Le Sueur, Meridel 1900-1996

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Le SUEUR, Meridel 1900-1996

PERSONAL: Born February 22, 1900, in Murray, IA; died November 14, 1996, in Hudson, WI; daughter of William Winston and Marian Lucy Wharton (mother later married to Alfred Le Sueur, who adopted the author); married Yasha Rabanoff, 1927 (deceased); children: Rachel, Deborah. Education: Attended American Academy of Dramatic Art. Politics: "My politics is that of life." Religion: "My religion, the world."

CAREER: Writer; had been employed as a journalist and labor reporter. Actress during the 1920s; appeared in films The Last of the Mohicans and The Perils of Pauline. Writing instructor, University of Minnesota.

AWARDS, HONORS: Second prize in Works Progress Administration (WPA) writing contest; California Quarterly annual award; University of Minnesota grant; Bush Foundation grant; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1991, for Harvest Song: Collected Stories and Essays.


Persephone, 1927.

The Horse, 1934.

Annunciation, Platen Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1935.

Salute to Spring and Other Stories, International Publishers (Paris, France), 1940, reprinted, 1983.

North Star Country, Duell, Sloan & Pearce (New York, NY), 1945, reprinted, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1998.

Little Brothers of the Wilderness: The Story of JohnnyAppleseed, Knopf (New York, NY), 1947, reprinted, Holy Cow! (Duluth, MN), 1988.

Nancy Hanks of Wilderness Road: A Story of AbrahamLincoln's Mother, Knopf (New York, NY), 1949.

Sparrow Hawk, Knopf (New York, NY), 1950, reprinted, Holy Cow! (Duluth, MN), 1987.

Chanticleer of Wilderness Road: A Story of DavyCrockett, Knopf (New York, NY), 1951, reprinted, Holy Cow! (Duluth, MN), 1989.

The River Road: A Story of Abraham Lincoln, Knopf (New York, NY), 1954, illustrated by Susan Kiefer Hughes, Holy Cow! (Duluth, MN), 1991.

Crusaders: The Radical Legacy of Marian and ArthurLe Sueur (biography), Blue Heron (New York, NY), 1955, reprinted, Minnesota Historical Society (St. Paul, MN), 1984.

Corn Village: A Selection, Stanton & Lee (Sauk City, WI), 1970.

Conquistadores, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1973.

The Mound Builders, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1974.

Rites of Ancient Ripening (poems), edited by Mary Ellen Shaw, Vanilla Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1975.

Harvest: Collected Stories, West End (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1977.

Song for My Time: Stories of the Period of Repression, West End (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1977.

Women on the Breadlines, West End (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1977.

The Girl (novel), West End (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1979, reprinted, 2000.

Harvest [and] Song for My Time, MEP Publications (Minneapolis, MN), 1982.

Ripening: Selected Work, 1927-1980, edited by Elaine Hedges, Feminist Press (New York, NY), 1982, new edition, with an introduction by Elaine Hedges and a new afterword by the author, 1990.

(With John Crawford) Worker Writers, West End (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1982.

Word Is Movement: Journal Notes from Atlanta toTulsa to Wounded Knee, Cardinal Press (Maynooth, Ireland), 1984.

I Hear Men Talking and Other Stories, West End (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1984.

Winter Prairie Woman, illustrated by Sandy Spieler, Midwest Villages and Voices (Minneapolis, MN), 1990.

Harvest Song: Collected Stories and Essays, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 1990.

The River Road: A Story of Abraham Lincoln, illustrated by Susan Keifer Hughes, Holy Cow! (Duluth, MN), 1991.

The Dread Road, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1991.

Also author of We Sing Our Struggles: A Tribute to Us All, edited by Mary McAnnally, Cardinal Press; and America, Song We Sang without Knowing: The Life and Ideas of Meridel Le Sueur, Little Red Hen Press. Work represented in several anthologies, including, O. Henry Prize Short Stories, 1946, and O'Brien Best Stories. Contributor of short stories and articles to magazines and newspapers. Editor, Midwest, 1935, and People Together, 1956.

ADAPTATIONS: My People Are My Home, a film based on Le Sueur's work, was produced by Women's Film Collective of Minnesota.

SIDELIGHTS: Meridel Le Sueur's long and controversial career as a writer began in the Midwest, a region that continued to influence her work until her death in 1996. Although a highly regarded novelist and short story writer during the 1930s, Le Sueur's political views and activities were banned as "subversive" by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s, resulting in over twenty years of literary obscurity. Since 1970, however, her books, frequently narrated from a woman's point of view, have found a new audience and popularity.

Le Sueur was the granddaughter of a Puritan temperance worker who helped to open the state of Oklahoma. "In 1910, my mother had to kidnap us out of Texas to get away from our father," the author once told Publishers Weekly interviewer John F. Baker. Like most women and children of that day, she explained, "We were property, [treated] worse than slaves." Le Sueur's mother later married Alfred Le Sueur, a lawyer who founded the Industrial Workers of the World. Writing in Nation, Meredith Tax reported that the couple helped to bring Marxism to middle America by supporting the publication of socialist classics in the form of Haldeman-Julius Little Blue Books. "Ardent socialists, they saw 'a new world' opening before them in their Middle Western kitchen, where such eloquent radicals as Big Bill Haywood, Eugene Debs, Lincoln Steffens and Emma Goldman came and went," related Blanche Gelfant in the New York Times Book Review. Labor union organizers who visited the Le Sueur home often, and Indian women the young writer befriended as a girl, helped her to develop the communal ideals expressed in her works.

Le Sueur's writings chiefly focus on the people, history, and traditions of her native Midwest. She wrote her first stories "as a little girl on a remaining patch of the American frontier," stated Patricia Hampl in Ms. magazine. "I first felt in my bones the immense contradictions of American Midwestern life," she told Hampl, "and also its hidden potential strength and beauty and, above all, the democratic traditions and history of the frontier" among the farmers and Indians of the area.

This setting provides the backdrop of The Girl, written in 1939 but not published until 1979. It is the story of a girl who moves from her unhappy rural existence to urban Minnesota. There, she faces the ravages of the Depression and sexual and emotional abuse by men until she is rescued by a community of homeless women who are clearly associated with the Communist Party. Christine Bold observed in Twentieth-Century Western Writers that "Le Sueur can be read as celebrating the western landscape for its formative impact on American culture, but not in any easy or pretty sense."

Le Sueur's works, especially those written during the 1930s, reflect a strong sense of social awareness and social protest. In 1928, after a brief career in Hollywood as an actress and stuntwoman, Le Sueur returned to the Midwest, a return which, Hampl pointed out, "coincided with the rebirth of activity among various populist and worker groups." Le Sueur became an active participant in this proletarian movement. The commitment she made to writing during this time, as she recalled for Baker, was a commitment to exercise personal freedom and "to express the lives and thoughts of people who were unexpressed." She was one of the first women writers to break the code of silence about the hardships women faced on the American frontier: "My grandmother, who . . . never took a bath except in her shift, couldn't understand why I wanted to reveal what she had spent her life trying to conceal." According to a Prairie Schooner reviewer, Le Sueur's Midwestern Depression-era stories cut through the "hypocrisy" of American culture and society. In a review of Salute to Spring and Other Stories, the reviewer wrote, "American mythologies and truisms evaporate as she describes . . . an impoverished husband pressuring an unwilling wife to abort their child, an unemployed college honor student's death from starvation, striking factory workers gunned down by company men."

These initially well-received writings, as well as Le Sueur's association with the Communist party, later served to entangle her in what a critic for Worker Writer called the events of the "Red scare." Hampl explained, "While she was writing the luminous short stories of lives lived in poverty and obscurity which gave her a national reputation, she was also reporting on the strikes, unemployment struggles, breadlines, and the plight of farmers in the Dakotas.... Hailed throughout the thirties as a major writer, she was blacklisted during the McCarthy years, because her identity as a radical . . . made her suspect."

As a result, for nearly thirty years Le Sueur found it difficult to publish her work. The Worker Writer contributor reported, "Le Sueur gained only the attention of the bloodhounds sent out by the FBI, during the period of the 'Red scare' from 1946 to the mid-fifties. She had to trade job for job . . . as the FBI visited and intimidated each new employer. Her writing was accepted only in the children's department of Alfred A. Knopf, under a nom de plume at Seventeen and Mademoiselle, and in the remaining publications of the Communist Party Press."

Since 1970, however, interest in Le Sueur's work has enjoyed a revival of sorts. She once told CA that not only were her newer books being published, but her older ones were "re-discovered" by a new generation of readers, particularly those involved with the "women's movement." Le Sueur considered "the young women now struggling to find their creative direction" to be "the people I was writing for [who finally] got born." She added, "I have written all my life of the struggles of the people of America, and the Midwest particularly. My two grandmothers and my mother were feminists and I have written of the life and struggles of women even before it was popular. I find the present the most exciting of my long career because of the visible field of expression in the Indian, Chicano, and women's movements. I am writing more and better, and have an audience—for the first time."



Boehnlein, James M., The Sociocognitive Rhetoric ofMeridel Le Sueur, E. Mellen Press (Lewiston, ID), 1994.

Coiner, Constance, Better Red: The Writing and Resistance of Tillie Olsen and Meridel Le Sueur, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Le Sueur, Meridel, Crusaders: The Radical Legacy ofMarian and Arthur Le Sueur, Minnesota Historical Society (Minneapolis, MN), 1984.

Roberts, Nora Ruth, Three Radical Women Writers:Class and Gender in Meridel Le Sueur, Tillie Olsen, and Josephine Herbst, Garland Publishing (New York, NY), 1996.

Twentieth-Century Western Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991.


Chicago Sunday Tribune, November 12, 1950.

Criticism, summer, 1997, Anthony Dawahare, "Modernity and 'Village Communism' in Depression-Era America: The Utopian Literature of Meridel Le Sueur," pp. 409-432; winter, 2001, Paula E. Geyh, "Triptych: The Experimental Historiography of Meridel Le Sueur's The Dread Road,"p.81.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 30, 1982.

Ms., August, 1975.

Nation, July 3, 1982.

New Republic, September 9, 1940.

New Yorker, June 1, 1940.

New York Herald Tribune Book Review, May 11, 1947; November 6, 1949; November 12, 1950; November 11, 1951; May 16, 1954.

New York Times, May 25, 1947; November 12, 1950; September 5, 1954.

New York Times Book Review, April 4, 1982.

Prairie Schooner, fall, 1977.

Publishers Weekly, May 21, 1982; October 4, 1991, Connie Goddard, "Le Sueur's Wilderness Series Now Complete," p. 60.

San Francisco Chronicle, November 13, 1949.

Saturday Review of Literature, January 5, 1946, May 17, 1947.

Time, June 17, 1940.

Weekly Book Review, December 16, 1945.

Worker Writer, Volume 1, number 15, 1977.



Monthly Review, September, 1997, Alan Wald, "The Many Lives of Meridel Le Sueur," pp. 23-31.

New York Times, November 24, 1996, Wolfgang Saxon, "Meridel Le Sueur, 96, Reporter and Children's Book Writer," p. 21.

Radical Teacher, Number 50, 1997, John Crawford, "Meridel Le Sueur: A Remembrance," p. 48.*