WILLA v1 - From the Editors

Volume 1
Fall 1992

From the Editors

Welcome to the first issue of WILLA, the journal of the newly formed Women in Literature and Life Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English. WILLA, as assembly and as journal, is preceded by decades of history and was founded by a core group of eight members of the Committee of Women in the Profession. We were two of the eight who in the summer of 1991 journeyed to Nags Head, North Carolina, "to [break] up the sod of a new land." Like Antonia, we vacillated from feeling "erased, blotted out" to "happiness [in being] dissolved into something complete." We wish to pay tribute to the others: Lynne Alvine, Betty Hart, Nancy Huse, Irene Myles, Silver Stanfill, and Jeanne Gerlach to whom this initial issue is dedicated.

At the Atlanta convention, as we met informally over lunch, we began to think of names for the assembly and the journal, knowing that naming is mother to the child. Combining aims and admiration, we denominated ourselves WILLA after the latest woman author to be canonized -- not that at least half her readers hadn't known all along that Cather was sufficiently sainted literarily. It's just good to know that the other half appreciates her too. Of course, the word canon brings up one of the issues crucial to us: who's in, who's out, and why women and girls are so often out.

WILLA was founded in order to sustain focus on the crucial issues regarding the status and image of women and girls in every educational setting, both inside and outside the classroom. It is appropriate that Cather be the foremother of this publication inasmuch as Cather, who was early in her career a high school teacher, gives voice to all that is elemental: emotion and intellect; duality and correspondence; economy and exuberance; faith and doubt; love and hate; life and death. Although much has been done to validate and valorize the ways of writing and reading and the feeling of women and girls in literature and life since Cather's day, an organized sense of direction and a national forum for today's varied voices are needed. Within the pages of this issue, you will find writings by elementary, secondary, and college teachers as well as non teachers. WILLA encourages a spirit of cooperation and respect for diverse kinds of discourse, perspectives, and writings. Under the auspices of an early women's committee of NCTE came the historic "Guidelines for Nonsexist Use of Language" (originally published in 1975; revised in 1985). However, as you will see in "Talk Among Chicks" in this issue, the use of language to demean females has not disappeared. We believe that some books and articles here and some speeches and guidelines there will not eliminate sexual inequality in the classroom or in life. And as much as we like Grimms Fairy Tales, we must look at the consequences of myths that bind us. Could there be a tie-in between our teaching of Sleeping Beauty and the fact that there are over 1,500 deaths a year from anorexia bulimia? If we don't want to give up literature we love, can we at least examine what its effects are upon us and the say it teaches us to be so that we can intelligently decide how to approach literature in the future! We further believe that there are works of literature about the lives of women and girls that are fun to read and to teach and that concomitantly provide positive learning experiences for women and men, girls and boys.

For this first issue of WILLA, we are pleased to present an interview with Janie Hydrick, NCTE President elect. We are pleased because this interview represents a concretization of our hope that WILLA will be inclusive of all levels of educational experience from pre-kindergarten to continuing education. In fact, the journal features columns from the elementary, the secondary, and the collegiate perspectives.

Norland and Bezanson's essay on one children's classic, The Giving Tree, provides another way of looking at a literary treasure by comparing and contrasting it with The Mountain That Loved a Tree. There is no suggestion here of tossing out the classics and replacing them with new ones. It is, rather, a matter of what happens when a work that has been unjustly neglected is placed beside a classic. For example, consider Boxwell's essay juxtaposing Ernest Hemingway and Rose Macaulay -- or teaching The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn with Agnes Smedley's Daughters of Earth.

Contemporary works of fiction are analyzed by Brenda Daly and Demetrice Worley. The dysfunctional family, its causes, and its means of survival are the subject of Daly's essay. Worley's critical essay shows how two women of color survive crisis through the historical motherline. Another view of family is presented in Jane Maher's "A Literary Life," a witty account of the effect of the educational establishment on her and her family.

Aileen Pace Nilsen and Jeanne Gerlach provide historical background for WILLA, while Lana Hartman Landon and Marcia Lynn Worth provide glimpses of present-day realities regarding the status of women. This issue also includes poems by Charity, Hart, O'Connor, and Meltzer.

The works which appear in this issue have been reviewed by the co-editors, by other editorial representatives, and committee members of WlLLA, and by the writers' peers. The editors encourage and will publish in future issues of WILLA, as space permits, mindful responses of its readers. (See call for papers for address.) Finally, we acknowledge our indebtedness to the many people who have assisted us. NCTE, the WILLA editorial staff, Executive Board members, and readers; Louisiana Tech, President Dan Reneau, Dr. Joe Strother, Mr. Jonathan Donohoe, and Mr. Robert Meredith; publisher B.F. Graphics; family and friends -- all magnanimously contributed to the premiere issue of WILLA.


Jo Gillikin

Fran Holman Johnson

by Radiya Rashid