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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 442

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This is the grave of Meridel Le Sueur.

Born in 1900 in Murray, Iowa, she grew up in a reformist family. Her family was involved in temperance, Populism, labor rights, the IWW, and other political movements. She imbibed deeply in all of them. Her parents divorced and her mother married the socialist ex-mayor of Minot, North Dakota. She adopted his last name. She moved to Chicago to study dance for a year after high school, but left for New York to study acting, living in an anarchist commune that included Emma Goldman, a least for awhile. There, she got to know the peak of the American literary radical community–John Reed, Mabel Dodge, Theodore Dreiser, Edna St. Vincent Millay. She moved to California and got bit parts and stunt work in silent films. She was also writing a lot for leftist newspapers about communism, labor rights, and Native American rights. She joined the Communist Party by 1925 at the latest. In the Great Depression, she was an important journalist and writer. Her 1932 piece “Women on the Breadlines” was a masterpiece in leftist proletarian writing and got her a lot of attention.

Le Sueur was the kind of American leftist who rooted her class analysis deeply within the farm country and mythology of the nation with which she grew up. This type of leftism is largely dead today. No one would write leftist children’s books about Nancy Hanks Lincoln or Davy Crockett or Johnny Appleseed. But Le Sueur wrote about all three. Her 1945 book North Star Country, a leftist history of Minnesota, where she had moved, got her quite a bit of attention. But some of that attention was from the anti-communist hordes who had little interest in her work except as a way to destroy her. So in the 1950s and 1960s, she largely faded from the limelight.

But in the 1970s, Le Sueur rose back into a good level of fame. Her books were rediscovered by the feminist movement and she became a sort of mother figure to radical women. Her 1930s’ book The Girl, which she never got published, finally saw the light of day in 1978. She wrote feminist poetry in a book illustrated by her daughter. She also traveled around the nation beginning in the late 60s to check out and support the campus protest movement. She loved spending time around younger radicals and inspired many who met her. She continued writing her leftist fiction until nearly the end of her life. In 1991, she published The Dread Road, about a mining strike in Colorado. She died in 1996 in Hudson, Wisconsin.

Meridel Le Sueur is buried in Lakeland Cemetery, Lakeland, Minnesota. I had to wade through some deep snow for that one!

If you would like this series to cover some of the people in Le Sueur’s world, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Mabel Dodge Luhan is in Taos, New Mexico and Theodore Dreiser is in Glendale, California. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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