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  • Honoring Lydia Maria Child's Legacy:An Inclusive Vision for an Author Society
  • Sarah Olivier

In founding an author society for Lydia Maria Child, I have been extremely lucky. I can say, and I believe this is not often the case, that my rationale for creating an author society has been to meet the current demand for it. While I have put in effort to get our organization off the ground, I have not had to convince anyone that there should be a Lydia Maria Child Society (lmcs) in the first place. This is largely due to the foundational work of Carolyn L. Karcher, whose cultural biography of Child, The First Woman in the Republic (1994), established her as an influential voice in shaping American public discourse in her time. Karcher's biography also emphasizes the relevance of Child's life and works to our times, particularly in her commitment to social justice regarding race, gender, sexuality, and class.

As a direct result of Karcher's work, increasing critical attention has been paid to Child. When I put out calls for our first panels at the American Literature Association (ala) conference (May 2015) and the Society for the Study of American Women Writers conference (November 2015), I received an astonishing number of submissions, which speaks volumes about the need for venues to promote work on Child. Over the course of a few months, we established a strong membership base and recruited an executive board, including Sandra Burr as vice president of Programs, Tracey Daniels Lerberg as vice president of Communications and Digital Resources, Lucy Sirianni as vice president of Inclusive Excellence and Social Action, and myself as president. Our initial success is due, in great part, to the pioneering efforts of the feminist scholars who have created venues for the study of recovered women writers, including the contributors to this forum. I thank them for the enthusiastic reception that the lmcs has received and for the fact that several of Child's literary works are currently in print.1

Although this auspicious beginning is heartening, it is important to recognize that the author society model has shortcomings. Author societies—even those dedicated to women writers who have received little attention—run the risk of reproducing a hierarchical system rooted in patriarchal approaches to [End Page 4] the study of literature, a system that is privileged and exclusive. The author society model can stymie efforts to examine marginalized voices collaboratively within the wider context of their literary worlds, even as it opens up much needed spaces to focus on individual writers for whom an author society can be justified. To what extent can the author society model accommodate ever-changing, ever-expanding definitions of American literary culture? Since author societies for women writers were started with the aim of making room in the academy for previously silenced voices, how can we continue this work in such a way that we avoid promoting only the study of white, middle-class women authors, or authors who have a large enough body of work, or authors who are deemed geniuses by the powers that be? In other words, how might we build an author society premised on an inclusive vision?

Lydia Maria Child is one such privileged author, and the creation of an author society devoted to her work in no way mitigates the need for greater critical attention and resources focusing on cultural production by less privileged individuals. Child's large and increasingly recognized body of work offers one opportunity (of many that need be taken) to open conversations about issues of power and inclusivity in scholarly work. It provides an opening to build on existing scholarly interest and infrastructure, modeled on Child's own inclusive practices, to carry forward her commitment to social justice and solidarity with oppressed groups. Thus far, the lcms has designed conference sessions that highlight Child's own visions for America's future regarding social equality. In addition, we have tried to feature papers that put Child's work in dialogue with that of her contemporaries in order to promote scholarship not only on Child herself but also on other writers who may not receive as much attention...


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