PITTSBURGH (AP) - Madwomen in the Attic, a writing program at Carlow University that embraces generations of women, got its name from a book and is the catalyst for more books by female authors.
In December, the women launched “Voices from the Attic,” the group’s 22nd annual anthology, with readings of poetry and prose held at WESA public radio station on the South Side. The anthology, which sells for $12.95, supports the Carlow program, which provides scholarships, publishing opportunities and awards for women who want to write.
The Madwomen - more than 300 proudly claim that title - enroll in workshops in poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction held on Carlow’s campus in Oakland. The cost is $175 for each semester-long workshop.
“We are lawyers, doctors and college students, with some in their 90s,” said Tess Barry of the South Side, an English instructor at Robert Morris University and one of 98 women enrolled in this past semester’s program.
“We’ve had a mad semester with mad writing to match it,” said Jan Beatty, director of the program and an undergraduate creative writing professor at Carlow. She is also host of the WESA radio show, “Prosody,” a half-hour program of poetry on Saturday mornings.
Madwomen is a reference to the feminist text, “The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and The Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination.” The 1979 book, released the same year as the founding of the Madwomen group, referred to the dismal literary portrayal of women and, specifically, the “mad woman” locked in an attic by her husband in the Charlotte Bronte classic, “Jane Eyre.”
“There is a great need for the Madwomen’s existence, as the literary world is still overpopulated by white men,” Ms. Beatty said. “Madwomen include undergraduate students and community writers, ages 18 to 94. We are very aware of the cultural invisibility of women writers, especially writers over the age of 40.”
The recent anthology release and readings included a tribute to Lucienne Wald, who celebrated her 94th birthday Dec. 8, as the oldest member of the group, both in years and membership. Mrs. Wald of Highland Park said she had never written before she joined the group in the 1980s.
“They’re all friendly, constructive critics,” Mrs. Wald said of her colleagues. At the reading, she read two poems from her first book, “View through the Window,” printed by MadBooks, a small press that publishes works from Madwomen. So far, it has published eight chapbooks, or pamphlets, and four full-length editions.
The Madwomen also sponsor a mentorship program in which experienced writers work with students. Winnefred Frolik, who holds an undergraduate degree in English and creative writing and wrote “The Dog-Walking Diaries: A Year in the Life of an Autistic Dog-walker,” is one of those students, even though she has writing experience. Ms. Frolik explained that she joined Madwomen this fall to work on a manuscript for a thriller novel.
In addition to holding classes and publishing, the Madwomen sponsor monthly MadFridays at various sites, mostly on the South Side, which are readings by workshop participants. The group also holds the Madwomen Reading Series, which features nationally known poets. A nationally known poet also judges the annual Patricia Dobler Award, a national prize given to a female writer over 40 years of age who has not yet published a book. The winner receives $1,000 and a reading in Pittsburgh with a judge. This year’s judge is noted Native American writer Allison Adelle Hedge Coke.
Four years ago, Gail Langstroth won the Patricia Dobler Award. Living in Europe at the time, she came to Pittsburgh to receive the award.
“Jan announced from the stage, ‘We all hope Gail can join us and move to Pittsburgh.’ Six weeks later, I lost my job and did move to Pittsburgh because of the Madwomen. They have become family,” Ms. Langstroth said. She now lives in Forest Hills and works as a eurythmist, which involves using a form of performance art for therapeutic purposes.
Laura Roop, director of the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project at the University of Pittsburgh, has been writing poetry since age 14 and said the quality of instruction in Madwomen is “equal to or better than that provided in other formal (master of fine arts) programs.”
“Until Madwomen, I never had the delight of being entirely in the company of women when working on poetry,” said Ms. Roop of Forest Hills. “It is marvelously freeing to be supported and nudged to grow without the usual gender dynamics.”
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com
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