Better Red is an interdisciplinary study addressing the complicated intersection of American feminism and the political left as refracted in Tillie Olsen's and Meridel Le Sueur's lives and literary texts. The first book-length study to explore these feminist writers' ties to the American Communist Party, it contributes to a reenvisioning of 1930s U.S. Communism as well as to efforts to promote working-class writing as a legitimate category of literary analysis. At once loyal members of the male-dominated Communist party and emerging feminists, Olsen and Le Sueur exhibit in their writing tendencies both toward and away from Party tenets and attitudesat points subverting formalist as well as orthodox Marxist literary categories. By producing working-class discourse, Olsen and Le Sueur challenge the bourgeois assumptionsoften masked as classless and universalof much canonical literature; and by creating working-class women's writing, they problematize the patriarchal nature of the Left and the masculinist assumptions of much proletarian literature, anticipating the concerns of "second wave" feminists a generation later.
Blending criticism, biography and oral history, this dense feminist study draws striking parallels between two working-class women writers-Tillie Olsen (born 1912?), whose fiction (Tell Me A Riddle; Yonnondio) has won acclaim, and Meridel Le Sueur (born 1900), novelist (The Girl), reporter and short-story writer who became a cultural icon among feminists in the 1970s. Both were loyal members of the U.S. Communist Party, and both, as emerging feminists, rebelled against the party's entrenched sexism. Coiner, who interviewed Olsen and Le Sueur extensively, observes that both writers made emotional deformities, family relations and the developing consciousness of children central to their writing. By confronting experiences that shape women's lives-pregnancy, childbirth, miscarriage, battery, rape, sexism, isolation-both writers fulfilled the maxim ``the personal is the political,'' while challenging the acquisitive individualism and patriarchy that they saw as warping features of capitalist society. Conceived as a dissertation, this book will be of most interest to informed readers. (Mar.)