International Women’s Day is celebrated this week so if you’re seeking some good options for tuning in to women of whom you’ve heard named and read with your eyes, take the opportunity to hear them in their own voices.
Poet Gertrude Stein was recorded reading her 1922 poem “Idem the Same: A Valentine for Sherwood Anderson,” in 1935 and preserved by the University of Pennsylvania audio archives. Already noted by then as a woman who was not treading the patriarchal path her gender was assigned, Stein’s voice is expectedly strong and dramatic.
Eudora Welty can be heard reading her 1941 short story “Why I Live at the PO” in a a recording mounted on YouTube that should be slowed to .75 speed in order to sound natural. The story itself reflects both Welty’s acute observation powers regarding social dynamics between and among women as well as the short story craft at its best. Flannery O’Connor read her short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” at Vanderbilt University, in 1959, and hearing it in her drawl gives it authentic body as well as soul. Recorded half a dozen years after it was first published, and five years before the young author’s death, this mid-century dark comedy is a fitting memorial to its author as well as a window on a particular aspect of gender in the time and place it’s set.
Maya Angelou’s 1978 poem “And Still I Rise” can be heard in her voice, and with her introduction, on a recording published by one of her students on YouTube in 2007. Here a woman’s viewpoint and reading are presented as universal as well as particular. In 1991, Adrienne Rich turned our attention to nature as a necessity in a time of turmoil that threatens life as well as social parity. You can hear her read “What Kind of Times Are These?” in 2000, recorded at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.
The next step would be to find the woman who speaks of women now. You might ask the next woman you meet for a recommendation of the voice you need to hear next. Better, ask the next three women and follow up every lead they offer.