Meridel Le Sueur

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Meridel Le Sueur (middle) with writers Audre Lorde (left) and Adrienne Rich (right) at a writing workshop in Austin, Texas, 1980

Meridel Le Sueur (February 22, 1900, Murray, Iowa – November 14, 1996, Hudson, Wisconsin) was an American writer associated with the proletarian movement of the 1930s and 1940s. Born as Meridel Wharton, she assumed the name of her mother's second husband, Arthur Le Sueur, former Socialist mayor of Minot, North Dakota.

Life and career[edit]

Le Sueur, the daughter of William Winston Wharton and Marian "Mary Del" Lucy, was born into a family of social and political activists. Her grandfather was a supporter of the Protestant fundamentalist temperance movement. Le Sueur was heavily influenced by poems and stories that she heard from Native American women. She dropped out of high school and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Art. She worked in Hollywood as an actress, stuntwoman, writer and journalist. She wrote for liberal newspapers about unemployment, migrant workers, and the Native American fight for autonomy.

Like other writers of the period such as John Steinbeck, Nelson Algren, and Jack Conroy, Le Sueur wrote about the struggles of the working class during the Great Depression. She published articles in the New Masses and The American Mercury.

Her best known books are North Star Country (1945), a people’s history of Minnesota, and the novel The Girl, which was written in the 1930s but not published until 1978. In the 1950s, Le Sueur was blacklisted as a communist, but her reputation was revived in the 1970s, when she was hailed as a proto-feminist for her writings in support of women’s rights. She also wrote on Goddess spirituality in a poetry volume titled Rites of Ancient Ripening, which was illustrated by her daughter. An occasional actor in films, in her later years Le Sueur lived in St. Paul, MN, and wrote popular children’s biographies, including Nancy Hanks of Wilderness Road, The Story of Davy Crockett, and The Story of Johnny Appleseed. She is commemorated in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the Meridel Le Sueur building in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

"Women on the Breadlines"[edit]

The short 1932 piece "Women on the Breadlines" is one of Le Sueur's most recognized proleterian works. Here, LeSueur wrote of the struggles that women faced during the Depression Era and how they were confined to limiting roles. While most of the characters presented in this work are struggling women searching for work, some are depicted as having nowhere to go but to "work in the streets." Through this and other works, Le Sueur opened the door for future female artists that wanted to write confrontational poetry, mediating the personal and the political.[citation needed]

External links[edit]