Cather Forms of Address
To the Editor:
I enjoyed Andrew Holleran’s review of Melissa Homestead’s book The Only Wonderful Things [Nov.-Dec. 2021 issue] about the long-term relationship between Edith Lewis and my distant cousin, Willa Cather. What I was most taken with, however, were several references to the fact that the two women referred to each other as “Miss Cather” and “Miss Lewis,” and how that fact might cast some doubt on the closeness of their partnership.
You see, when I was a kid, I distinctly remember my beloved paternal grandparents—as much as they cared for each other—addressing each other only as “Mrs. Cather” and “Mr. Cather,” never by their first names (at least when other people were around). While I didn’t think much about it as a child—my grandfather died in 1959 when I was twelve—I’ve often thought about it as an adult.
Like his cousin Willa, my grandfather had family roots in Virginia through both of his parents. Willa spent the first nine years of her life in that state, so perhaps this way of referring to one’s “spouse” was an old Virginia custom—or possibly even an old Cather family tradition.
Patrick Cather, Birmingham, AL
The Six Books of Mary Meigs
To the Editor:
What a thrill to encounter Martin Duberman’s article on Mary Meigs [in the Sept.-Oct. 2021 issue]! He does a wonderful job of evoking Mary as the endlessly creative and relentlessly self-critical person she was. Her friends included Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, and Jane Rule, and she was lovers, for a time simultaneously, with two women who were among the most important writer-activists of their time: Barbara Deming and Marie-Claire Blais (perhaps the most prolific and celebrated novelist of Québec), Mary would certainly be a prime candidate for a full-length biography. I am grateful to Duberman for making this case so well.
But a few corrections are in order. Mary wrote more than four “richly autobiographical” books. In addition to Lily Briscoe: A Self-Portrait, The Medusa Head, In the Company of Strangers, and The Box Closet (from which I assume Duberman has much of the information about her privileged childhood), there was also her last memoir, The Time Being, which recounts her love affair, at age 77, with a woman in Australia who began writing Mary fan letters after seeing her in the film The Company of Strangers. And, not insignificantly, there is Beyond Recall (Talonbooks, 2005), a collection of her last writings, which I compiled and edited, and which, while not exactly a biography, was nominated for a Lambda Book Award in that category. In both of these books, Mary’s characteristic unblinking honesty and uncensored gaze, along with her magnificent wit, are trained on the subject of old age.
Lise Weil, Montréal, Canada
Canada’s Best-Known Playwrights
To the Editor,
I was pleased to learn of Brad Fraser’s new memoir All the Rage, which was reviewed by Nils Clausson in the September- October issue. However, the reviewer made two odd claims in the review: that Brad Fraser is “Canada’s best-known playwright”; and that he is “Canada’s only gay playwright to have achieved international success and recognition.” As important as Fraser’s work is, neither of these statements is true.
Michel Tremblay, a gay playwright whose work is internationally renowned, is certainly better known than Fraser. He writes his plays first in French, Canada’s other official language, so he is well-known wherever French is spoken. And there are other contenders for “best-known” status, playwrights both straight and gay, including George F. Walker, Michael Healey, the openly gay Morris Panych, and John Herbert (the author of Fortune and Men’s Eyes).
Thad McIlroy, Vancouver, Canada
On the Lost Art of Letter Writing
To the Editor:
I cannot remember the last time I wrote a letter to an editor, but for more reasons than can be listed here, I cannot refrain from commenting on the letter in your May-June 2021 issue from Tim Cameron of Danby, Vermont. In it he cogently lays out his concern with Michael Musto’s essay about Facebook, with which I found myself in general agreement, until I came to the last paragraph.
While Musto had touted the pleasures of “blocking” unsympathetic people from your Facebook account, Cameron recommended closing your Facebook account altogether and shifting to other means of communication. He offered various options, if I may quote: “Rather than connecting with random acquaintances in this way, why not call a friend to keep in touch? Send an e-mail to just one person to say Hi—or make plans to see them in person when this pandemic winds down.”
These sound like lovely things to do, especially during the Covid-19 isolation. What saddens me is that his list of ways to communicate doesn’t include humankind’s simplest, oldest, and most personal mode of communicating, save whispering in someone’s ear: pen and paper. I urge readers of your “Correspondence” page (an appropriate place for a discussion of this issue) to try it. I guarantee that just a brief letter or even a personal greeting on a postcard from the stationary store will result in deep gratitude and happiness in the recipient. Or they might try making their own cards, enlisting the help of their children or grandchildren.
As a writer and former college professor, I believe that it would be one loss too many for our society, for our very culture, if we stopped engaging with one another through letters. Archivists that I worked with at the Library of Congress worried every day about the loss of any record of the process of both literature and science, because there are no drafts left behind when we work on our electronic devices. For example, all the notes, edits, and rewrites that existed between Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot throughout Eliot’s writing of The Waste Land would be lost to us if they had worked on computers.
If we continue the tradition of writing cards and letters, I predict that one day our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will thank us for it.
Krandall Kraus, Concord, CA