THE COLOR OF SISTERHOOD: REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS AND THE 1960 s

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1 : REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS AND THE 1960 s From MEMOIRS OF A FEMINIST FOUNDER by Celeste Newbrough Fran in From my collection Fragmentation of a Friendship Let me begin at the end. I need to get through the bad part first, before relating the headiness and dynamism of our sisterhood. I know the term sisterhood is considered outmoded these days, but it was the burgeoning theme for women in the 1960 s. The word fit perfectly our friendship as two creative young women, one white and Southern, one black and East Coast, both of whom had just arrived in the Big Apple to take it by storm. Our deep fusion of shared perspectives spanned the sixties and well beyond. The last phase for Fran and me began when I moved to San Francisco in Before I left, I visited Fran alone in her Riverside Drive apartment in New York. Her great and longlived love, Ann Grifalconi, had moved out. Their breakup was a momentous rupture, reverberating among their wide circle of friends. The strength of their creative partnership had greatly influenced my own maturing into adulthood. 1

2 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder Ann left Fran for a redheaded woman whose name I can t remember or never knew. She moved on quickly to a black TV reporter but before that transition, Fran wrote a rancorous tale over the breakup about Ann leaving her for the redhead. As is the case with shattered people, she visited the darkest places in her psyche. Fran was of a benign, sunny, disposition, given to barbed wit, yes, but at the same time mellow. She was the only person I know who became milder when she was tipsy. Yet rage was inherent and when it emerged it overpowered her natural sweetness. Without Ann, Fran embarked on a period of anguish and bitterness. In the past she filtered such trenchant feelings with mildness, warmth and wit. She wrote a story about the breakup that should never have been published, but was. As I relate toward the end of this memoir, I was furious with Fran for allowing it to be published, since it was a miserable, petty story not worthy of her. For several years, Fran seemed ruled by anger over racism, the lack of recognition for her work, and a sense of being deserted. She never lost her throng of friends, but she did suffer the neglect of one close friend: me. I was upset with Fran, embroiled in my own issues, and simply wasn t there for her. My strained psyche was working overtime to clean up the final detritus of those disastrous years ( ) in which I experienced a series of family deaths, losing my mother, grandmother and little sister, along with her husband and child, was killed in a plane crash over Puerto Vallarta. It had taken me years to recover my sensibility. I had left the City of my birth in which I held a secure, successful niche including plum jobs and leadership positions in the feminist and gay movements and groups like the Women s Center, the Rape Crisis Center, the National Organization for Women, for which I served as founding President, and the Human Rights Commission, which was founded after the Upstairs Fire, a 1973 conflagration in a gay nightclub in the French Quarter, suspected of being arson. I turned my back on all of that to leave New 2

3 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS Orleans and pursue the life of a marginal wanderer. My desertion of the City was never understood or forgiven by those who remained. The women and men I had valiantly and joyfully struggled with gradually built a cocoon around my memory; rejecting or forgetting my many contributions. Over time some devised negative reasons for my leaving that had nothing to do with my personal disaster, which was the only reason I left. My self-exile from New Orleans led me to Cambridge, Norwich Vermont, and finally, San Francisco. It was a period in which on the surface I led an adventurous life and even a productive one, which I elaborate below. But overall, I was engaged in a painful effort to emerge from mourning and reconstruct my life and self. Fran knew about my grief and was a tremendous support to me. She travelled often from New York to Vermont. But she didn t understand my self-isolation and expressed increasing dissatisfaction that I didn t keep in touch. To her, we were still close and deep friends and to her, deep close friends stayed in touch no matter what. Having relocated across the continent to San Francisco, my first year was solitary. Mostly impoverished, I was one of the many emotional immigrants to the City that lay at the far edge of the West. I became bisexual (I d been exclusively lesbian), lived at the margins, wrote poetry and read at various coffee houses. I became friends with Lynn Lonidier *, a Lynn Lonidier published several major books of poetry. Almost invisible on the Internet, she is known by many Bay Area Women as one of the foremost modern poets. Clitoris Lost: A Woman's Version of the Creation Myth (1989), The Female 3

4 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder profoundly moving poet and author of Lesbian Estate (she was also a teacher). Otherwise I led and isolated life. Fran was still devastated by Ann leaving her. Around 1979, she came up with a plan to move out West to Hollywood, to get a job writing for Richard Pryor. She called to let me know when she d be there, urging me to come and stay with her. She told me Pryor s group had offered her $500 a week to join his writing team. (Today, this would be about $1,550 or $2000). I felt happy for her and I said I d try to come visit, but I didn t. I didn t even get back in touch with her. From her fragile perspective, Fran saw this as a final blow to our friendship. I learned from a short, cool note that despite the offer and good salary, she d decided to return to New York. I think she must have assessed her own state of mind and decided (wisely) this was not the time to relocate. She remained in New York for the rest of her life. Shortly thereafter I emerged from my hermitage to become active in the lesbian gay movement. I also met the love of my life, Ilona, and began to reconstruct the strong identity I possessed before my family deaths. I kept hold of the artist who had come out in New England but integrated into new earning paths of tech writing, scientific editing, college teaching, and owning an academic indexing company. Freeway (1970), A Lesbian Estate (1977), Po Tree (1967), and Woman Explorer (1979). Published broadsides include A Jellyfish Swim (1972); Christmas Kitty in Bilingualand, or, What I Did This Year (1986), For Sale: Girl Poet Cheap (1977). Lynn was also the author of several unpublished novels, plays, and multimedia/theater works which are found in this collection. She committed suicide in 1993 and I spoke at her memorial arranged by Roma Guy at the San Francisco Women s building. 4

5 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS The End of Fran and Me After no contact for a while, Fran sent me a long angry letter, which to me seemed inconsiderate and unforgiving. It was literally filled with rage, the kind of rage that life Fran had so brilliantly sublimated into wit most of her life, but written in the same genre as a her Advocate story. I read the rage, not the love beneath, or the pain over desertions of her great love and (perhaps) best friend. I sealed up the letter and sent it back to her through the mail writing Return to Sender on the front. If I d kept the letter, I might have reread it and taken a different hit on it. In fact, in my self-absorption, I ignored her needs. I never understood the depth of Fran s vulnerability in our friendship. I took for granted her love and lost it. I can t gage how much of our rupture had to do with race, how much with the convergence of our personal crises, and how to do with my own insensitivity. The personal and social history of a white and a black woman in America is a distinct one, even more so in the 1960 s and 70 s than now. In the innocence of our twenties, like the classic best girlfriends of time immemorial, we referred to one another with pet names, Cherry-berry and Franny-bell, crossing over rigid lines of social demarcation. Yet no matter how deep were our shared visions, over time the unrecognized differences between us came to rule. From 1977 onward Fran and I were seldom in touch. I thought of her often, assuming over time our raw breach would heal, that as middle-aged ladies we d restore our special relationship. But we didn t have that chance. Fran died young, appallingly, unjustly young, at the age of fifty. 5

6 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder In August of 1985 I received a note from her asking for old times sake, that I look up a mutual acquaintance, Shelly who was a librarian in Berkeley. The note put my consciousness back into gear about being in touch with her. At the time, I was trying to juggle a profession and writing a book. I didn t look up the Shelly or immediately get back in touch with Fran. In late September Ann called to tell me Fran had died. Unbeknownst to me, the benign breast tumor she had removed in the 60 s returned and became malignant. I went into shock. I realized Fran had sent me her note because she knew she was dying. I cried for weeks for Fran and still cry for her. Franz de Waal, in Our Inner Ape, notes that female friendships among higher primates are deep alliances in the mutual struggle for existence. Unlike males, female friendships are with both kin and non-kin. Non-kin relations among males are often combative and violent but also readily reconciled through alliances or dominance structures. de Waal observes that female non-kin friendships are deep and lasting. but on the occasions when they end, they are not restored. About the loss of my friendship with Fran, I m imbued with a sense of the unfinished parts of life. Emily Dickenson describes it as when the harmony we long for becomes a sequence raveled out of reach / like balls upon a floor. My relationship with her, beginning, middle, and end, tells me a great deal about myself. Fran was my elder by several years and in truth, she led me into the various paths my life has taken. 6

7 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS The Beginning: The Webster Apartments for Women The start of my friendship with Fran was in a dazzling time for me, and a dazzling City. In late 1959, I dropped out of college to go to live in New York and find my people, I arrived there with all my Southern baggage. I had escaped with my lover at that time, Didge, in a 1954 MG-TD, the kind with a lever in the front that you had to crank up. My grandmother, who considered herself among crème de la crème in Baton Rouge, noted the New York trip of these two young ladies in the social register. Our Mg broke down in Tennessee and we had to hole up for ten days spending precious savings for a motel and for the repair. When we got to New York, we quickly realized we d never be able to park it, and sold it for a pretty decent profit. In the heady new environment, Didge and I decided to sexually-romantically free one another for whatever adventures were in store. The Webster Apartments for Women, an old New York City institution housing young women newly arrived from points afar to the Big City, to stay until they found other housing in the city. In their words, Webster sought to provide safe, affordable, temporary residences for working women of modest means. At 34 th and 8 th Avenue, the sprawling building offered over three hundred rooms with shared baths, and nourishing, cafeteria style meals. Given a week or so to find jobs, young women were then asked to contribute a third of their salary to Webster. 7

8 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder Fran and I became acquainted when we stood in line together for dinner an evening during my first week. Fran had been a Webster for several months after moving from Philadelphia. She already had a job and could have moved out but she liked the atmosphere. We chattered happily like two young bonobo females, enamored both of ourselves and each other. The sense of self in each of us was still fragile and subject to deep interpenetration. I was nineteen and she was twenty-three. Our encounter initiated a closeness that spanned the sixties decade, when changes in the self and in wider history ran on parallel tracks. We formed an unforgettable, milestone friendship in which the ideals we shared were forged into reality. We were attracted to each other immediately. Yet on each of our parts, sexual magnetism was sublimated, or never there. We were from the moment we stood in line at the cafeteria, woman friends. Fran was dusky and delicate featured with a bold flair to her expression, a brilliant, sophisticated patina, a silky, cottony Afro, and an expressive mouth forming perfect contours of quirky humor. I was pale-faced, and auburn-haired with a 8

9 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS cultivated come-hither look. My pretty girl exterior carefully concealed (or tried to conceal) a more masculine self, assertive and indiscriminately creative self. We each thought the other beautiful. We shared a table and soon became the dual centerpiece of a soiree of thirteen women. One of the thirteen was Didge, a longtime friend who escaped with me from captivity as students at LSU. A socialist librarian from Seattle, Tamara Turner, was another member. Of the gang of thirteen, twelve eventually came out as lesbians while the thirteenth, Lorraine, had a predilection for dating black men, a deviancy we all felt was sufficient to secure her membership in the group. Most evenings, after dinner we settled in my room or Fran s with for endless heart-to-hearts into the late hours. In light of Oscar Wilde s observation, experience is simply the name we give our mistakes, we exchanged the wisdom each had gained in a score of years. Didge and Tamara often joined us; they were becoming "a number." As I mentioned, Fran and I were completely Platonic. I've wondered why we didn't fall into a physical intimacy, easy to do in those days. I wonder why, while I ve since had several sexual encounters with black people, they have not materialized into longer sexual-emotional relationships. It could have to do with what Gordon Allport called propinquity. It could be that deep down inside of my Southern self, I'm a racist. I wouldn't deny the ubiquitous influence of my childhood environment. Though if so, I've also been consistently antiracist. Both of us wanted to become writers. Fran was more accomplished being already a college graduate and having an internist-type job at the Saturday Evening Post. I, on the other 9

10 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder hand, had dropped out of college. By my third day in the city I found a job as an assistant for a greeting card company with a home office on the Mezzanine Floor of Rockefeller Center. I was adopted by my boss, the national sales manager, Milt Weintraub, who squired me and my friends to fancy restaurants and even took Fran and me to a Yankee s game. Fran had already hooked up seamlessly with editing for a New York publisher. A graduate of Temple University with top honors, she hit the ground running. Secretly, she admitted she d like to become a stand-up comedienne. But at that time virtually no women were hired as stand-ups. She took several jobs in copy editing, but decided editing was basically ghosting around the fringes of other people s writing. She preferred proofing where she had the final word, plus could read more books. Fran became highly demanded on the New York publishing scene, proofing many major projects, including the first edition of All the President s Men. Two Minds on the Prowl A Northeastern black girl and a Southern white girl, we found our way mutually to a radical sensibility of sex and race. We found strange commonalities in our disparate biographies. To both of us, our mothers were the cat s pajamas. My mother was a great artist who if it had not been for her five children would certainly be hanging at MOMA by now. Her mother, a working woman, possessed a husky contralto, who sang in church and occasionally at nightclubs. I was treated on the phone to her mother s dusky, throaty voice. Soon I travelled with Fran to Philadelphia to visit her mother and her two 10

11 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS brothers, handsome fellows whom I remembers as being cops, at least one of them was a homicide cop. Fran s knowledge coming from a black working class family was that caste determined class. Coming from a middle class Southern family (my grandmother held pretensions of aristocracy largely based on the availability of cheap black domestic labor), I was acutely aware that the same caste system separated black people from white people and women from men. Sex and race were the two sides of the coin of the realm; this was our total and mutual understanding. Caste determines class, was the way Fran put it. As apprentice lesbians, Fran and I read and deliberated over Djuna Barnes. Nightwood was our Bible; we read passages, memorized them and their meaning. We found out Djuna Barnes was living off Washington Square and did the detective work to locate her. Along with another member of the gang, we approached the doorway of Barnes lower flat. From the window we heard a cello playing Bach in strains of pathos. At our insistent knock, someone within turned off the music and we had the uncomfortable feeling of being investigated through the keyhole. A moment later the great woman opened the door a crack. She was old and seemed to suffer the wages of a dissolute and disenchanted life, but was still arresting with dark burning eyes. I m sorry, Barnes told us through the barely opened still chained doorway. I never see anyone anymore. I decided to produce a drama I d written entitled, Was He Or Wasn t He? The one act play at the at the Bohemia café involved four characters. Resident drama students and unemployed actors generously volunteered to cast it. In the 11

12 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder foreground of the stage two men argued over whether Walt Whitman was a homosexual. In the background two women contrived exaggerated poses, which they changed simultaneously. Fran suggested that toward the end, the two women rise and dance acapella while the men argued more and more vociferously eventually breaking into a mock fight. That s how the play went. It was a hit for several weeks on Sunday afternoons, drawing at least ten people per performance. We loved off-broadway plays especially by Ionesco and Jean Genet. After seeing The Blacks, we sipped on Irish coffee in the Village analyzing the character of Diouf, a black clown who gave birth to a series of dolls that became the white jury. Diouf then becomes identified with the white mask he wears. "He's like an 'Oreo' figure," Fran pointed out, except in reverse. It was the first time I d heard the term. Clearly, she'd already given thought to the black/white interface and how it might play out in different individuals. I started going with a lovely young woman named Rosemary, who later taught English Lit at Florida State. Rosemary had an exciting job as secretary and assistant to Nina Simone. I was already a total fan from days of listening to her records in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Fran and I accompanied Rosemary to a number of Nina s concerts. At this time she was also playing small venues as well as large ones. A couple nights she joined us at her table. She was elegant and gentle, in no way the tigress that she has been described as. Like Fran, as a black woman, Nina enveloped both rage and mildness, each ready to take the fore depending on the situation. Fran and I read Go Tell It on the Mountain and Giovanni s Room, and began to follow around James Baldwin. 12

13 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS We d take the subway to Harlem where he lectured often in school gymnasiums and sometimes in auditoriums. We adulated Baldwin as others might an Indian guru. What appealed to us was that he was not only a trenchant critic of race relations but also wrote poetic novels and was one of the few openly gay figures of note at the time. With a quiet thoughtful demeanor, Baldwin tossed out outrageous insights like (to paraphrase), people cling to hate because they know once hate is gone, they ll be forced to deal with pain. Once, Fran stood up and asked him if he saw a parallel between the position of black people and women (this was in 1962). I ll not presume to quote Baldwin, but the gist of his answer was that American sexuality is defined by white males, to whom purity of the white woman is way more important than her rights. From the very beginning and throughout the 1960s, Fran and I (with the help of Baldwin, Barnes, Genet and Nina Simone) engaged our dialogue about race and sex, anticipating feminist and racial theories that flourished in the late sixties. We were passionate about the connection between sexual and racial caste. Over time, we learned the caste-derived vocabulary we used was a proto version of the terms sexism and racism. The Sixties In 1961 I fell madly in love with Adah Duncan, a medical student in Philadelphia. I visited her every weekend by train and we wandered around Valley Forge and made love in her tiny dorm when her roommates had tactfully disappeared. This was the first mutual love of my life; before this I had seemed to ride a cycle of futility, always after women while men 13

14 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder were always after me. Months of complete and joyous union, were interrupted when Adah and I each returned home for Christmas in 1962, her to Seattle and me to New Orleans. In Seattle, her parents, a psychiatrist and a psychologist enacted their usual probing intimacy. Adah related that she was in love. They told her that was not okay. She must end our relationship immediately or they would no longer support her attendance at the Women s Medical School. After Christmas, I received a Dear John letter from her that ended my living dream or perfect love. The most awful part was she was a terrible speller, which I never knew. So I had my heart broken with phrases like: We must stay apart foriver. So instead of returning to New York to live I stayed home and returned to LSU. I made up my mind that I would never again suffer being taboo to the parents of someone I loved. I would no longer be a lesbian, ever. Through several reckless heterosexual affairs, I sought desperately for the man who would turn me straight. I didn t find him. But I did get pregnant, which is a whole other story. With local black friends, I set about enforcing the new laws against segregation by sitting in and finally being served at food counters and restaurants. On graduating from LSU, I immediately got hired into public interest jobs (at that time there actually existed). I evaluated VISTA national training programs, became director of community action centers in Baton Rouge, So out of touch with my body was I at the time (1962) that I didn t acknowledge the pregnancy until it became advanced. Unable to make an expensive trip to New York for a procedure, I brought into life a beautiful child, amidst many secrets and lies. The secrets and lies have descended over generations, which restrains me from a direct telling of the story as it would invade the privacy and confidentiality of others. 14

15 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS and the planning director for the anti-poverty program in New Orleans. I raised a huge amount of money from OEO and foundations to address the problems of poverty in New Orleans. With Karen van Beyer and my staff of nine, I produced a wellresearch report entitled Profile of Poverty in New Orleans. The day it was published the report made the front page of the Times Picayune, even though it was the day that the Watergate scandal broke. But I returned to New York at least twice a year. I got used to taking the City of New Orleans train back and forth, or driving for 32 hours with only a brief nap in Chattanooga to keep me going. My first big trip back, Fran introduced me to Ada, telling me ahead of time I d fall in love with her, and I did. By that time, Fran was living with Dulce on East 12 th Street and I lived with the two of them, sleeping on a sofa bed. Dulce was a tall blonde of Scandinavian descent and a sincere communist. She scooted around the city on a motorcycle. To support my lengthy visit, I took a job at the Fifth Avenue Card Shoppe in the Empire State Building. Dulce motorcycled me up Fifth Avenue every day. When Fran and I were home we always had tea. I liked mine black and strong with milk. Fran plunked her tea bag for a second into a cup of boiling water, then drink the barely infused mixture. I got a big laugh over that. We also had totally different soft drink tastes. I loved Coca Cola, she loved Pepsi Cola. The opposite soda would never touch the lips of either of us. We spent time extolling the virtues of our own brand and dissing one another s; I pronounced that Pepsi tasted like roach eggs, and 15

16 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder she was certain that when they had removed the cocaine from manufacturing Coke, they substituted strychnine. I used to tinker with Fran s Afro after she washed her hair. It was soft yet firm to the touch. Being straight haired I was totally jealous and filled with admiration. Our rapport was gentle and droll. She was the only person I knew who got milder and sweeter after a few drinks. She didn t drink much but every month during her period she d purchase a small bottle of gin and mix gin and tonics over several days. During one of my longer trips back to see Fran in midsixties, I developed a romantic friendship with a young woman named Rosemary, who later taught English at Florida State, but at that time worked as Nina Simone Simone s secretary. I was already familiar with Simone by listening to her with my Baton Rouge friend, Reed Erikson (another chapter of these memoirs). Fran had heard Simone too, so when Rosemary asked us to come with her to see Nina perform in New York, we leaped at the chance. We sat at her guest table for several performances. Despite her reputation for being a prima donna, I found Nina Simone to be considerate, generous, and sweeter than amber honey, both on and off stage. When Fran and I were apart, our letters flew back and forth. So innocent were our sisterly feelings that we began with affectionate nicknames like, Dear Cherry-berry, and Dearest Franny-bell. Fran later liked to sign her letters FDR, the initials of her full name, Frances Delores Ross and identical to Roosevelt. In the later sixties, recognizing my activism, she began to call me Emma for Emma Goldman. Not once did we ever lose our temper, have a cross word or a misunderstanding. It was amazing, really. As I 16

17 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS mentioned above, much later we were to quarrel, though never face to face. Throughout the 60s and early 70s, I frequently visited Fran in New York. Visiting Fran s mother in Philadelphia was a memorable experience. Fran and her mother took me to Valley Forge where we wandered over the green hills. With her deep, dusky voice, Mrs. Ross had led in church choirs, and sung in nightclubs. She and Fran s older brothers all adored Fran; for them, the sun rose and set around her. Mrs. Ross was a great cook and made me feel totally welcome. At the table, we talked about Fran s Irish grandmother on her father s side who, if she d wanted to, could pass for white. Conversations were open and free-wheeling, nothing was taboo. I made a trip up over the Christmas holidays in the latesixties. Fran and I joined a group of women, her new gang, to rent a cabin in the Catskills. Several of her friends were Jewish and one, Johanna, was a well-established jeweler who brought along a silver menorah of her own design. We celebrated Hanukah as well as Christmas. The cabin was not well stocked with wood, so after several nights we found we were freezing to death without a decent fire. We set out the next morning seeking wood. No one was around to let us know where we could buy it, but we found a surplus of empty vacation homes with generous wood piles. Guiltily, we stole a small quantity of wood from each of four houses. We joked at the possibility of arrest and imprisonment. Fran, the only black woman and most literate of us all, declared, I know what I would say: Oh Lawdy, Officer, dey brung me 17

18 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder along as their maid. I didn t know dey was gonna to make me steal! This monologue, which sent us into hysterical giggles, was among many that established Fran as a true comedian. As a black woman humorist, Fran was unique in her generation. Though serene in her demeanor, Fran s consciousness was never far from the edge, from a rapier vision of the unjust status of women and black people. Wisdom about sexism and racism permeated her wit and she was funny enough to get away with it. Fran was compassionate and brave. On the steps of the subway we saw two teenage boys punching and kicking each other. Fran walked down to them pleading Don t fight, please don t fight! One of the boys gave her a shove but they both ran away. How many people would intervene to make peace in a teenage brawl? Fran would, and did. Once I travelled up to New York (maybe in 1967) because Fran was hospitalized, having an operation on her breast for a tumor. It turned out to be benign, but foreshadowed what was to come. Fran and Ann, Civil Rights, Women s Liberation By the mid- 60s, Fran had a new lover, Ann Grifalconi, a fantastic visual artist. Elegant and auburn haired, Ann made her living illustrating books, including works by Elizabeth Bishop and Langston Hughes. She was the first illustrator to feature a black person in a children s book. Ann was very nurturing toward me even though I was primarily Fran s friend. Noticing the mess my clothes were in when I unpacked my suitcase, she taught me the sailor s roll and other tips for neat packing. She 18

19 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS also taught me perspective, which was indeed a gift. She liked some of my artwork and encouraged to put it out. She was a remarkable visual artist and to my knowledge is still alive though we ve lost touch. This damaged picture, from the early eighties, I think, is of me and Ann but not Fran. The other person is a news anchor friend of Ann s. Fran s partnership with Ann was to last over two decades and become the major relationship of Fran s life. They were totally in love and a good match for each other s wit and erudition. Together, they started Greyfalcon Press and Media Plus. They launched a series of videos featuring historical figures such as Frederic Douglass and contemporary artists like May Swenson. These programs were widely used in public educational systems and provided the bread and butter for their other creative efforts. When on an expedition to rural Maryland to film aspects of Douglass s early life, they got into a terrible accident. Both were injured and their car was totaled. I remember flying up to help care for them though in fact my help was little needed, as no one had more friends than Fran and Ann. In different places and ways, Fran and I fought the good fights of the 60s. I joined N.O.W. in 1967 and later became founding President in New Orleans. While still in Baton Rouge, 19

20 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder I linked up with a fantastic attorney, Sylvia Roberts, who was fighting a case in the federal courts involving Lorena Weeks. Lorena was employed by the Southern Bell Telephone Company in Savannah, Georgia. In 1966 she bid on the job of switchman. Occasionally a switchman lifted moderately heavy equipment, which made the job off-limits for women due to "protective laws" prohibiting women from jobs lifting of weights of over thirty pounds. Lorena was turned down for the job and initiated a court suit. As national legal counsel for N.O.W. Sylvia took the Lorena Weeks on a voluntary basis. Sylvia was an elegant Southern woman and a graduate of UCLA law school. We hit it off immediately. I became the coordinator of the National Support Network for Lorena, organizing marches in New Orleans, Houston, Atlanta and New York. The New York march Fran and Ann help to publicize, and we all marched together to the Federal Court Building near China Town. Sylvia won the case in the 9 th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court let that ruling stand. By the early 70s, hard-hat jobs for women opened up throughout the nation. I think I m proudest of that work I did with Sylvia and Lorena, an effort that altered the employment landscape for women. From 1966, I plunged into both civil rights and feminism. I managed the campaign of Joe Delpit in Baton Rouge, who became the first black man elected to the Louisiana Legislature. Moving back to New Orleans I began organizing the women s movement, going on discussion shows to match my wits with inveterate male supremacists. With the permission of a Jesuit priest from Loyola University, I led the Summer Seminar on Women, attended by a huge contingent of feminists and 20

21 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS burgeoning feminists including Roxanne Dunbar, Jo LeCeour (who became my lifelong best friend), Suzanne Pharr, and Sheila Jurnak. Out of the seminar we organized New Orleans N.O.W., which began as an umbrella group including a spectrum of radical to the more established feminists. I served as founding president, and we began to shake the foundations of the City. Fran introduced me to friends as Emma Goldman. Fran and Ann busied themselves with art projects that featured women. After they completed several video interviews with Fran s poet-friend, May Swenson, they invited her over dinner along with her lover, Zahn. I read May a couple of poems from my first book published by Womancraft, and May was very kind to me about my writing. Zahn and I took an immediate dislike to one another. I found her urbane sarcasm abrasive and she saw me as a naïve Southern belle. Fran and Ann edited out errata from May s interviews and as a spoof, they spliced together all the out-takes. After dinner, we were treated to a hilarious string of Uh s, Ah s and Um s, and several monkey-like gestures. 1970: Fran as God and other Impieties Nineteen-seventy was a busy year for Fran, Ann and me. I travelled up in late August for the Strike of Women s Equality. During the summer Ann sketched a visionary portrait of Fran after Michelangelo s Creation. She called it: And God Created Woman in Her Own Image. 21

22 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder Before the March, on August 26 th, we awoke early and the three of us trekked to St. Patrick s cathedral. On the steps before the door we held up the poster to an astonished audience of church goers and Avenue strollers. The sketch featured Fran as God surrounded by cherubs, and a wonderful rendition of Eve. It should be much more known than it is today. Other than my poster, this great sketch, like much of the best and greatest of the women s movement, seems mostly lost to posterity. The movement unalterably changed the world, yet little of what really happened has been preserved. There was no social media and little news coverage of what women did then. We were too busy to blow our own horns or certainly take any selfies. The history of the movement is mostly constructed by hanger-on s who ve sought to capitalize on the movement s success. Over the winter holidays in 1970, I joined with Fran, Ann, Joanne and a few other women at Rockefeller Center Two excellent recent documentaries about the Second Wave are: She s Beautiful When She s Angry by Mary Dore (2014); and Some American Feminists by Luce Guilbeault, Nicole Brossard and Margaret Wescott (Canada, 1980). 22

23 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS where we decided we would sing Christmas carols. Under yellow spheres cast by the street lamps, snow poured down like confetti. To avoid the subway jam, we walked about twenty blocks, swallowed in the city night broken up by gaudy islands of commerce. Walking in winter I often wore only a flimsy jacket and threadbare tennis shoes. I made a production of teeth chattering chills never getting used to, or even believing the freezing weather of Yankee land. Fran deplored my inability to adapt my deep South wardrobe for cold weather. One of my trips up, she gave me snow boots and a minus 30 degree parka, which served me in good stead when I moved up to New England. We reached the Plaza where skaters performed their chiseled ballets, and began to carol the passing crowd. Being atheists of both Christian and Jewish descent we were a motley choral effort. We sang Ave Maria, faltering with the highest, then Come All Ye Faithful. We spontaneously substituted she and her for the male pronoun but toward the end, our adaptation began to falter: O come let us adore her! / O come let us adore her! O come let us adore her/er (?) After a pregnant pause Fran supplied the perfect name: Golda Meir! Oreo In the early seventies, Fran applied her analytic humor to one of the funniest of contemporary books, the satirical novel Oreo (1974). She spent only a couple of years writing it, telling me, she made the act of writing easier by basing her story on the Theseus myth. The New Yorker recently (2016) describe the book as an overlooked classic about the comedy of race. 23

24 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder In Brandywine, Kate Sowinski describes the book in their review as: A mix of classical literature and modern issues, like feminism and racial tensions, with a modern vernacular. The unique melding of language in Oreo combines Yiddish, slang, standard English, and African-American vernacular. Mike Goeller comments: Ross's novel is necessary for students and readers interested in gaining a greater understanding of African-American humor literature, a genre which, unfortunately, is often overlooked by English scholars. Fran, Oreo book cover photo. 24

25 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS Within a few weeks after sending me Oreo, Fran called to find out why I hadn t gotten back in touch with her. In truth, my first reading of the book I perceived the anger more than the humor and I could not come up with coherent positive feedback. She was truly hurt by my stumbling response. I immediately sent her a dozen roses congratulating her. But she was damned hurt, just as she was over Oreo s general reception. In 1974 it was reviewed in MS Magazine and in Esquire. Both complimented the book but didn t rave about it. MS called it witty. This got Fran mad. She told me: Oreo is not witty; it is funny! And it is funny. Once you take the plunge into the cold stream of pitiless fury that flows through every line of her text, you bust your gut laughing. One of my favorite passages is Helen s digression on the oppression of women: I ve tried to encompass in my theory all the sociological, mythological, religious, philosophical, muscular, economic, cultural, musical, physical, ethical, intellectual, metaphysical, anthropological, gynecological, historical, hormonal, environmental, legal, moral, ethnic, governmental, linguistic, psychological, glottal, racial, poetic, dental, artistic, military, and urinary considerations from prehistoric times to the present, I have been able to synthesize these considerations into one inescapable formula: men can knock the shit out of women. The fact if Oreo was too visionary for the consciousness of the time of its release. In her forward to the 2015 edition published by New Directions, Danzy Senna argued the book read like a novel not from 1974 but from the near future a book whose appearance I was still waiting for, that came to 25

26 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder her like a strange uncanny dream about the future that was really the past. It took a decade before I understood just how funny the book is, and each time I read it I laugh more. Fran was a person who thrived on success. She didn t get the accolades she deserved for her labors on Oreo. So she concentrated on shorter humorous works. Over time, Fran identified more as a humorist than a fiction writer. Her article on black slang appeared in Titters: The First Collection of Women s Humor, alongside entries by Phyllis Dyller, Gilda Radner, Erma Bombeck, and others. Last Days in New Orleans In the spring of 1971, Fran and Ann visited me and the love of my life, Ann, in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Since both Anns had last names beginning with G I refer to them as her Ann (Grifalconi) and my Ann (Gallmeyer). With them came Blynn. I don t remember her last name but she was one of our New York gang, the marketing director for the New York Review of Books. Blynn conversed in a banter so riveting you wanted to follow around her with pen and paper, or today it would be an Iphone in dictation mode. 26

27 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS We had a marvelous time. I told them to come in early to see the lead-up parades, as Mardi Gras day itself was too much of a mob scene. So on Fat Tuesday We schlepped over to St. Charles for the Rex Parade, then hung about my apartment all day eating red beans and rice, listening to Cat Stevens, Joan Baez, and a cast of other pop greats. In the evening we drank liberally of Gallo hearty burgundy, which that year was reputed to have beat out French wines in a blindfolded wine tasting. Blynn was single and so was my Ann s ex-lover, Susanne (Pharr), so I brought them face to face, saying: Blynn, this is Suzanne, Suzanne this is Blynn. You all talk. Blynn chimed in without skipping a beat: As I was crossing Soho Square in London Losses A few months later, in 1971, I lost my mother. This was a prelude to the end of my relationship with my grand passion, Ann. Because I was in love, I denied and concealed my grief, so it came out in small ways that slowly alienated her feelings. As mentioned above, Mother s death was quickly followed by my grandmother s death and by a catastrophic plane crash killing my little sister, Diane, her husband, Nehad, and her daughter, Leila. Though she was six years younger than me and only in her mid-twenties, Ann tried hard to be loyal and stay in my heavy place of grief. She didn t leave me, but we started to indulge in the open relationship, which was rife at the time, and I could not stand being jealous so I had to leave her. When I visited Fran in the spring of 1972, heartbroken, grief-stricken over my mother and sister (when the grief came to 27

28 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder the fore it lasted for years). Fran did her best to comfort and distract me. She decided I needed a rebound lover, and introduced me to two fabulous women. We visited the refurbished warehouse studio of an interesting filmmaker (forget her name). Then Fran invited over to dinner Jean Smith, a tall, beautiful editor for McGraw Hill. Jean and I immediately became a number and over the next several years visited back and forth from New Orleans to New York. I thanked Fran for her introduction assuring Jean was just the person I needed, though I knew I was not in love with her. After Ann, it took me six years to fall in love again, and that was with Ilona, my wife now of 38 years. During one of my visits with Jean I was so engrossed in her and with my continuing issues of grieving, that I didn t get in touch with Fran. On my return to New Orleans I received the following note (See photo): [Dear Emma G. 1. You would save yourself a lot of emotional anguish (=EA, see below) if you would admit to yourself that you are in love with Jean. You will be happier and admittedly sadder (because of practical considerations). 2. No matter what your state of EA (see above), if you ever again enter/leave this city or any other city in which I reside, and you do not at least call me to say hello/goodbye and I hear of it, our friendship is over. VEANGENCE IS MINE, SAYETH THE LORD; I WILL REPAY (St. Fran of Riverside 12:19). Don t let my facetiousness lull you into believing that I am kidding. Love (perhaps), FDR] 28

29 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS I blew off the note as typical of Fran. The idea she could actually be hurt or angry didn t occur to me. My behavior in ignoring this dear friend didn t strike me as offensive, which it was. If I d read between the lines I might have been alert to the deeper implications. Despite Fran s graceful sociality she was fragile about being rejected, and this fragility augmented by the cross-racial aspect of our friendship. I blindly took for granted the privilege of Fran s continuing love and support. Moving to New England In 1974 I moved from New Orleans to Cambridge then to rural New England, where I fell in love with Dolly (Dorothy Beck), an old friend of Ann s. Fran and Ann visited us several times in our two-story house on Poverty Lane (which was a long and lovely county road studded by mists and distant mountains) in Lebanon, NH. Dolly edited and published a wonderful anthology of poetry to celebrate two centuries of American poetry. Lucky for me she included my poem Voice of a Tribal Mother placing me side by side with much better known poets. Among them was Dolly, herself, who had been declared Poet Laurite of New Hampshire. Dolly wrote prolifically and stuffed many of her poems in drawers so they never saw the light of day. Several decades later, when Dolly died, by that time an obscure poet, I told her, Wait until the world gets into Dolly s drawers. During a summer when Fran came to visit, I met her at the bus station at White River Junction. I had taken to playing the kazoo, so when she stepped off the bus, I played Moonlight in Vermont. Afterwards, we decided that if the kazoo had been invented before the flute, the whole history of music would have been different. Native pitch and style rather than skill with 29

30 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder musical scales would have made the music. We laid plans to start a kazoo factory, building more and more sophisticated kazoos so that everyone who carried a tune could become a maestro. We took a hike along a bubbling stream running through verdant grasses. On the little walking bridge, I halted. Stop! I exclaimed. Look at this beautiful landscape. Fran glanced in the direction I pointed and walked on. You didn t look! I accused. I looked. I see quickly, Fran quipped. Typical. After a year or so I met up with a group of creative feminists who were producing a film, Transformations, which was an underground hit in the mid-70s, circulating in most cities in living rooms and meeting rooms. Once our group had produced the film the makers stepped in to it, forming the Norwich Feminist Coven, living communally and embarking on other creative projects. I needed to be free to spend time with these other women, and Dolly was jealous. So I left our beautiful old house on Poverty Lane and moved to Norwich, Vermont to live with the gang in a giant house and barn complex. The property was owned by the two founders of New Victoria Press, Claudia Lamperti and Beth Dingham. Others included Julia Howl Haines (harpist) and Nina Swaim (environmental activist), My spring, summer, and fall with the New Norwich Witches Coven was among the most creative of my life. To sing before the many demonstrations of the Clam Shell Alliance, Julia and I wrote and performed I m A No-Nuke Woman, an ovular song of the anti-nuclear movement. 30

31 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS Under Claudia and Beth s leadership, the New Victoria Press published several books vanguard books including the first collection of feminist science fiction, Woman Space. Johanna Russ contributed to the anthology, which also included a strangely ignorant but well-intended poem of mine, Dialogue of the Data Disk. Another publication of New Victoria was Tilt: An Anthology of Women s Art and Writing. Tilt included several scenes from the filming of Transformations, directed by Barbara Hirschfeld, and wonderful photos by Beth Dingham and other women, Tilt cover and one of my illustrations in the book. By the time Tilt was published (1977, I think) I had already moved to the Bay Area, but the editors included several 31

32 From Celeste Newbrough, Memoirs of a Feminist Founder of my works and a photo Mary Austin took of me. At the time Mary took the photo, I was trying to give up smoking and often sucked on an empty pipe or a cinnamon stick to qualm my cravings. The picture was Fran s favorite and was touted by members of the Coven as the quintessence of a feminist rebel. Another photo of me passing around was taken (by Beth, I think) at the New Victoria Press while I was helping at the bindery. I was stitching a book stark naked. In the summer, we often stripped down to varying degrees of nudity at the Press, which was a huge hot room filled with running equipment. I don t have the photo and it is probably extinct. I hope so. The downside to my creative participation with this singular group of New England women was that Fran and Ann were damned angry with me for leaving Dolly. Our friendship survived though. In 1976 I spent a week at their Riverside Drive apartment to witness the Big Apple s celebration of U.S. Bicentennial. We staged an all-day party. From the balcony, guests gazed through binoculars at the Tall Ships; borrowing various binoculars, I realized how varied they were in clarity and magnification. That same week there was a sanitation strike and a transit strike. So, a few days after the Bicentennial I left the apartment early heading from 76 th and Riverside to MOMA at 5 th 32

33 REMEMBERING FRAN ROSS Avenue and 53 rd. I walked past twenty tons of garbage, and finally arrived there, to meditate on Picasso s portrait of Gertrude Stein. I said to myself, This is New York. These were the last heady days I spent with Fran and Ann as loving hosts to my visits, and as the nexus of a thriving intellectual and artistic community of New York women. I moved to San Francisco shortly afterwards, and then Ann left Fran. Abandoned by the love of her life for a white woman, Fran burned with racial resentment, a cauldron of racist sensitivity that she had always sublimated through her benign personality and with. She wrote a trenchant and very unfunny story of betrayal, in which she referred to Ann s new lover, a redhead, as red cunt. This bitter self-exposé was unwisely published by a gay male magazine, The Advocate. I was appalled that they printed the story. While today such a thing is rare in gay men, I felt at the time (the late 1970 s) that their printing of it was lesbophobic. I was angry with Fran for allowing it to be made public. But Fran was a writer and publication was her flagship. This began the dissemblance and the end of our friendship that I described in the beginning. Fran was the soul sister of my twenties who continuously summoned up my highest thoughts and ideals. Had we lived out our full span of life together, I have no doubt we d be flaming s back and forth. Her early death from breast cancer was tragic and no doubt owing something to her urban childhood in the industrial northeast. As she died, a line of friends extended into the hallway to wish her goodbye. Her life was a success as a well- 33

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