A major exhibition about the literary career of Laura (Riding) Jackson will open Oct. 8 in the Exhibition Gallery of the Carl A. Kroch Library on the Cornell University campus. Titled Laura (Riding) Jackson and the Promise of Language, the exhibit features books, letters, photographs, manuscripts and other materials from the Laura (Riding) Jackson and Schuyler B. Jackson collection of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in the Cornell University Library.
Contemporary scholars, readers and critics from around the world are discovering and rediscovering (Riding) Jackson. Many of them will gather in Ithaca Oct. 8-9, to participate in a symposium, also titled "Laura (Riding) Jackson and the Promise of Language." Featured speakers include the poet and critic Charles Bernstein from SUNY Buffalo and Jerome McGann of the University of Virginia. Also present will be Elizabeth Friedmann, (Riding) Jackson's official biographer, who will speak on the relationship between her life and work, and members of the Laura (Riding) Jackson Board of Literary Management. Invited panelists will explore subjects ranging from (Riding) Jackson's poetry, prose and fiction to her critical reception during and following her life.
When (Riding) Jackson died in 1991, she left behind a legacy of literary works, writings on language, some notoriety and not a little controversy. As an alumna with fond memories of Cornell, she gave her papers to the Cornell Library, including not only manuscripts and correspondence but also her own retrospective commentary on some of her work. She first donated literary papers to Cornell in 1965, continuing to add to the collection throughout the last years of her life and bequeathing the remainder. Cornell Library's curator of manuscripts, Lorna Knight, is pleased that the collection, now fully organized and described, will receive the attention it merits.
Laura (Riding) Jackson's multifaceted and demanding literary career spanned seven decades, beginning in the 1920s with her association with the circle of Southern writers known as the Fugitives. A poet who later renounced poetry, a literary critic, an editor, a printer/publisher and an ardent thinker on language and its relation to truth, (Riding) Jackson wrote extensively in a variety of genres and exchanged ideas with Hart Crane, Allen Tate,
Robert Graves, Gertrude Stein and other leading luminaries of the period. While best known for her poetry, she also edited the literary journal Epilogue, ran a private press with Robert Graves and worked with other writers, including Norman Cameron, Jacob Bronowski and James Reeves.
Her own publications began with individual poems in literary periodicals in the early 1920s. In 1924 the Fugitives awarded her the Nashville Prize for poetry, praising her as a fresh and original new voice. Her first book, The Close Chaplet was published in 1926. She and Robert Graves collaborated on the influential Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927), which helped to lay the foundation for the New Criticism, the school of thought that was to dominate Anglo-American literary criticism for the next 30 years. In 1938, after several volumes of poetry, fiction and essays, (Riding) Jackson published her Collected Poems, which marked the apogee of her career as a poet and prompted John Berryman to hail her as "the peer of any woman now writing poetry in English." Yet it was at this point that she renounced poetry and turned to a study of language and its moral dimension, which would occupy her for the rest of her long life. This project culminated in the most compelling works of her later career, The Telling (1972) and Rational Meaning: A New Foundation for the Definition of Words (published posthumously in 1997).
Her life was one of transformation, each stage of it marked by a change of name. The exhibition provides a chronological overview, moving from her childhood as Laura Reichenthal in Brooklyn and her student days at Cornell University; through her bohemian life as poet Laura Riding and her 13-year association with Robert Graves; and finally through her marriage to literary critic Schuyler B. Jackson and her years in Wabasso, Fla., where she spent the last 40 years of her life as Laura (Riding) Jackson.
(Riding) Jackson's significant contributions as a pioneering force behind literary Modernism and as a dedicated scholar of language and its meaning have not been fully understood. As exhibition curator Margaret Nichols explains: "Her work has been neglected, partly because she refused, for a time, to allow her poems to be anthologized, partly because those she influenced sometimes reacted against the force of her formidable personality and partly because of the vagaries of fame."
The exhibition and symposium are sponsored by Cornell Library's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, with the assistance of the Sonia Raizzis Giop Charitable Foundation and the Laura (Riding) Jackson Board of Literary Management. For more information about the Laura (Riding) Jackson and the Promise of Language exhibition and symposium or to pre-register for the symposium (no charge), contact: Lorna Knight, curator of manuscripts, 2B Kroch Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. 14853-5302; phone: (607) 255-3530; fax: (607) 255-9524; and e-mail: email@example.com.