The American Studies Journal 55 is an unusual edition if we compare it to all its predecessors. It is a collection of memoir pieces, a reflection upon a specific theme, a look back at a significant moment or moments by six women: art historian and writer Moira Roth, novelists Nahid Rachlin and Güneli Gün, poets Pireeni Sundaralingam and Lisa Suhair Majaj, and artist and writer Mindy Weisel. All of them were inspired by the topic “Women’s Voices from the House of Time,” which comes from the title of a poem by Moira Roth now serving as the gate through which the reader approaches this journal.
Initially based on a daily e-mail exchange between Moira Roth and Slobodan Dan Paich, “The House of Time,” Part 1 and 2, artfully arises to link the poetics of Paich’s drawings to the visualities of Roth’s poetry.
Moira Roth visited the U.S. in the early 1950s for the first time and decided to settle in the country because she found American universities to be places of her calling. Being deeply attracted to the wide range of ethnic and cultural differences in American society, Roth has since strived for artistic expression and established friendships in all corners of the world. Roth’s memoir pieces span seven decades. They reflect upon encounters with refugees in her mother’s outside London home in World War II, the Bohemian culture in Northern California in the 1960s, and the impact on her of various feminist-inspired art projects in the 1970s and 1980s. We, her readers, find ourselves exploring these decades in the virtual presence of Moira Roth.
Nahid Rachlin spent her childhood in Iran under the Shah regime. In the following paragraphs that are drawn from her memoir Persian Girls, she introduces the reader to a hidden and risky world of bookstores in Tehran during that very period. Hence, she openly describes how she was “drawn to books, hoping to find answers to what I could not make sense of.” Ultimately, the desire to read leads to a desire to learn and to write. Managing to attend college in the US, Nahid Rachlin, however, has to experience that in a society were books are freely available and writers are free to exercise their profession, people can yet be bigots, too.
Güneli Gün’s memoir piece truly combines the excitement of the young traveler with the humor of the mature narrator. Born in Izmir, Turkey, she breaks her engagement to a young but conservative Turkish architect and overcomes her father’s concerns to eventually study at Hollins College, Virginia. Addressing topics such as breaking out of a traditional society, being torn between the home country and the imagined new home, and finding comfort in the arts, “Flight to America” compellingly reflects Güneli Gün’s mastery as a storyteller.
Countries exist, not just as geopolitical entities on our planet, or colored areas on our maps, but as narratives and dreams. They are works of imagination and for those living in the diaspora, there is nothing so all-encompassing as the struggle for the form that such a country may take within one’s imagination. It is as if we are ardent mourners at a funeral, competing over conflicting histories of the dearly departed.
“Wading in the Creek,” “Stone Fence,” and “Tata Bahiyeh” – all drawn from from Lisa Suhair Majaj’s book of poems Geographies of Light (2009) – reflect this Palestinian American poet’s talents as explorer, negotiator, and mediator between cultural hemispheres.
Do we ever get used to the feelings of loss? Time supposedly heals all wounds. Does it really? Or do we take that time and take that loss and turn it into something else, something that takes the shape and the form of our loss. Is this perhaps the source of the deepest art? Is it the art that actually gives our lives meaning? There are clearly feelings that are beyond comprehension. It is these feelings that are put into the music, poetry, painting, photography, prose, and theater that enrich our lives, and that are addressed in this book. The women in “Daughters of Absence” all have one thing in common: as daughters of Holocaust survivors they have found a strong voice through their work. For these creative women, their work has been both life force and life saver.