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A recent post by  [personal profile] kylecassidy   made me deeply wistful. There is a production of Margaret Edson's play W;t  going on right now in Philadelphia, starting Susan Giddings, which is by all accounts awesome. I never actually got to see this play staged. I saw the film with Ellen Thompson of course, and read the script-- but I never seem to be in the same city where it is actually being staged.

Maggie Edson was a classmate of mine at Smith. Well, actually, I was one of many worshipful freshmen who were deeply in awe of her talent. During my freshman year she completed a massive project as a Smith Scholar translating and staging The story of Santa Guglielma by Antonia Pulci, the fifteenth century Italian author of three well known religious plays of the period (a genre known as "sacre rappresentazione"  plays which were staged by confraternities, laymen's organizations affiliated with churches or religious houses).

Edson's project was a labor of love, like nothing I had ever seen but was actively dreaming about when I set off for college in 1982. The production itself was staged much as it may have been in the fifteenth century, a great pageant involving many, many people. I remember workshops on costuming, on the making of period rosary beads, and my writing tutor Marcia Williams printed an exquisite letterpress edition of the translation 1 (her press was the Charissima Press, and I recently found a copy for sale online).

Ruth Mortimer, curator of the Rare Book Room at the William Allan Neilson Library (which was later named for her after she died way too young) and a specialist in sixteenth-century French and Italian books, was her adviser and mentor, and Maggie dedicated the work to her 2

Word has it (I read this in an interview with Maggie, though I don't remember where) that years later, after Maggie wrote W;t, she contacted Ruth-- only to find out that she was recently diagnosed with a very inoperable form of cancer and was dying. Such a strange irony given what the play is about.  So although the main character was not in fact based upon Ruth (Maggie actually drew from her experiences working in a hospital while she was in Graduate school 3), for people who knew Ruth it is deeply infused with her brilliance and spirit.

[personal profile] kylecassidy    and [profile] trillian_stars    graciously invited me to come down and see the play-- unfortunately it is only playing until 6/28, and due to other commitments and especially Kali's upcoming biopsy (I will need to be with her on paw-holding duty that weekend) I don't think I will be able to make it. 

Damn.  I hope though that I will be able to meet you guys (and Roswell!) in some other context some other time.  You really made my heart shine yesterday, and I just wanted to thank you for that!  :-)

1 This was a watershed moment for me: it was when I pretty much fell in love with the books arts, and when it occurred to me that I could in fact start my own literary magazine and simply print it myself and make it all really beautiful. Two years later the first letterpress edition of the Green Age Review rolled off of the pressed, the type set by myself and my then boyfriend Arthur Larson using borrowed type and donated paper.

2 While curator, ruth was also instrumental in obtaining the Sylvia Plath Collection and the Frances Hooper Collection of Virginia Woolf. She also taught a course in the art department on the history of books and printing, which utilized the Rare Book Room's holdings. The rare book collection was named in her honor in 1994. She was also a scholar on the works of Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein collection now has a place in the Rare Book room.

3From the Wit Guide, linked in the first paragraph of this post: "Edson, for a while, thought that she would earn a doctorate and pursue a career as an academic, much like Vivian Bearing. In 1991, Edson began a Masters program in literature at Georgetown University. While completing her degree, she volunteered at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church to tutor a boy from the Dominican Republic. By the time she came to write her thesis, she knew academe was not for her. Her thesis project, on the use of poetry to teach reading, concluded with an oral defense in which Edson performed a Queen Latifa rap number before her faculty review panel. Song and poetry are now integral to her teaching in the kindergarten classroom.

Date: 2008-06-18 02:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What an amazing, amazing thing!

I wish you could make it down too, but there will be other opportunities and there's always a sofa with your name on it here in Philadelphia.

I wish I could have seen Edson's Smith project -- it sounds awe-inspiring; and the rare bookroom was one of my favorite places at Smith while I was there. How many memories!

Date: 2008-06-20 02:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you so much!

It really was an astonishing production-- it showed only once, alas, and that was it.

I may just have to buy that book-- so far as I know, only 35 copies were made.

Date: 2008-06-18 03:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
we may get a chance to photograph some of the play. we shall see.

Date: 2008-06-20 02:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I hope that happens! I would enjoy seeing those photos! :-)


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