American Literature?

When I first read Young’s major epic, Miss MacIntosh My Darling (1965), I was astonished, overtaken with the beauty and mystery of her words. I tried to get in touch with her because I felt the excitement of a master storyteller in our midst: but I was two years too late. She had died November 17, 1995, in Indianapolis, Indiana, her birthplace (August 26, 1908), close to those who loved her. A memorial service was held by her Greenwich Village friends and associates, many of them students of her popular writing classes at the New School of Social Research where she had taught frequently for over thirty years.

After the publication of Miss MacIntosh, as she realized that renown during her lifetime was perhaps an unrealizable dream, Young went into semi-seclusion, living solely for her writing and teaching. Young labored until the very end of her life on her final opus, a biographical account of the life and times of Eugene Debs, American Socialist, train porter and union organizer. Although she had originally hoped to complete three volumes, she was able to finish only volume one of her intended project which was no less than a full-scale treatment of 19th century utopian thought and the founding of the Socialist movement in this country. Alfred A. Knopf Publishing House (now affiliated with Random House, Inc.) purchased the 1750-page manuscript of Volume One in 1992. The manuscript, now entitled Harp Song for a Radical: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs, was finally published in September, 1999.

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