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Surrealist Women: An International Anthology

Media Release

Edited, with introductions by Penelope Rosemont
University of Texas Press
576 pages, 6 x 9, 44 illus.
ISBN 0-292-77087-1 $24.95 paper;
ISBN 0-292-77088-X $50.00 cloth;
Publication date: 1st November 1998

Surrealist Women is a unique, exciting and important collection: There is no other book like it anywhere! A landmark in the study of 20th century literature, art and ideas, it is also full of imaginative writing at its best, and fun to read.

The first anthology in any language of writings by women active in the surrealist movement, Surrealist Women shows how women's contributions did much to shape surrealist ideas and activity from the very beginning. Packed with information unavailable elsewhere, Penelope Rosemont's superb introductions to each of the book's six sections (and her headnotes to the individual selections) tell the hidden story of surrealist women's impact on surrealism, on the broader culture, on contemporary thought and behavior

Arranged chronologically, the book's almost 300 selections start with an ecstatic dream-tale by Renée Gauthier, from the first issue of the first surrealist journal, La Révolution surréaliste, in 1924 (just after the publication of the first Surrealist Manifesto). This is followed by fourteen other selections by seven other women who took part in the formation of surrealism in the 1920s. Later sections focus on the 1930s, the World War II years, the Cold War (1946-1959), the worldwide surrealist explosion during the Sixties, and a survey of surrealism around the world today.

Easily refuting the popular delusion that surrealism was an "all-male" movement, Surrealist Women also explodes the myth that it was "mostly French." The anthology features writings by 97 women from nearly 30 countries. Most of the foreign-language texts appear here in English translation for the first time—from the Spanish, Czech, German, Portuguese, Swedish, Dutch and Arabic, as well as French. Also included are texts written in English by some 20 women surrealists from Britain, Australia and the U.S.

From the early 1930s on, many major figures of international surrealism have come from Third World countries, including Suzanne Césaire from Martinique, and Egyptian poet Joyce Mansour, but they are rarely mentioned in U.S. studies of the movement. Nineteen women from Africa, the African diaspora, the Middle East, and South America are represented in Surrealist Women, most of them for the first time in English.

This anthology is also the first in English to recognize the exceptional importance of the women surrealists of Eastern Europe. Eleven are featured here, with an especially impressive contingent from the Czech Republic.

Surrealist Women is, in fact, the single largest anthology of surrealism ever to appear in English. It includes 15 short stories, 145 poems, and 93 essays, articles and interviews—on art, politics, poetry, play, social criticism, ethnography, mental illness, sexuality, nature, and surrealism itself. Of particular interest are the surrealist women's critiques of sexism, out-of-control technology, and white supremacy. In some texts, surrealist poets, dancers, photographers, painters, collagists, sculptors and film-makers discuss their own and others' work. Also included are several examples of surrealist games, from "Exquisite Corpse" to "Time-Travelers' Potlatch."

Surrealist Women includes substantial selections by such well-known figures as Leonora Carrington, Claude Cahun, Nancy Cunard, Nelly Kaplan, Joyce Mansour, Meret Oppenheim, Valentine Penrose, Gisèle Prassinos and Kay Sage. The great majority of writers in the anthology are of course less-well-known, but all of them—without exception—have been important in surrealism. Readers will doubtless be captivated by some of surrealism's "shooting stars"—such as the Englishwoman Sheila Legge, the "Surrealist Phantom" of 1936, the mysterious Czech poet Drahomira Vandas, and others who, as Rosemont remarks, "made contributions to the movement out of proportion to the brevity of their participation in it." Despite the fact that more than half the women in this book have been almost completely ignored by U.S. critics and historians, this is in no sense a book of "minor characters."

Correcting many errors made by earlier researchers, highlighting surrealism's basic open-endedness and relating the movement to other radical cultural currents—including feminism, Marxism, anarchism, Pan-Africanism, radical ecology and ecofeminism—this book is a bright challenge to conventional wisdom, inviting readers to regard surrealism in new ways.

As Penelope Rosemont points out on the opening page, to ignore the work of surrealism's women "is to ignore some of the best of surrealism."

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