Hal Ashby’s classic 1971 black comedy Harold and Maude tells the irreverent love story of Harold, a young man obsessed with his own death, and Maude, a 79-year-old woman with a love for life. The two meet the week before Maude’s 80th birthday, a day which Maude herself has designated as her last, though this is unbeknownst to Harold. Throughout the course of the film, Maude teaches Harold how to live and love. Thus, when she announces on her birthday that she has taken pills to end her life, Harold is understandably heartbroken. Near the end of the film, Harold rides with Maude in an ambulance, begging her not to die. As Harold tells Maude again of his love for her, she smiles, telling him, “that’s wonderful. Go and love some more.” Harold, in the midst of his grief, takes what he has learned from Maude to heart, and resolves wordlessly to “love some more” by going into the world and emulating Maude’s joie de vivre. Harold’s grief is offset by Maude’s joyful imagining of Harold’s life, knowing that, though she will not remain with him, he will go on and be better for having known her. For Maude, grief is fertile ground for envisioning an active future filled with continual loving.
Reading across the in memoriam sections published in Peitho between 2013 and 2022, we find Maude’s imperative to “love some more” an apt descriptor of how grief is processed in the tributes to Linda Bergmann, Win Horner, C. Jan Swearingen, Nan Johnson, Lisa Ede, Kate Ronald, and bell hooks. In this piece, we wander through this grief archive, as we’re calling it, to take stock of memorializing as a potentially feminist act, especially when guided by an ethic to keep on loving. The extensive memorials ranging from 15 to 44 pages exceed typical announcements of a colleague’s passing published in other academic venues. In Peitho, grief is not inconspicuous or quiet reflection; it needs more than a paragraph or a page; it is showy, indulgent, and, above all, active. Readers encounter usable grief in each collection of vignettes and assorted materials. Here, we read this grief archive multiply—as feminist memory pitched toward change, as evidence of the tight braid between our personal and professional lives, and as a reminder to keep on loving one another through the ordinary moments, the celebrations, and the walloping losses.
Documenting Presence, Embodying Grief (Laura)
On April 10, 2020, feminist compositionist Alice Gillam passed away. She mentored me and many others who were beyond lucky to work with her at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she taught for nearly three decades. After she died, a group of her former students wrote tributes to Alice and shared them on what was then the WPA-L. Threaded through our accounts were details about Alice’s infamous gatherings at her home, often accompanied by wine, fresh fruit, pastries, and her favorite, a gin martini. Reading through the Peitho memorials, I began to conjure Alice in my mind—her iridescent white hair that seemed to fall in place effortlessly, her warm easy smile, her mischievous sense of humor and infectious laugh. Her mentoring, teaching, and collaborative practices were legion and admired by many. But, upon meeting Alice and getting to know her, what came first was an appreciation for her as a person—the immediate sensory experience of being in the presence of someone you’d want to know your whole life.
The person, the personal, matters. Living, feeling women inhabit this archive, reminding us that we are all more than the sum of our professional accomplishments. While this is not a profound statement, sometimes academia obscures the obvious and mires us in layers of bullshit. The archive, however, takes us to the person. It teems with sensory details that resist quiet contemplation and instead court life and activity. Lynée Lewis Gaillet will miss Nan Johnson’s “soft yet urgent voice.” Linda Hughes’s memory of first meeting Win Horner was her “wearing a blazer—red?—and holding her shoulders in a way that conveyed confidence, excitement, complete delight.” Writing about C. Jan Swearingen, Cheryl Glenn recalls “how good she always smelled. I think of her perfect posture (she was always reminding me that I could stand taller—and she was right!) and that way her little finger fluttered so elegantly.” We almost smell her trademark scent of patchouli, mentioned by Jennifer Bay and Beth Brunk-Chavez in their tribute. We can almost see her upright posture, finger in flight. We do see her in a photograph seemingly snapped in mid-sentence, hands near either side of her face, gesturing. Grief can be specific like this; it can turn us away from abstraction to how someone once moved through the world and left traces, imprints, stories.
Grieving bodies of those left behind also appear throughout the in memoriam contributions. Writing about bell hooks, Sophia Greco notes, “I am at odds with myself trying to find direction within institutions that perpetuate violence both figurative and literal. I wonder if this sentiment is part of what we call grief; a grief for the liberatory education we seldom (if ever) have; a grief that expands tenfold with the news of her passing.” Michael Faris ends his memorial to Lisa Ede by describing his writing and emotional situation: “I write in coffee shops and bars, with a body—elated, frustrated, crying. I pay attention to the materiality of my writing because of Lisa. I write this at my favorite bar, with Lisa and Andrea’s book near me, a whiskey and coke, a pack of cigarettes, my eyes flooded with tears.” The physicality of grief, the way it wears on bodies and takes over—floods—reminds readers that these accounts are not just about teachers, students, colleagues; they are about human connection and loss that exceeds usual relationship boundaries.
Where do we look for traces of others in our lives? What personal archives do we assemble in the moment of loss as an act of remembrance? It’s almost like our sense of someone finds a material trace. When writing about Nan Johnson, Judy Segal began by surrounding herself “with the materials of my Nan archive,” which included Segal’s class notes, Johnson’s publications, and “dissertation chapters with [Nan’s] penciled marginal notes in her almost illegible handwriting.” In conjuring Alice, I turn to photos, but also to the cat trinkets she gifted me over the years, the baby blanket she sent on the birth of my son 18 years ago, and my file of seminar papers, where I see her messy handwriting and take in her advice to “look at this idea again.” Likewise, about Ede, Jess Restaino seeks to “count, to label, to weigh” Ede’s presence and loss through their email correspondence. “I searched my email and found over a thousand threads between us. Each thread contains multiple messages. Who knows how many, total?” (emphasis in original). Restaino continues: “Lisa had a habit of titling the subject line of an email thread as a kind of ‘hook’ or half-sentence that she’d finish only when her reader opened the message: ‘Just a quick email to say that…’ or ‘Can’t believe that I forgot to mention…’” This participatory audience-centric habit is a way of saying we’re making something together, similar to how Katie describes patchworking below. Communal grief, multivoiced witnessing, personal-professional knots—perhaps these are ingredients of feminist memorializing.
Patchworking Memory Together (Katie)
I got my first knitting kit from my grandmother, a sewist. Although I didn’t fully learn to knit until after she passed, I still think of that kit fondly, and of my knitting, crocheting, and sewing as an inherited love. One of my current projects is a patchwork cropped sweater for my sister made up of different thicknesses of wool yarn, which requires different techniques to stitch them together evenly. Despite the differences in each patch of yarn, when placed together, they all work to create a new visual display. The fabric these yarns make will be called a sweater and will reflect love for the person they are made for, as most crafted objects do.
It was this patchwork sweater that I thought of when reading Michael Faris’s “For Lisa: A Patchwork Quilt.” His description of his own memorial as a “patchwork” piece prompted me to think about the ways in which his vignettes—varying in size, style, and shape—work to mimic the patchwork sweater I’m making. Each portion of either the memorial or the sweater is individual and contributes something unique to the overall piece. These portions, or patches, should not work together as cohesively as they do, given how different they are. And yet, when placed together, they create something new and whole, something altogether more complex either narratively or visually than you might’ve at first thought.
This stuck with me as I continued to read through the in memoriam issues. I became struck by how each unique piece of writing within each issue, each patch, contributes to the larger patchwork quilt that comprises each in memoriam. Similar to how Faris’s patchwork piece includes differing styles and lengths, so too do the in memoriams. Essays, narratives, speeches, songs, photographs, and (re)printed works of those remembered are compiled together to memorialize the scholar as a whole complex individual. Even beyond genre, mourners contribute different types of recollections of those who have died, including sensory narratives, advice passed down, and values shared, explored by Laura, Jayne, and Brooke respectively. While memorializing each scholar, these in memoriams also give friends, colleagues, and loved ones the space to grieve on the page. This, in turn, is reflected in each “patch,” or memorial entry, that makes up the in memoriam.
Each patch within these patchwork quilts becomes not just an individual representation of the scholar and their impact, but of the relationships and connections these women made, as Laura and Jayne note. And just as crafting is not inherently a solitary craft, the crafting of these memories is not solely an individual act, but also a collaborative one. Most commonly, these collaborative pieces utilize the collective “we” as the main point of view. Rebecca Dingo, Ben McCorkle, and Rara Pauliny utilize third person and the collective we in “Dim the House Lights” to narrate Nan Johnson’s individual and collective impact on their personal and professional lives. The collective we in this narrative notably allows for shared memories of Nan’s personality as a performer to shine through. Using a combination of the collective we and third person, “The Last Time We Saw Lisa” is a narrative of a final picnic with Lisa Ede written by her students, Vicki Tolar Burton, Tim Jenson, Kristy Kelly, Sarah Tinker Perrault, and Ehren Helmut Plugfelder. Here, the usage of “we” and the third person highlights both the collective group memory of the picnic and each individual’s recollection of it. Finally, Connie Kendall Theado and Brenda M. Helmbrech use “we” in “Begin Again” to create a singular narrative remembrance of Kate Ronald that emphasizes the lessons they learned from her. Like Faris’ patchwork quilt, these collaborative in memoriams demonstrate a way of grieving that relies on community to reflect on the shared memory of an individual, one that uses narrative to showcase not just their contributions to the field, but also a shared understanding of the scholar as a whole person.
In many ways, it’s almost impossible for me to fully grasp the wide ranging impact these women have had on the field. It’s hard to conceptualize the idea that one person, let alone these seven, could each have had such a wide reach throughout their careers, when I myself am only at the beginning of mine. And yet, I feel these impacts in each of these in memoriams. With each passing issue, I could not help but think about my mentors. The stories shared by past graduate students of these women—the meetings, the jokes, the advice—all feel so close to me. After all, the early days of mentorships shared within these narratives, through letters, through narratives, through patches, are recently developed for me, or developing now. It hurts to think about what grieving those people might look like. But it helps to consider the community that I will likely grieve with, how that community and our stories can all be stitched together in remembrance of them, in all their wonderful complexity.
Remembering Their Words (Jayne)
As Brooke, Laura, Katie, and I sat in Laura’s inviting and homey dining room, sharing what had surfaced for each of us as we read through these in memoriams, I felt compelled to share a sort of confession in our safe, feminist space. “Can I be vulnerable for a minute?” I started. “As I read through these tributes, I kept returning to the thought: I can only hope that I am written about in these ways when my time comes.” I thought I was admitting a self-centered notion, and it had been difficult for me to decide to say it out loud. As a graduate student so early in her career, who was I to suppose I’d make enough of an impact during my career that my death might prompt such wide and personal grief? However, when every single one of my co-authors admitted having the same thought, I realized that that was part of the power of the feminist action undergirding this grief archive. That is, to offer stories and memories about strong, loving women scholars is to, in part, offer vicarious advice and inspiration to the rest of us in the field as our own paths unfold. In that way, the tributes that populate the archive act as mentors, for they simultaneously remind us who these late women were and, in turn, inspire us towards who we ourselves strive to be. In short, they encourage us to “go and love some more.” Though I had no relationship with any of the women for whom these in memoriams were written, the ripple effects of their mentorship—including the words they spoke—reach me through these grief archives.
A complement to Laura’s compelling claim that “living, feeling women inhabit this archive” is my suggestion that so, too, do those women’s words. This seems an obvious statement if we think only of their written words and scholarship, but what is less obvious are the ways in which this archive is populated with their oft-spoken words. For example, Jennifer Bay and Beth Brunk-Chavez, in their tribute to Swearingen, lovingly recount that Jan always ended class with the phrase “Same bat time, same bat channel.” They tell readers how they long to “hear [Jan] make that promise one last time.”
Other contributors to the grief archives do continue to hear the words of their mentors. Remembering Winifred Horner, Lynée Lewis Gaillet writes, “While I miss knowing she is physically in the world, I continue to hear Win’s sage advice whispered in my ear.” I am struck by the present tense in this statement—Win is alive not just through her scholarship, but through the words she spoke aloud in life. We get to hear some of that advice as her in memoriam unfolds, for her words also live on in the minds of Nancy Myers, Sue Hum, and Kristie S. Fleckenstein, Win’s “three angels.” They provide a list of “Winnerisms,” which they jointly remember from time spent with her. Such an offering crystallizes the collaborative aspect of processing grief which Katie highlights, and it works to honor and cherish Win’s familiar advice. Among these bits of advice is the reminder that “[a]ll ideas are meant to be shared.” Publishing the short list of Winnerisms acts on this very statement, and doing so also serves both as a way to memorialize Win and to keep her words alive so they may help others brave the profession.
In fact, -isms are a recurring feature of these in memoriams. Lisa Shaver, for example, provides two “Kateisms” in her tribute to Kate Ronald. “One of many wonderful Kateisms,” she writes, “is, ‘When you agree to direct a graduate student’s dissertation, you take them on for life,’ and she did.” We are reminded here that these women enacted their own advice; they strove to live the life they touted. Their -isms often reflect this tendency. A group of Linda Bergmann’s former students recounting a list of Linda-isms showcases this, too; one, “Build trust,” is exactly what contributors tell us she did.
The -isms that these women leave in their perpetual wake continue to shape the field, just as the Maude-ism to “go and love some more” rippled out to shape Harold’s and others’ lives after hers had ended. Contributors to the grief archive collect their mentors’ words, revisit them, remember them, and recite them. From this I am reminded of Libby Falk Jones describing the way bell hooks collected, revisited, remembered, and recited others’ words: “bell loved having favorite words of other writers in her heart and voice. She memorized and recited poems, making the words her own.” As we revisit the in memoriams of these late feminist scholars and look toward the future of the field, let’s do the same. Let’s be guided by the Linda-ism which tells us, “Don’t be a jerk (and if you have to be a jerk, don’t be a discouraged jerk)”; the Kateism that reminds us that “Academia will break your heart”; and the Winnerism which advises that we all “Quit flagellating [ourselves] and get on with [our] writing.”
Mentoring through Activist Relationships (Brooke)
As I wander through these in memoriam pieces, I am unable to stop myself from drawing parallels to my own grief. At the time of writing, my best friend has been dead for eleven weeks. I wear their ashes around my neck and commissioned a tattoo in their honor that is still healing. Though this friend was not an academic mentor, per se, I still shared with them all of my writing and eagerly asked for their feedback on my scholarly ideas. Their lived experiences worked to direct, shape, and deepen my research, ensuring it traveled beyond the realm of the “ivory tower.” The in memoriam dedications in Peitho discuss the mentorship offered by the women being remembered, which was complex, motivated by something more than simply ambition. For Rachel Daugherty, “feminist mentoring” was the key to her relationship with Lisa Ede, who “decenter[ed] herself and lift[ed] those around her.” Feminist mentoring, as revealed in these texts, is a key part not only of scholarly work, but also feminist activism.
Activism is woven throughout the patchwork quilt of these in memoriams and appears in a variety of ways. Mentorship is crucial in the narratives of these women’s lives. Krista Ratcliffe notes how Win Horner’s mentorship impacted women scholars, as “[s]he helped them learn how to write conference papers. She helped them get a job. She helped them get a book published. She helped keep them sane as they began their careers.” This mentorship was an act of feminist activism, as Win helped these women counter gender-based difficulty and taught them how to “have it all.” Teaching also provided a space for the activism of these women. Sherri Craig writes about bell hooks: “Love, eros, the erotic, the ecstasy of teaching is how we all get the pleasure of overcoming oppression. hooks knew.” These women were, as my co-authors have also noted, deeply relational, and the love they held for their fellow students and women scholars nurtured and motivated their activism.
The enduring impact of the feminist mentoring and activism of these women is not limited by life or death. In remembering Lisa Ede, Michael J. Faris rhetorically asks “How much of our reading and writing is haunted by death and the loss of loved ones? How much of our scholarly work is a collaboration over time, with the voices of our mentors shaping us, and the texts and memories they have given us carried with us?” Faris forges an explicit connection between the work of the living and the inspiration of those who have passed. His acknowledgment that the mentorship offered by these women is temporally and spatially unbound speaks to the activist potential of relationship. The women being remembered in these issues focused on loving and building relationships which, in turn, furthered the work of other feminist scholars, creating an activist coalition existing across time and generations.
The circumstances of death, both in these pieces and in Harold and Maude, serve to reorient our focus on life. Grief is funny that way—it compels the mourner to, as Jayne and Laura both observe, think about oneself after the loss of someone who made an impact. In the way they lived, the women mourned in Peitho compel those who did and did not know them to live a certain way. That way of living can be a change or a new direction, or it can be an invitation to continue down the path of love and relationship. As Hephzibah Roskelly notes in her dedication to bell hooks, “bell’s point…was that dismantling racism, ending patriarchy, finding justice—required mutuality. We have to become vulnerable to the people around us if we would build trust and make change.” Building trust, as Jayne notes, is an -ism used by many of the women from the in memoriam sections, including Lisa Ede and Linda Bergmann, revealing the crucial role that community played in the lives and deaths of these women. Death and life are inextricably bound together, and grief can be a powerful force for change in an individual’s life, which can subsequently lead to larger change. As Katie writes, this push for change can compel the individual to remain in relationship and community with others. Grief, perhaps ironically, brings people together.
Memorializing as a Feminist Act
The impact of these women through their words, actions, and capacious love exists outside temporality, threatening the seemingly immutable state of death with a grief that sponsors continued and abundant life. Dana Driscoll’s tribute to Linda Bergmann expresses this beautifully when she writes that Bergmann’s “work isn’t done as long as we continue to do it . . . Her careful nurturing can become our careful nurturing. I know that all of us already do this work—but now, we can do it with more purpose and determination because we know we are Linda’s living legacy.” This decided intention to honor and keep alive a cherished colleague’s legacy is a linchpin of the grief archive. Among other examples, Abhiruchi Chatterjee writes in an open letter to bell hooks, “You may not be with us physically, but your words have immortalized you. Rest now, for you have been heard. Rest peacefully, for the flame that your works have sparked in our minds, in the ways that we engage with the everyday, in seeing experience as a critical category, each in our own realities and locations, will keep your legacy alive.” Keeping these late women’s legacies alive informs our continued work and keeps us hopeful and determined.
More than that, these legacies often have important implications for women scholars’ material realities. Not only do feminist scholars in our field put immense value on mentoring young, burgeoning scholars through their intangible support and guidance, but several late scholars honored in the grief archive established what might be called “material legacies,” as well. The Nan Johnson Archival Research Fund and Award, established by the Ohio State Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies program, provides funds to support research on the Nan Johnson Collection on Elocution and Rhetoric, an immense archive of materials donated by Johnson. Likewise, Horner and her husband established a scholarship that provides funds for single mother undergraduate and graduate students who are pursuing their educational and career goals. Acts like these establish and maintain legacies and remind us in material ways that feminist action doesn’t have to end with one’s passing, that it can persist– and even take on new significance–through the awareness brought on by individual and collective grieving.
Harold and Maude is focused on this kind of grief, which is threatening only insofar as it demands change. A puzzling and darkly humorous element of Harold and Maude is that Harold repeatedly attempts—unsuccessfully—to take his own life throughout the film. A possible message behind these attempts is that Harold, despite being young and alive, does not value life, and so reaches instead for death. Maude’s death, on the other hand, is devastating for Harold and the viewer alike. Her death is made more difficult because of the exuberant life she lived, full of activism, love, and tenacity. Near the end of the film, Harold asks Maude what she was fighting for, to which she responds, “Oh, big issues. Liberty. Rights. Justice.” Her activism, like the women in this grief archive, was a fully integrated part of her love for others. Maude’s relationships in life demanded love and vulnerability, and Harold, having experienced her love, had no choice but to change because of the impact of her death. The same can be said of the women remembered in Peitho. The archives reveal the power and activist potential of feminist grief, which teaches us to take the lessons learned from a life well lived and implement them into our own life praxis.
We leave the reader with one final Maude-ism. Among many, this one offers a succinct description of the relationship between life and death and, more importantly, the lasting power of a life well lived. “I like to watch things grow. They grow and bloom and fade and die and change into something else. Ah, life!”
Angeli, Liz. “Liz Angeli’s Reading.” Peitho, v. 16, no. 1, 2013, pp. 67-69.
Ashby, Hal. Harold and Maude. Paramount Pictures, 1971.
Bay, Jennifer, and Beth Brunk-Chavez. “Taking a History of Rhetoric Class with C. Jan Swearingen.” Peitho, v. 20, no. 1, 2017, pp. 7-8.
Burton, Vicki Tolar, Tim Jenson, Kristy Kelly, Sarah Tinker Parrault, and Ehren Helmut Plugfelder. “The Last Time We Saw Lisa”. Peitho, v. 24, no. 1, 2021, pp. 40-42.
Chatterjee, Abhiruchi. “An Open Letter to bell hooks.” Peitho, v. 24, no. 2, 2022, https://cfshrc.org/article/an-open-letter-to-bell-hooks/
Craig, Sherri. “embracing the erotic.” Peitho, v. 21, no. 2, 2022, https://cfshrc.org/article/embracing-the-erotic/
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Dingo, Rebecca, Ben McCorkle, and Rara Pauliny. “Dim the House Lights”. Peitho, v.22, no. 1, 2019, pp. 14-16.
Driscoll, Dana. “Dana Driscoll’s Reading (including remarks by Danielle Cordaro and Jaci Wells).” Peitho, v. 16, no.1, pp. 69-71.
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Glenn, Cheryl. “Friend and Colleague: Jan Swearingen.” Peitho, v. 20, no. 1, 2017, pp. 4-5.
Greco, Sophia. “Embracing a Pedagogy of Love and Grief.” Peitho, v. 24, no. 2, 2022, https://cfshrc.org/article/embracing-a-pedagogy-of-love-and-grief/.
Hughes, Linda K. “Win at Texas Christian University.” Peitho, v. 16, no. 2, 2014, pp. 130-33.
Jones, Libby Falk. “Remembering bell.” Peitho, v. 24, no. 2, 2022, https://cfshrc.org/article/remembering-bell/.
Myers, Nancy, Sue Hum, and Kristie S. Fleckenstein. “Win’s Angels.” Peitho, v. 16, no. 2, 2014, pp. 125-126.
Ratcliffe, Krista. “RSA Mourns the Loss of Winifred Bryan Horner.” Peitho, v. 16, no. 2, 2014, pp. 121-123.
Restaino, Jessica. “Deep Doldrums: On Loving (and Learning from) Lisa Ede.” Peitho, v. 24, no. 1, 2021, pp. 29-35.
Roskelly, Hephzibah. “A Story of bell hooks.” Peitho, v. 21, no. 2, 2022, https://cfshrc.org/article/a-story-of-bell-hooks/
Segal, Judy. “Encomium for Nan.” Peitho, v. 22, no. 1, 2019, pp. 11-13.
Shaver, Lisa. “So Much Passion, So Much Love.” Peitho, v. 23, no. 2, 2021, https://cfshrc.org/article/copy-of-tributes-to-kate-ronald/#shaver.
Theado, Connie Kendall and Brenda M. Helmbrech. “Begin Again.” Peitho, v. 23, no. 2, 2021, https://cfshrc.org/article/copy-of-tributes-to-kate-ronald/#theado.