‘This is about joy’
The Lost & Found project at CUNY’s Center for the Humanities, essential to the revival of the lost novel, has brought thoughtful attention to resurrecting lost prose, journals, and correspondence from a range of twentieth-century writers. Since 2010, its annual series of chapbooks has spotlighted the pamphlet-length work of Diane di Prima, Amiri Baraka, Jack Spicer, Lorine Niedecker, and, indeed, Rukeyser. Lost & Found Elsewhere is a spin-off of this program, dedicated to publishing the book-length prose that archival researchers uncover. It works with select publishers to make the books widely accessible. Savage Coast is the second book released in this new series.
Rukeyser’s lost novel is fortunate to have been nurtured by the Lost & Found team and Feminist Press, a collaboration uniquely qualified to work with an experimentalist and Modernist text, and an unfinished one at that. To prepare Savage Coast for release, Kennedy-Epstein notes that she worked from the last remaining draft of the novel, which had Rukeyser’s final edits marked on it in pen and pencil. In an editorial disclaimer, Kennedy-Epstein writes, “I have tried to follow her changes to the typescript to the best of my ability, though I have corrected Spanish and Catalan spelling. Otherwise, the spacing is hers, as are the many compound words she created.” Perhaps in reaction to the unimpressed editors of her time, Kennedy-Epstein informs us that Rukeyser “had a stamp made that embossed PLEASE BELIEVE THE PUNCTUATION atop her manuscripts.”
Diligently, Kennedy-Epstein tried to bear that in mind while bringing the manuscript together. What emerges is a lyrical, odd, messy, and brave novel where Rukeyser’s voice is heard in a way it never has been before. The book’s sheer and belated existence, as well as the sometimes convoluted efforts to honor Rukeyser’s literary intentions, attests to a fundamental belief that this woman’s voice matters.
Alice Walker wrote in her 1979 essay, which revisted her recovery of Zora Neale Hurston as “a cautionary tale”:
We are a people. A people do not throw their geniuses away. And if they are thrown away, it is our duty as artists and as witnesses for the future to collect them again for the sake of our children, and, if necessary, bone by bone.
Lost & Found Elsewhere isn’t focused on the recovery of women writers in particular, but it is apparent that it is able to do powerful work in uncovering a more complete and complex literary heritage, one where women’s writing is an essential piece. It is a structure for others to model, those who are prepared to dig into the dirt of the past, to be literary archeologists intent on finding what has been lost.