In Guernica, I have an essay about Muriel Rukeyser's lost novel and the recovery of work by women writers.
I also spend some time with the fascinating story of the People's Olympiad, set up in Barcelona in 1936 as a protest to the Berlin Olympics hosted by Adolf Hitler. Six thousand athletes from twenty-two nations, including the United States and United Kingdom, signed on. But two days before it was set to begin, Spain's civil war broke out. And that brings us back to Rukeyser: she was there. She wrote a novel about it called Savage Coast. But that book was left in an unmarked and undated Library of Congress folder. That is, it was lost.
While interest bloomed in how other major twentieth-century writers approached the Spanish Civil War—Hemingway, Orwell—Rukeyser’s perspective was not part of the narrative.
That might be the end of the story, as it were. But her novel, Savage Coast, was uncovered by researchers with Lost & Found Elsewhere, a project at the City University of New York (CUNY) that is dedicated to releasing twentieth century books that have been overlooked or long unavailable. For the first time, and in celebration of Rukeyser’s centennial this year, Savage Coast will be published in May through Feminist Press, which is heralding it as “the major literary event of 2013.” Publisher’s Weekly, for its part, agrees, calling it “both an absorbing read and an important contribution to twentieth-century history.”
The recovery of the lost novel has historical and literary significance, but as Rowena Kennedy-Epstein, who edited Savage Coast for publication, describes in the introduction, it is also a reminder of the patchy legacies of women writers—even those who, like Rukeyser, were relatively successful in their lifetimes.
Zora Neale Hurston makes a cameo in this story, as I talk about the most famous story of literary recovery: Alice Walker's role in reviving the out-of-print and nearly forgotten author who had died penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Alice Walker wrote in her 1979 essay, which revisted her recovery of Zora Neale Hurston as “a cautionary tale”: