Meridel Le Sueur Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The work of Meridel Le Sueur (leh SOOR)—like two of her favorite images, Persephone and corn—has experienced the rebirth of spring after the seemingly dead, unappreciative time of the Cold War years. An influential and active writer of the radical 1930’s, Le Sueur became the object of revived interest in the activist 1960’s and 1970’s.

Born to middle-class parents in the Midwest, Le Sueur did not experience a routine childhood. Her mother, Marian Wharton—as her puritanical but atypical mother had done before her—divorced her drunken husband when Meridel was ten years old. Fleeing the strict custody laws of Texas for Oklahoma and eventually Kansas, Marian lectured about women’s rights and became head of the English Department at the People’s College, where she met and married Meridel’s stepfather, Arthur Le Sueur, a lawyer who represented workers. Together they edited the college magazine and wrote a proletariat-based grammar text; Meridel’s radical leanings can easily be traced to their influence. Pride in her activist parents is revealed in her book Crusaders, published during the Red Scare period of the 1950’s; Le Sueur called the work an “antidote to fear.”

Ostracized by her classmates for her parents’ socialist leanings and friends, Le Sueur eventually dropped out of the St. Paul school system. (Her parents had moved to Minnesota after vigilantes burned the People’s College, enraged by college personnel’s opposition to the United States’ entering World War I.) She went to Chicago and New York to pursue an education in dance and drama, eventually struggling for work in Hollywood as an extra and stuntwoman from 1922 to 1928. After an unsuccessful attempt at suicide, she decided to reaffirm life. Her short story “Annunciation” is about the present she decided to bestow...

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Meridel Le Sueur Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Boehnlein, James M. The Sociocognitive Rhetoric of Meridel Le Sueur: Feminist Discourse. Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 1994. Examines Le Sueur’s language.

Coiner, Constance. Better Red: The Writing and Resistance of Tillie Olsen and Meridel Le Sueur. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Provides biographical details and thorough critical analysis.

Hedges, Elaine. Introduction to Ripening, by Meridel Le Sueur. Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1992. Provides straightforward biographical information and critical commentary.

Roberts, Nora Ruth. Three Radical Women Writers: Class and Gender in Meridel Le Sueur, Tillie Olsen, and Josephine Herbst. New York: Garland, 1996. The interrelationship between their politics and their writings is analyzed in this study of three early twentieth century communist writers.