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Five thousand years after the Sumerians developed the first written language, sixty-eight years after American women gained the right to vote, and four years after Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for vice-president, Chicago has its first anthology of work by local women writers, Naming the Daytime Moon.
Published in December by the Feminist Writers Guild, Naming the Daytime Moon is a collection of stories and poems that originated with poet Julie Parson’s idea to publish a book of poetry by waitresses. It was 1982 and Parson was waitressing herself, writing poetry on the side. Then her first poem was published, in a local magazine. As she writes in the book’s introduction, “With my secret out, many of the other waitresses admitted that they, too, wrote poetry. Their writing was moving, immediate, and strong.”
After that, Parson discovered a whole world of undercover poets, writing for themselves yet unable to “lay claim to any of the credentials that would allow [them] the title ‘writer.'”
Imagine the stories waitresses could tell–their own as well as those they’ve overheard. Imagine legions of waitresses, their ambition suddenly freed: Don’t insult me, buddy, or I’ll immortalize you.
I threaten to transfer you to an
does not exist, so you’ll die
in some wire,
Between reception and the mail room.
–“Edition #4 of Attempted Suicide”
by Sheila Donohue
In Naming the Daytime Moon, Parson’s original idea has expanded dramatically. Contributors include teachers, lawyers, mothers, a CTA driver, and a carpenter; many of them are former waitresses. What hasn’t changed is Parson’s guiding intent; the book virtually sings with affirmation for women. Parson talks about overcoming the belief that “what women have to say isn’t that important. Women’s experience has been undervalued. This is especially true in literature, where [that undervaluation is] reinforced with images of white whales and old fishermen, not birth.”
they do not believe
they do not understand my words
they can’t be bothered
they deal in cottonwood fuzz
and i am Cassandra
–“i am Cassandra”
by Elizabeth Eddy
What resonates throughout the book are those experiences unique to women: not in the love poems, which tend to fall flat, but in those dealing with emotions and events that men can only guess at.
Diane Scott’s “It is just before my abortion” contrasts male doctors–so detached and uncritical they play tennis with the globs of unborn fetuses they’ve extracted–with a grandmother, patient, understanding, who “knows what it is to be a woman, and knows that the healing is in the hands.”
A woman’s struggle to establish an identity in the modern world–balancing career and family and love–permeates the book. Peggy Shinner’s vivid “My Grandmother, Who’s in a Nursing Home, Wants to Know” is a wrenching dialogue between a woman and her grandmother who can’t, or won’t, understand her granddaughter’s full-time job and the house she owns with another woman.
Funded by a $3,740 CityArts grant from the Chicago Office of Fine Arts, Naming the Daytime Moon was only a year in the making. Because of grant stipulations, the book had to be compiled, edited, typeset, and printed before the end of 1987. “Probably the most difficult part of the project was putting out the call for submissions,” Parson says. The project’s editors (Parson, Jorjet Harper, Paula Berg, Lillian Anguiano, and Beatriz Badikian) wanted the call to reach the greatest possible number of women writers–published or not, well-known or unknown. Parson says, “We wanted to have the effect of saying to women, ‘Your work is important,’ even if we didn’t publish their piece.”
Equally important was that the call for submissions reach a diverse group of women who would truly represent Chicago. “It’s amazing how difficult it is to break out of limits in a city like this,” Parson notes. “It’s very basic that this book go beyond limits of who you are and who you know–it must break racial and economic divisions, even neighborhood divisions. Where you live is very basic in this city.”
I am stretching–now opening
I am opening from the blindings
Of racist lies
Opening almond-shaped brown eyes
To see the truth
by Lola Lai Jong
Available only since the middle of December, Naming the Daytime Moon still ranked third on the list of 1987 best-sellers at Women & Children First Books. Ann Christophersen, co-owner of the store, attributes the book’s success to the “inherent interest people have in reading writers they share an identification with–identification by race, age, or location.”
Yet despite the writers’ common residence in Chicago (a requirement of the CityArts grant), one finds little of the city’s influence in the book. “There was almost nothing specifically about Chicago in the submissions,” Parson says. “Nothing on its neighborhoods.”
How shall we name the daytime moon
who watches in secret, its translucent face
stenciled in cold reflection over the lake,
where new snow hangs in wind, open sails
afraid to furl against the storm?
–“Gulag,” by Martha Vertreace
Naming the Daytime Moon: Stories and Poems by Chicago Women sells for $5.95 and is available at over 20 bookstores throughout Chicago, including Women & Children First, Guild Books, and Kroch’s & Brentano’s. For further information, write the Feminist Writers Guild, PO Box 25477, Chicago, Illinois 60625.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul L. Meredith.