Meridel Le Sueur

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

(1900-02-22)February 22, 1900
DiedNovember 14, 1996(1996-11-14) (aged 96)
Alma materAmerican Academy of Dramatic Arts
OccupationWriter, actress, stuntwoman, journalist
MovementProletarian literature
Spouse(s)Harry Rice
ChildrenRachel (b. 1928) and Deborah (b. 1930)
Parent(s)William Winston Wharton, Marian "Mary Del" Lucy; stepfather, Arthur LeSueur

Meridel Le Sueur (February 22, 1900, Murray, Iowa – November 14, 1996, Hudson, Wisconsin) was an American writer associated with the proletarian literature movement of the 1930s and 1940s. Born as Meridel Wharton, she assumed the name of her mother's second husband, Arthur Le Sueur, the 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.[1] Her grandfather was a supporter of the Protestant fundamentalist temperance movement, and she "grew up among the radical farmer and labor groups ... like the Populists, the Farmers' Alliance and the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the World."[2] Le Sueur was heavily influenced by poems and stories that she heard from Native American women.

"After a year studying dance and physical fitness at the American College of Physical Education in Chicago, Illinois, Meridel moved to New York City, where she lived in an anarchist commune with Emma Goldman and studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts."[3][4] Her acting career primarily took place in California, where she worked in Hollywood as an extra in The Perils of Pauline and Last of the Mohicans, as a stuntwoman in silent movies, and as a writer and journalist.[3]

Starting in her late teens, she wrote for liberal newspapers about unemployment, migrant workers, and the Native American fight for autonomy. By 1925, she had become a member of the Communist Party.[5]

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. She wrote several popular children’s books, including the biographies, Nancy Hanks of Wilderness Road, The Story of Davy Crockett, and The Story of Johnny Appleseed, and Sparrow Hawk, among others.[6]

Her best known books are North Star Country (1945), a people’s history of Minnesota, Salute to Spring, 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.[1] She also wrote on Goddess spirituality in a poetry volume titled Rites of Ancient Ripening, which was illustrated by her daughter.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, she taught writing classes in her mother's home on Dupont Avenue near Douglas Avenue in Minneapolis. She was something of a magnet for aspiring writers, drawing students from as far as New York City. She lived in the Twin Cities for some time.

During the 1960s, she traveled around the country, attending campus protests and conducting interviews.[7]

In the 1970s, she spent much time living among the Navajo people in Arizona, returning to Minnesota in the summers to visit her growing extended family and friends. Late in her life, she lived with family in Minnesota.

"Women on the Breadlines"[edit]

The short 1932 piece "Women on the Breadlines" is one of Le Sueur's most recognized proletarian 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.[8]


She is commemorated in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the Meridel Le Sueur building in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

The 1999 song "Go" on the album Come On Now Social, by the Indigo Girls has a spoken passage inspired by Le Seur's "I Was Marching".[3]

A play based on LeSueur's life, "Hard Times Come Again No More," written by her friend, Martha Boesing, was performed at the Hennepin Center for the Arts' Illusion Theater in Minneapolis in 1994.[5]

Selected works[edit]

  • 1930s The Girl, novel
  • 1940 Salute to Spring, short stories
  • 1945 North Star Country, poems
  • 1949 Nancy Hanks of Wilderness Road: A Story of Abraham Lincoln's Mother, children's book ISBN 9780930100360
  • 1951 Chanticleer of Wilderness Road: A Story of Davy Crockett, children's book
  • 1954 The River Road: A Story of Abraham Lincoln, children's book ISBN 9780930100377
  • 1954 Little Brother of the Wilderness: The Story of Johnny Appleseed, children's book
  • 1955 Crusaders: The Radical Legacy of Marian and Arthur LeSueur New York : Blue Heron Press, ISBN 9780873511742
  • 1973 Conquistadores
  • 1974 Mound Builders
  • 1975 Rites of Ancient Ripening, poems
  • 1975 My people and my home (16 mm film, available on DVD - reissued 1990). Twin Cities Women's Film Collective. 1975. OCLC 500291129.
  • 1982 O.K. Baby
  • 1984 I Hear Men Talking and Other Stories ISBN 9780931122378
  • 1984 Word is movement: journal notes; Atlanta, Tulsa, Wounded Knee. Tulsa, OK: Cardinal Press. ISBN 9780943594071.
  • 1985 "Interview. Meridel Le Sueur is interviewed by Allan Francovich (Film)". OCLC 85824580. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  • 1987 Sparrow Hawk, children's book ISBN 9780930100223
  • 1991 The dread road. Albuquerque: West End Press. ISBN 9780931122637.
  • 1990 Harvest song: collected essays and stories. [Albuquerque, N.M.]: West End Press. ISBN 9780931122606.
  • 1993 Ripening: Selected Work, edited by Elaine Hedges, The Feminist Press. ISBN 9780935312416 [9]
  • 1992 "Women and spirituality (VHS tape)". Meridel LeSueur, Carol Ann Russell, Rachel Tilsen, and Neala Schleuning speak at the 1992 Women and spirituality conference held at Mankato State University Oct. 10-11, 1992. Retrieved 2014-06-06.
  • 1997 "The dread road : a radio drama". Neon Crow Theatre Lab. OCLC 82999160. Missing or empty |url= (help)


  • "When the workers send for you, then you know you're really good. Sometimes they would send money to pay the bus fare."
  • "I tell the young writers who visit: 'Carry a notebook. That is the secret of a radical writer. Write it down as it is happening.'"[5]


  1. ^ a b "Glossary of People: Le Sueur, Meridel (1900-1996)". Encyclopedia of Marxism. Retrieved 2014-06-06.
  2. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (1996-11-24). "Meridel Le Sueur, 96, Reporter and Children's Book Writer". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-06-06.
  3. ^ a b c "Meridel LeSueur, Kansas author". Map of Kansas Literature. Retrieved 2014-06-06.
  4. ^ "Biography". The Meridel LeSueur Official Website. Retrieved 2014-06-06.
  5. ^ a b c Wheeler, Tim (1995-03-04). "Celebrating International Women's Day, March 8 -- Luminous with Age: the seasons of Meridel Le Sueur". People's Daily World. Retrieved 2014-06-06.
  6. ^ "Children's Literature - Bibliographies". Retrieved 2014-06-06.
  7. ^ Meridel Le Sueur archive finding aid, Minnesota Historical Society
  8. ^ New Masses VII, 8 (January 1932)
  9. ^ Gelfant, Blanche (1982-04-04). "Rereading a radical". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-10-24.

Further reading[edit]

  • Boehnlein, James M. (1994). The sociocognitive rhetoric of Meridel Le Sueur: feminist discourse and reportage of the thirties. Lewiston: E. Mellen Press. ISBN 0773491368.
  • Coiner, Constance (1998). Better Red: the writing and resistance of Tillie Olsen and Meridel Le Sueur (Illini Books ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252066952.

External links[edit]