Finding Atlantis: Poet and feminist critic Gilbert visits campus

Undiscovered, deep within the ocean, the lost continent of women’s literature, “Atlantis,” awaits new explorers to map its typography.

Thus began the 39th annual S.A. Yoder Memorial Lecture featuring Sandra Gilbert who spoke about the lost writings and analysis of women authors, the female literary canon she compared to the mythological continent, Atlantis. Gilbert, professor emeritus of Columbia University, is well known for her multiple books of poetry, and also her extensive work developing the female literary canon of English literature.

It was this collection of lost female authors that Gilbert focused her lecture on this past Tuesday evening. In her work as a co-editor of the Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, Gilbert discussed many commonalities she discovered among female writers, one which she called the “anxiety of authorship.”

According to Gilbert, most female authors, including Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolfe, Jane Austin and others, expressed uncertainty about their statuses as female writers in a majority male-dominated field.

The canon of female literature is still largely under-researched, Gilbert said, a fact which easily goes unnoticed by many today.

“People, (likely men especially), in our generation forget that only 35 years ago, women’s literature was not studied or valued in the way it is now,” said Jacob Schlabach, a junior English and communication major. It is this valuing of feminist literature that Gilbert hopes to impress upon future readers.

Beth Martin Birky, professor and chair of both the English and women’s studies departments, said Gilbert was very influential to her own relationship to both feminism and literature.

“It is an honor,” said Birky, “to have met a famous second-wave feminist who helped shape the literary landscape we know today.”

Emily Graber, a junior English and peace, justice and conflict studies double major, also added that it was exciting to hear such a famous figure at an intimate campus setting.

“I didn’t take advantage of the S.A. Yoder lectures until last year,” said Graber, “and I hope that more people take advantage of the opportunity to hear really remarkable people share their contributions to society.”

Several of Sandra Gilbert’s books of poetry are currently on sale at the campus bookstore.

Written by Emily Taylor

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