Thursday, April 09, 2009

Two great women of letters

Within days, Texas has lost two of its great women of letters, and I grieve over both of them, though in both cases I think death came as a blessed relief.

Betsy Colquitt was a poet and a scholar who taught at TCU from 1953 until retirement in 1995. She was a quiet, elegant, very ladylike but always gracious woman and though I knew her on several levels I always felt a bit of awe. Betsy inspired students in a class on the interrelation of the arts and for many years edited the TCU literary joutnal, descant. She had graduatef from TCU and done graduate study at Vanderbilt where she and such figures as James Dickey studied under John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate. Their influence has been cited by people caling her poetry modernist--I'm not much on such labels or understanding them, but I know Betsy's poetry was myth-breaking and highly individualistic. Betsy's first collection of poetry was Honor Card and Other Poems, published in 1980. TCU Press was privileged to publish "eve--from the autobiography--and other poem," in 1997, in which Betsy told the story of creation from a feminist point of view, with spare clean lines begining the the Garden of Eden and ending in Santa Helena Canyon in the Big Bend. It is a poetic triumph that will not easily be matched. And she was a lady we will not see the likes of again soon.

I knew Lou Rodenberger much better. She, with bright eyes and unfaltering enthusiasm, was at most if not all of the meetings I attended--Texas State Historical, Western Writers of America, and a host of others. If there was a literary event, Lou and her husband, Charles, were there, and I was always delighted to see them and get a hug.
Lou was an activist for women's literature in Texas. Once a housewife and mother, while Charles taught engineering at Texas A&M, she went to graduate school as soon as A&M admitted women. When Charles retired in the early '80s, they moved to her family homestead, Halsell Hill, in Baird, Texas, and she began to teach, first in high school and then at McMurry College where she taught for many years. Lou's first work, Her Stories, published by Shearer Publishing, gave the direction her studies would take--finding the best of writing by Texas women, who in Lou's eyes had been too long overlooked. She and Sylvia Grider co-edited Texas Women Writers: A Tradition of Their Own, and Let's Hear It: Texas Women's Stories. Her most recent work was Jane Gilmore Rushing: A West Texas Writer and Her Work. Lou was in the midst of writing her memoir, and I hope she left enough that editors can finish it. Lou told Charles she wanted to go to sleep and wake with the angels--I bet she has.
So there you have it--two women who have been inspiration to me and whose work and presence I'll miss for a long time. Texas is a bit less for their passing, and I hope others will come along of equal stature to fill the void they've left.

No comments: