Adele Wiseman

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16.3: Adele Wiseman
Edited by 
Ruth Panofsky

Late in 1991, when I first contacted the Growing Room Collective and offered to guest edit a special issue of Room of One’s Own on Adele Wiseman, the author was alive although she had already been diag­ nosed with cancer. When I proposed this issue, I hoped to produce a volume that would celebrate the many and diverse achievements of a Canadian writer who had been unjustly neglected in her own country. It would have been tremendously satisfying to present Adele with a work that honoured her person and her fine oeuvre.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. Adele died on 1 June 1992, all too soon following her diagnosis with the same disease that had ravaged several of her close friends, an ironic fact which she herself brought to my attention in 1990. Now this volume, initially intended to celebrate a living author, appears as a festschrift whose timely publication comes just after the first anniversary of Adele’s death.

In fact, several of the pieces in this issue were written immedi­ately following her death.The commemorative poems by janis Rapoport are poignant evocations of a woman and a writer whose passing is keenly felt. In their prose memoirs, Sylvia Fraser and Miriam Waddington write movingly of their friendships with Adele and the various pleas­ ures - literary and otherwise - they shared over the years. Margaret Laurence’s poem, written to mark her friend’s fiftieth birthday, and Rachel Wyatt’s wonderful short story inspired by something that happened to Adele in Italy, were written while she was alive and are loving tributes to the author. Three of the four critical examinations of Adele’s work included here chart new ground and a fourth provides a new reading of Crackpot, a novel that until recently has received little scholarly attention. In his paper, Michael Greenstein reassesses Crackpot as a work that is both feminist and post-colonial. Laura McLauchlan consid­ers Old Woman at Play as a work of life writing, opening up the richness of that watershed book. Donna Bennett’s paper, which explores the significance of Memoirs of a Book Molesting Childhood, is the first substantive and important study of that collection of essays. My own contribution makes public for the first time the correspond­ ence of Margaret Laurence and Adele Wiseman —read from a feminist perspective. Also included is a previously unpublished interview with Adele Wiseman conducted in 1985 by Mervin Butovsky, in which she passionately configures herself, once again, as a Jewish Canadian writer. To be able to include Adele’s own voice in this volume is fortuitous indeed.

In addition to written tributes and considerations of Adele’s work, this issue also includes photographs and other visual represen­tations that relate to the author.The work of Adele’s daughter,Tamara Stone, graces the covers of this issue. Her exuberant portrait, “Happy Women,” is a powerful rendering of Adele’s endless capacity for happiness and the joy she so easily gave to others. Tamara has informed me that Adele fully sanctioned the reproduction of her daughter’s painting on the covers of this issue, further testimony to the generous spirit which so characterized her. Similarly, Mary Warshaw’s drawing of Adele’s strong, expressive hands, reproduced in this volume, records an aspect of her person and personality that language could never capture. And Shizuye Takashima’s lyrical water colour evokes the inspirational quality of Old Woman at Play.

I did not know Adele Wiseman for long. As is the case with many readers and scholars, I came to “know” Adele through her writing long before I actually met her in 1990 when I was preparing an annotated bibliography of her work, published by ECW Press in 1992. When I finally did meet her, I was taken with the author as I had been moved by her writing. Adele was generous, full of good will and genuine enthusiasm for my project. She made available to me her then uncatalogued archive and I enjoyed her hospitality several times when I found myself working feverishly in her apartment, trying to note all the valuable items I saw in her papers.

This special issue shows that Adele Wiseman’s work continues to move and impress readers and scholars - as it has done since 1956 when her first novel, The Sacrifice, was published to critical acclaim. 

Moreover, this issue speaks eloquently of the woman behind the writing who has left her mark on those who are represented here- and on the countless others whose voices and experiences could not be accommodated in the limited space of a single volume. 

 

In this issue

Donna Bennett, Mervin Butovsky, Sylvia Fraser, Michael Greenstein, Margaret Laurence, Laura McLaughlan, Ruth Panofsky, Janis Rapoport, Tamara Stone, Shizuye Takashima, Miriam Waddington, Mary Warshaw, and Rachel Wyatt

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