| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Well known in the 1930s for her political journalism
and her prize-winning short stories, Meridel LeSueur produced a major body of
literature work over a period of more than sixty years. Her work includes
poetry, autobiography, biography, and history in addition to journalism and
fiction. Born in Murray, Iowa, in the first year of the century, she spent her
childhood and adolescence in the care of her grandmother, a Texas and later Oklahoma
pioneer, and her mother, a socialist and feminist who remained politically
active until well over the age of seventy-five. Through her mother, Marian
Wharton, and her step-father, the socialist lawyer Arthur LeSueur, she was
introduced to such midwestern radical and reform movements as the Populists,
the Farmer-Labor Party, and the Industrial Workers of the World. At her
parents’ homes, in Ft. Scott, Kansas, and later in St. Paul, Minnesota, she met
labor leaders and radical thinkers.
dropping out of high school, LeSueur worked as an actress in New York and
California (including bit parts in the newly emerging Hollywood silent film
industry). By 1927 she was publishing both political journalism and her first
short stories. The years from 1917 to 1927, however, were years of marginal
jobs and political disillusionment. The end of World War I ushered in a period
of political repression, climaxed by the execution in 1927 of the anarchists
Sacco and Vanzetti, whose cause LeSueur, like many other writers and artists,
supported. LeSueur’s decision in that same year to have a child was her
deliberate affirmation of life in a world that had become, as she said in
the story she wrote about her pregnancy, “dead” and “closed.”
that story, “Annunciation,” was published in 1935, it was hailed as a “small
American masterpiece” and praised for its “gravely achieved affirmations of
life.” Written in a simple prose that is at the same time richly metaphorical,
the story communicates a vision of the world transfigured by the pregnant
woman’s sense of “inward blossoming.” The pear tree outside her tenement porch,
producing its fruit even in the “darkest time,” becomes her symbol for rebirth
and the continuity of life.
became the chronicler of women’s lives, often overlooked in accounts of the
Great Depression, writing of their experiences in relief agencies and on the
breadlines. Her novel The Girl, based on stories of women with whom she lived,
was written in 1939 but not published until 1978. It describes the harsh
realities—poverty, starvation, and sexual abuse—of the lives of working-class
women during the Depression and their survival by means of supportive
friendships and a shared, communal life. In the stories she published in the
thirties in such literary magazines as Scribner’s and Partisan Review, LeSueur
wrote treatments of both working- and middle-class women—their experiences of
adolescence, marriage, sexuality, pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood, and
widowhood—that were often ahead of their time.
publication in 1940 of Salute to Spring, a collection of her journalism and
stories, marked a high point in LeSueur’s career and reputation. This
collection was followed in 1945 by North Star Country, a history of the Midwest
based on oral folk materials. In the Cold War period of the late forties and
fifties, LeSueur was politically harassed and her publishing outlets were
curtailed. Although she continued to publish political journalism, she
also turned to writing for children, producing a series of biographies. By
the mid-1950s LeSueur was also working for Indian land rights, living among
American Indians in Minnesota and the Southwest. A volume of poems published in
1975, Rites of Ancient Ripening, shows the influence on her thought of the
legends, imageries, and cosmologies of American Indian cultures.
in the 1960s, a time of new political activism with the civil rights, anti-war,
and women’s movements, LeSueur’s work found a new audience. As a result, in the
1970s and 1980s much of her earlier writing was reprinted, and she embarked on
new work, including poetry, essays, and a series of novels that are experiments
in new narrative forms. In this work she continued to explore many of her main
themes—respect for the earth and all natural resources, concern for the lives,
and the suffering, of women, and faith in biological and spiritual processes of
Late of Towson State University
In the Heath Anthology
Women on the Breadlines
Salute to Spring
North Star Country
Rites of Ancient Ripening
I Hear Men Talking and Other Stories
The Dread Road
Would you like to add a Cultural Object?
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Short story originally published in the New Masses (1939) made available by Marxists.org.
Introduction to Ripening: Selected Works
By Elaine Ryan Hedges (written in 1982) at BookZen.
Meridel LeSueur on belief as action
Very brief quote containing LeSueur's thoughts on belief.
A Multivoice Memorial FOR Meridel Le Sueur
A collection of essays about Le Sueur and her work.
Meridel Le Sueur, 96, Reporter and Children's Book Writer
A copy of her obituary in the New York Times.
Constance Coiner, Better Red: The Writing and Resistance of Tillie Olsen and Meridel Lesueur, 1995
Blanche H. Gelfant, "'Everybody Steals'": Language as Theft in Meridel Lesueure's The Girl" in Tradition and the Talents of Women, ed. Florence Howe, 1991
Introduction to Ripening: Selected Works, 1927-1980, ed. Elaine Hedges, 1981
Neala Scheleuning, America: Song We Sang Without Knowing-The Life and Ideas of Meridel LeSueur. 1983