Feminists Reclaim Mentorship: An Anthology
SUNY Press, 2023 / Edited by Nancy K. Miller and Tahneer Oksman
Feminists revisit their mixed experiences of mentoring and being mentored to reclaim mentorship as a project for new generations.
Mentorship continues to loom large in stories about women’s work and personal lives— sometimes for the better, but often for the worse. If mentors can nurture and support, they can also bitterly disappoint, reproducing the hardships they once suffered and reinforcing the same old hierarchies and inequities. The stories gathered in Feminists Reclaim Mentorship challenge our fundamental assumptions about mentorship, illuminating the obstacles that make it difficult to connect meaningfully and ethically while reimagining the possibilities for reciprocity. Drawing on their experiences in academia, creative writing, publishing, and journalism, the volume’s editors, Nancy K. Miller and Tahneer Oksman, and their twenty-six contributors collectively strive for relationships that acknowledge differences alongside the importance of common bonds.
“The editors of Reclaiming Feminist Mentorship span a remarkable reach, crossing, intermixing—intergenerational, interracial, interdisciplinary, LGBTQ, inter-media-platform. Towering above this expanse of views, voices, positions, sweet and bitter sentiments, light and darkling, are the individual stories, like Scheherazade’s, irresistible, each a teaching moment, their collective brilliance resetting for the twenty-first century the classic male hierarchy of binary patronage. You turn the pages, mesmerized by insights, gripes, confessions, undercover tales, the entirety composed by the marvelous writers who have trodden their own version of the mentoring cycle.”
— Shirley Geok-lin Lim, author of Among the White Moon Faces
“The generation of feminist scholars who created the field of Women’s Studies were marked by the experience of having intellectually come of age ‘when men were the only models we had,’ as Carolyn Heilbrun put it in her book of that name. Many of these scholars later dedicated themselves to providing feminist mentorship for their own students, creating a mode of apprenticeship that has now served as a thread connecting several generations of women in and beyond the academy. In this richly engaging collection of essays, scholars and writers share their experiences of mentoring and being mentored—intellectually foundational, sometimes fractious, often deeply felt.”
—Ari M. Brostoff, culture editor at Jewish Currents and author of Missing Time: Essays
“We need pioneers. Feminists Reclaim Mentorship is a revelatory, pioneering text. A rich diversity of voices tells us how women with power and authority can support other women in the future. These voices also warn us about the failures to have done so. I am grateful to Nancy K. Miller and Tahneer Oksman for being our mentors in marking out paths toward a better future.”
— Catharine R. Stimpson, Professor and Dean Emerita, New York University
Table of Contents
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My Brilliant Friends: Our Lives in Feminism
Columbia University Press, 2019
In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf famously called for new fiction by women in which two female friends—she called them Chloe and Olivia—would care for each other and work together. What might be the shape of a story, she wondered, whose premise was simply “Chloe liked Olivia”? In her new memoir, My Brilliant Friends, Nancy K. Miller takes up the challenge to tell that kind of story in a narrative that explores her relationships with writers Carolyn Heilbrun, Naomi Schor, and Diane Middlebrook, who all died too soon. These friendships, linking the worlds of work and love, and forged in the spirit of seventies feminism, changed her life for the better. The book’s title, Miller explains, pays homage to Elena Ferrante’s surprising Neapolitan novels, which portray the complexities and intensities of bonds between women.
A stunning elegy to the intimacy of friendships among women, and a book in which closeness is felt through the act of thinking.
— Maggie Taft, Booklist
A new book by Nancy K. Miller is always a treat. This compulsively readable triptych of her friendships with Carolyn Heilbrun, Naomi Schor, and Diane Middlebrook will touch, delight, and enlighten anyone who has grown up under the influence of feminism.
— Susan Gubar, Late-Life Love: A Memoir
In this astute, passionate, rigorously honest book about her friendships with three extraordinary women, Miller delineates the mysterious geography of those attachments we are not born into, but choose freely. The longing, pain, confusion, envy, and joy that inhabit the often unarticulated distance between “me” and “you” are so alive on these pages, they are still resonating inside me. I loved reading this book.
—Siri Hustvedt, A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women
“Bookforum talks with Nancy K. Miller,” Interview with Liz Kinnamon, Bookforum, April 11, 2019.
“Q&A: Nancy K. Miller on My Brilliant Friends,” Columbia University Press Blog, March 2019.
“My Feminist Friends,” News, The Graduate Center / CUNY, January 2019.
Nancy K. Miller and the “pals of her desk”, Nancy K. Miller in conversation with Jason Tougaw. Episode 25 from Indoor Voices Podcast.
“Brilliant Together: On Feminist Memoirs” by Megan Stephan in Public Books, Nov. 24, 2021.
“My Brilliant Friends: Our Lives in Feminism” by Victoria Sanger in a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, 2021.
“Review of Nancy K. Miller’s My Brilliant Friends” by Claudia Moscovici in Literaturesalon’s Blog, June 19, 2020.
“Sometimes Women Do Like Women”: On Nancy K. Miller’s “My Brilliant Friends” by Jenny McPhee in Los Angeles Review of Books, September 11, 2019
“A Little Life” by Valerie Miner in Women’s Review of Books, May/June 2019
“Le mie amiche geniali” by Mattia Mossali in Doppiozero, February 19, 2019 (in Italian)
“Intimate Condolences: An Elegy to Female Compansionship” by Becca Rothfeld in TLS, The Times Literary Supplement, March 19, 2019
“My Brilliant Friends: Our Lives in Feminism” (review) by Victor Xavier Zarour Zarzar in Contemporary Women’s Writing, Oxford Academic, March 27, 2019
Breathless: An American Girl in Paris
In the early 1960s, most middle-class American women in their twenties were preparing for marriage, children, and life in the suburbs. Breathless is the story of a girl who represents those who rebelled against conventional expectations…
Description, reviews, and additional resources
may be found on the Breathless book page
What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past
University of Nebraska Press, 2011
After her father’s death, Nancy K. Miller discovered a minuscule family archive and followed the clues it offered across the country, and across an ocean. Searching for roots as a middle-aged orphan and an assimilated Jewish New Yorker, Miller learns that the hidden lives of her ancestors reveal as much about the present as they do about the past.
Winner of the 2012 Jewish Journal Book Prize.
… a rich and accomplished family chronicle, full of fascinating incidents and turbulent emotions. Above all, it is a searing work of self-exploration, artful and eloquent in the telling but heartbreaking in its candor.
—Jonathan Kirsch, JewishJournal.com
“At its most brilliant, Miller’s book is a writer’s memoir – a book brimming with passion and intelligence – a book that makes the weary and often opaque process of writing about one’s family story appear more translucent.”
—Judy Bolton-Fasman, The Jerusalem Post
“[Miller] writes thoughtfully about her efforts to piece together a family’s story of dislocation, success, and broken links, and of how, in the process, Miller reconnected with Jewish history and traditions.”
But Enough About Me: Why We Read Other People’s Lives
Columbia University Press, 2002
In But Enough About Me, Nancy K. Miller tells the story of how a girl who grew up in the 1950s, and got lost in the 1960s, became a feminist critic in the 1970s. Miller interweaves pieces of her autobiography with memoirs of contemporaries in order to explore the unexpected ways that the stories of other people’s lives give meaning to our own.
But Enough About Me is doubly graced: being both a brilliant comic memoir about coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s and a passionate defense of the autobiographer’s art.
—Terry Castle, author of Boss Ladies, Watch Out: Essays on Women, Sex, and Writing
Miller offers reflections on aging (in and out of the academy), friendship and family—and how reading about them allows us to better construct our own life stories.
Bequest and Betrayal: Memoirs of a Parent’s Death
Indiana University Press, 2000
Bequest and Betrayal is an innovative memoir that blends literary criticism and autobiographical passages as it illuminates an experience that is both universal and intensely private: the death of a parent. Combining Miller’s broad knowledge of literature, her wry sensibility, and engaging prose style, Bequest and Betrayal is a book of outstanding grace and complexity, highly readable and often very moving.
Aspiring memoirists, literature students, and those simply interested in the story of a childless adult dealing with the death of her parents will find something worth thinking about in these pages.
…informed, generous, subtle and always stimulating
—Alix Kates Shulman, The Women’s Review of Books
[Bequest and Betrayal] counterpoints lyrical introspection about her own grief with critical insight into contemporary memoirs. In the process she produces astonishingly poignant revelations about what it means to live with a dying parent, how it feels to survive after a great loss.
—Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, co-authors of The Madwoman in the Attic, No Man’s Land, and the Norton Anthology of Literature by Women
Getting Personal: Feminist Occasions and Other Autobiographical Acts
In Getting Personal, Nancy K. Miller reflects upon the ways in which incidents of identity and location shape the writing of academic argument and the living of an academic life. The focus on occasions, from the conference, to the seminar, to the professional colloquium, produces a unique autobiographical perspective on the mini-dramas of institutional politics.
…an engaging reply to the anti-feminist backlash in the academy and the ongoing war over the place of critical theory
Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis
With Geoffrey Batchen, Mick Gidley, and Jay Prosser
Reaktion Press, 2012
Covering the historical and geographical range of atrocity – from the massacre of Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the famine in China to apartheid in South Africa, from genocides in both Europe and Asia – the contributors to Picturing Atrocity respond to current concerns about disturbing images as they play across the fields such as human rights, conventional print journalism, art exhibitions, and the internet.
This important new collection of essays by some of the most brilliant analysts of photography shows how deliberately horrifying pictures have shaped – and continue to shape – the ethics and politics of the modern era.
—Brian Wallis, Chief Curator, International Center of Photography, New York
Rites of Return: Diaspora Poetics and the Politics of Memory
With Marianne Hirsch
Columbia University Press, 2011
Twenty-four writers, historians, critics, anthropologists, sociologists, artists, legal scholars, and curators grapple with our contemporary ethical endeavor to redress enduring inequities and retrieve lost histories. Rites of Return examines new technologies of genetic and genealogical research, memoirs about lost family histories, the popularity of roots-seeking journeys, organized trauma tourism at sites of atrocity and new Museums of Conscience, and profound connections between social rites and political and legal rights of return.
With its fascinating new perspectives, this book demonstrates the importance of memory studies for a better understanding of the future.
—Françoise Lionnet, University of California, Los Angeles
Extremities: Trauma, Testimony, and Community
With Jason Tougaw
University of Illinois Press, 2002
A collection of essays that grapples with the effects of historical crises; events that have shaped twentieth-century history and still haunt contemporary culture, including the Montreal Massacre, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the medical catastrophes of HIV/AIDS and breast cancer.
If the Holocaust ‘supplies the paradigm’ of traumatic experience and incommensurable suffering in contemporary discourse, Extremities seeks to examine what has emerged from it, what the editors describe as the ‘set of terms and debates about the nature of trauma, testimony, witness, and community—that has affected other domains of meditation on the forms the representation of extreme human suffering seems to engender and require.’—Jennifer Travis, St. John’s University Humanities Review
Extremities offers fresh perspectives on a subject of urgent public concern: the experience of trauma in our lives and the problems it poses for those who write and read it.
—Paul John Eakin, author of How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves
Contre-Courants: Les femmes s’écrivent à travers les siècles
With Mary Ann Caws, Elizabeth Houlding, and Cheryl Morgan
Prentice Hall, 1994
This anthology of 71 works by 46 women writers from the Middle Ages to the end of the twentieth century illustrates the breadth of French and Francophone women’s writing in a variety of genres.
Lettres d’une Péruvienne
By Françoise de Graffigny with Joan DeJean
One of the most popular works of the eighteenth century, Lettres d’une Péruvienne appeared in more than 130 editions, reprints, and translations during the hundred years following its publication in 1747. In French and in a new English translation.
Displacements: Women, Tradition, Literatures in French
With Joan DeJean
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990
In Displacements: Women, Tradition, Literatures in French, noted scholars explore the politics of canon formation and show how ideologies of gender, art, and national identity collaborate to displace or eliminate women’s writing from the central literary tradition.
The Heroine’s Text: Readings in the French and English Novel, 1722–1782
Columbia University Press, 1980
The Heroine’s Text focuses on the intersections of femininity and narrative structure in eight well-known French and English novels of the eighteenth century.