Morgan, Robin

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MORGAN, Robin

Born 29 January 1941, Lake Worth, Florida

Daughter of Faith Berkeley Morgan; married Kenneth Pitchford,1962; children: Blake

As a child, Robin Morgan played Dagmar on the popular television series I Remember Mama but quit acting at age sixteen. She left Columbia University in 1962 to marry a fellow poet and work as a literary agent and freelance editor. Becoming an antiwar "politico" activist in the New Left, Morgan met Ellen Willis and Jane Alpert and, like many female colleagues, made a quick transition to radical feminism. She was a founding member of New York Radical Feminists (NYRF, 1967) and the Women's International Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH, 1968). Morgan helped organize and publicize the 1968 WITCH demonstration at the Miss America Pageant and was an early participant in NYRF consciousness-raising sessions.

Morgan and Alpert engineered the January 1970 women's takeover of the New Left magazine Rat, publishing a women's issue in retaliation for the male staff's "sex-and-porn special." Morgan's essay, "Good-Bye to All That," a bitter indictment of male chauvinism among leftist activists and a call for a women's revolution, was "the shot heard round the Left," and became a feminist classic signaling gender fragmentation, the rise of the Women's Liberation Front, and the demise of the New Left. Morgan's rage, with characteristically emotional leftist rhetoric punctuated by obscenities, proclaimed the beginning of a new era critical of patriarchal, sexist, racist, imperialist, and capitalist "Amerika." Morgan and other radical women published Rat for two years as a feminist periodical before Alpert fled "underground" to avoid prosecution for Weatherman activities. Morgan's "Letter to a Sister Underground" revealed that she remained Alpert's mentor despite intense controversy over Alpert among feminists.

Morgan became a major theorist for cultural feminism, urging creation of alternative women's institutions as "concrete moves towards self-determination and power" and "an absolute necessity." She emphasized women's essential sameness and connections, their difference from men. Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement (1970), edited by Morgan and proclaimed as the radical feminist "bible," compiled documents on race, class, sexuality, and cultural representation from over 70 women and organizations. Morgan believed the process of creating the book through "collectivity, cooperation, and lack of competition" to be "proof of how radically different the women's movement is from male-dominated movements."

Morgan's essays in Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicles of a Feminist (1977) exemplify a personal struggle to compromise tensions between heterosexuality and radical feminism. Recounting the early years of her marriage to a bisexual, marital tensions, motherhood, and the beginnings of the women's liberation movement, the book is an account of personal growth spanning the transition from prefeminism in 1962 to "transformative" feminism by 1977, a process of discovering that personal problems are intrinsic in gender relationships related to larger cultural issues. Morgan declared herself a lesbian in the mid-1970s, yet vilified male values in lesbianism in her attempt to end the gay-straight split in the women's movement. "The Rights of Passage" in Ms. (September 1975) epitomized her unsuccessful crusade to reconcile fragmentation in the movement through "pluralistic tolerance."

In her poetry, Morgan often uses a feminist, polemical voice more celebratory of Jungian matriarchal archetypes than simply countering patriarchy, ranging in form from sonnets and villanelles to forms of her own invention. In Monsters (1972) and Lady of the Beasts (1976), she finds female identity in a universal self, mundane aspects of the eternal Creatrix, and ends with hope for cultural transformation. Her third volume, Depth Perception: New Poems and a Masque (1982), is an almost novelistic progression from self-affirmation to a call for transcendent unification. The one-act verse play with which it ends, featuring archetypal woman and man speaking truths spanning the comic and the tragic, was first performed in New York in 1979 with her husband's complementary one-act play, The Dialectic, under the joint title Love's Duel. Rejecting "this century's divisions between thought and action, art and politics, thinking and feeling," Morgan means her poems to "shock, infuriate, terrify, move, heal, release." Upstairs in the Garden: Poems, Selected and New, 1968-1988 (1990) contains works that have appeared in many literary magazines, anthologies, and feminist journals. "The Two Gretels" provided feminists with slogans for banners, posters, buttons, and t-shirts.

The Anatomy of Freedom: Feminism, Physics, and Global Politics (1982) argues for human freedom based on erratic motion in quantum physics and a historic perspective. Here Morgan describes creating a logo for the women's movement, a clenched fist inside the universal sign for the female as inclusive of "women and men together" and a "sign of hope." Morgan also edited Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology (1985), full of demographic, economic, and political facts from 70 countries and including an extensive bibliography. Critical of patriarchy, the volume argues that "the world's problems are women," rarely consulted for solutions or considered by those in power. Critics lambasted it as left leaning. Contributors met in 1984 in the Sisterhood Is Global Institute to "address the problems of women everywhere," including care for the elderly, poverty, population, education, religion, and women's rights, status, and problems.

Morgan's first novel, Dry Your Smile (1987), is the self-conscious account of a woman writer expressing many of the concerns seen in Going Too Far. For The Demon Lover: On the Sexuality of Terrorism (1989), describing herself as a feminist "apostate Jew" trying to understand the Middle East conflict, Morgan interviewed women in the Gaza Strip and on the West Bank. The book continues earlier themes of "metaphysical feminism" in theoretical essays. A longtime contributing editor to Ms. magazine, Morgan became its editor in 1990. She received the Front Page Award for distinguished journalism in 1982 and is an active lecturer.

Morgan has continued to be an influential and prominent feminist activist, theorist, and author. For the last 25 years, she has offered an incisive global commentary on the conditions of women's lives. Her poetry, essays, and fiction reflect her commitment to forging her artistic self and political interests into an "integrity which affirms language, art, craft, form, beauty, tragedy, and audacity." She writes poetry that often plumbs the depths of forbidden inexpressible rage. Alicia Ostriker in the Partisan Review called Morgan "one of the most honestly angry women since Antigone." In the early 1990s, Morgan produced several retrospective collections of her poetry and feminist writings. Upstairs in the Garden: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1988 (1990) brings together her classic early poems, including "Monster" and "The Network of Imaginary Mothers," along with new pieces. Morgan's poetry demonstrates her continuing fierce dedication to women's lives and passions. Her work is deeply feminist.

The Word of a Woman: Feminist Dispatches, 1968-1992 (1992) brings together 18 previously published essays produced by Morgan over a quarter of a century. In a review for Belles Lettres, Renee Hausmann Shea wrote that the essays, each accompanied by new prefaces and footnotes, "are shot through with optimism and pain. They are written with passion and humility and wit." This volume is especially recommended for today's third-wave feminists, since it provides a comprehensive overview of feminist issues and slogans since 1968.

Morgan's devotion to causes that transcend racism, sexism, and all other forms of oppression and injustice has led her to found or cofound several organizations that promote feminist change. These include the Sisterhood Is Global Institute, the National Network of Rape Crisis Centers, the New York Women's Center, the Feminist Women's Health Network, and the Battered Women's Refuge Network. In 1990 she returned to the position of editor of the new, no-advertising Ms. magazine and became its international consulting editor in 1993. Her recent book of poetry, Hot January: Poems 1996-1999, was published in fall of 1999. Her life and work affirm her insistence on personal liberation and revolutionary feminist politics.

Other Works:

Poems by Seven: Robin Morgan and Others 1959. Women's Liberation (1969). Death Benefits (1981). Manpower: Photographs by Sally Soamer (1987). The Mer-Child: A Legend for Children and Other Adults (1991). The Anatomy of Freedom: Feminism, Physics, and Global Politics (1994).

Robin Morgan's papers are housed in the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College.

Bibliography:

Alperr, J., Growing Up Underground (1981). Cohen, M., The Sisterhood: The Inside Story of the Women's Movement and the Leaders Who Made It Happen (1988). Echols, A., Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975 (1989). Payne, K., ed., Between Ourselves: Letters Between Mothers and Daughters, 1750-1982 (1984).

Reference works:

CA (1978). CANR (1998). CLC (1974, 1990). FC (1990). MTCW (1991). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

Choice (May 1985). Commonweal (2 Apr. 1971, 15 Jan. 1973). Feminist Writers (1996). Ms. (Sept. 1975, Mar. 1977, Jan. 1991). Nation (14 Dec. 1970, 2 Mar. 1985). NYT (29 Oct. 1970). NYTBR (22 Nov. 1970, 21 Feb. 1971, 19 Nov. 1972, 27 Jan. 1985, 27 Sept. 1987). off our backs (Apr. 1989). Partisan Review (10 Jan. 1980). Poetry (Dec. 1973, Aug. 1975, Aug. 1977). Progressive (Jan. 1977, Aug. 1977). TLS (12 Nov. 1982). WRB (8 July 1987).

—BLANCHE LINDEN-WARD,

UPDATED BY CELESTE DEROCHE

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