I appreciate Carla Kaplan's praise for my biography of Nancy Cunard as a vivid, balanced, and sympathetic reconstruction of the Cunard legend. I take issue, however, with her questioning Nancy's lifelong crusade for civil rights as crossing the line from identity to appropriation. At this point in time we regard as morally noble the devotion of one's life or energies to the disenfranchised. When Lyndon Johnson proclaimed "We shall overcome," demanding civil rights legislation, his words were embraced by Martin Luther King, the source of their inspiration.
Regarding my "amateur psychology," I believe that my remarks--my very few speculative passages--are not amateurish as much as obvious. We live in an age where childhood neglect and abuse are readily acknowledged as sources of later adult identification either with the aggressor or, as in Nancy's case, with the oppressed. As to Nancy's "baffling contradictions," I believe, rather, that she was remarkably and perhaps uniquely multifaceted, combining a breathtaking love life, intense lifelong relationships, success as a poet, publisher, and journalist, and at least two activities of historic dimension: first, Negro, the earliest comprehensive study of African history and cultural achievement around the world; second, her decision to remain in Franco's Spain in 1939 to report the depredations the Spanish Republicans suffered in the concentration camps built by the French in complicity with Franco, camps later used by Vichy collaborators in World War II.
Finally, I would like to set against Kaplan's concluding quotes about the "ghastly," "manlike" Cunard my own findings from Nancy's enormous correspondence over a lifetime. These indicate that in additiion to admiring Nancy's energy, wit,and political idealism, both friends and colleagues were always moved by her sweet nature. Decades after their meeting and during her most difficult years, her defenders included Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda, Samuel Beckett and Louis Aragon, among others. Remarkable? Yes. "Ghastly"? No.
New York, NY
Aug 23 2007 - 9:55am