Sunday, April 12, 2009

Read Weeds

Last night, I finished an extraordinary novel called Weeds by Edith Summers Kelley. It was first published in 1923 and reprinted in 1996 by the Feminist Press. This was one of my "acorn" books -- I bought it from Bas Bleu a few years ago and just now got around to reading it. It's good that books never go stale.

Weeds is the story of Judith Pippinger Blackford, who grows up in Kentucky tobacco country at the turn of the 20th century. Hope falls like a star as Judith transforms from happy, oblivious child (with a gift for drawing comical pictures) to tenant farmer's wife beaten down by motherhood, house and farm work, and the knowledge that this is all she will have for the rest of her life. The tenant farmers in Judith's community live a never-ending cycle of planting and cultivating tobacco; their enemies are those which they have no weapons against: weather and the caprices of tobacco buyers. They grasp at joy with the occasional ride to town to trade horses, a stolen ewe in the hungry days of weather, whiskey (for the men) and pictures torn from newspapers and sentimental farm wives' magazines (for the women).

Kelley, who had experienced Kentucky farm life firsthand, describes the land, the customs and the people with unstinting detail, making textual detours which today's writing advice frowns upon.

A contemporary writer might also be tempted to turn Judith's husband, Jerry, into an abusive lout. Kelley lived in a time when feminism did not mean war on the opposite sex, and thus Jerry is a decent man doing the best he can, every bit a victim of circumstances as is Judith.

Weeds has been more than another great read for me. It has pushed me to keep working on my creative projects, such as my CafePress T-shirt business (which thanks to advice from the board is now at least five separate websites -- more on that later). We women who are creative must remember the Judith Pippingers who never had a chance to have their art truly come to life. The world needs our versions of beauty and truth.

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