Judith Krug and Eve Sedgwick

As Lindsay alerted me, two notable and amazing women died this week – and that their passing, and the significance of their lives and contributions may have been missed in the brouhaha surrounding #AmazonFail.

Judith F. Krug, founder of Banned Books Week, died of cancer in Evanston, IL. She was 69.

Ms. Krug was the director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. She also helped establish the Freedom to Read Foundation in 1969, an organization that in part helped defray litigation costs for freedom of speech cases.

Krug worked directly with librarians across the country who were engaged in censorship battles. She enlisted allies from fields that are affected by 1st Amendment attacks, such as publishers and journalists, said Robert Doyle, executive director of the Illinois Library Assn.

“She was concerned about the gamut of expression, so that people could go to the library and encounter the full marketplace of ideas,” Doyle said.

Banned Books Week is a huge event in the libraries around me, and it’s a little ironic that in the midst of what appeared to be corporate suppression of sexual books, the woman who pioneered Banned Books Week lost her fight with cancer. I try to remind myself when taking some heat for my luuuuuuurve™ of the romance that the act of reading a romance is in itself subversive, particularly on behalf of women who do not have the freedom to read fiction that contains frank and female-positive depictions of sexuality. Ms. Krug’s efforts and dedication remind everyone annually that our freedom to read is a delicate but essential freedom for which we ought to fight.


Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, pioneering theorist in feminist criticism, gender studies, and queer theory, died 12 April. She was 58.

Sedgwick was, in short, holy shit amazing with critical analysis of gender relations in text. Her book Epistemology of the Closet was … wait for it… wait for it… a seminal work in the field of queer studies, particularly because it analyzed marginalization of homosocial and homosexual desires and argued for the inclusion of all people on the “sexual spectrum” because without it, analysis of Western culture is “incomplete” and “damaged.”

Personally speaking. Segwick was part of the reason I long thought that romance novels ought to be held up to critical analysis, and also part of the reason I ran screaming out of grad school, never to return. In my course on feminist theory, we studied in particular the “Segwick triangle,” which posits that in most cases, male homosocial desire can only be expressed through the conduit of a woman. When our class was challenged to find examples of this theory, I immediately looked to popular culture, and the novels of Jude Deveraux and Judith McNaught in particular, notably those that featured love triangles, competitive twins, and similar storylines.

When my paper was rejected by the professor on the grounds that I’d chosen an “unsuitable subject matter” for my analysis, I realized it was time to get the hell out of dodge. I left short of attaining my Master’s degree, and gave up any desire to get a PhD.

Sedgwick changed the way I looked at heterosexual relationships within the courtship rituals of romance novels, and I don’t think it’s possible to understate the powerful and indelible impact her scholarship has had not only on portrayals of sexuality in modern popular culture, but on the way in which we who read the layers of any text understand male, female, homo- and heterosexual relationships.

 

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  1. 1
    Hydecat says:

    Sarah, thanks for writing up these two wonderful women—I had heard about Sedgwick but not about Krug.

    Also, your grad school professor was a nitwit. It’s an all-too-common misconception that popular fiction can’t reflect the kinds of complex themes that Literary Critics find in Literature. In fact, those are exactly the places where we should look for them because that is where they are reaching the widest readership and making the largest impact. Also, I bet your professor would have accepted Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and she’s really just the Jude Deveraux of the nineteenth century. Professors tend to be very century-ist when it comes to what is “good” or “not good”.

  2. 2
    Jocelyn says:

    I had a fabulous professor who did a lot of analysis of the pulp fiction of the 1800’s.  She had a fantastic theory about “Fatal Virginity” (the authors kept on killing off these perfect female virgins because their death was so much more tragic if they’d never been touched, blah blah). 

    I agree with Hydecat – how funny that the popular fiction of today is overlooked while the popular fiction of yesteryear is analysed.

  3. 3
    Beth says:

    How unfortunate. My critical theory professor in college got to deal with things like the Start Wars trilogy and Whitney Otto’s How to Make an American Quilt. He was incredibly well read and was always willing to let students go out on “limbs” in terms of what was considered “acceptable” to study and analyze.

    He had us reading Sedgwick and a host of others and it was truly a transformational experience for me.

    More importantly, for me, is that Sedgwick was part of a coterie of 18th century scholars who made it possible for women to study women in that period. I’ve long been an admirer and we all feel her loss keenly.

  4. 4
    Sarah Frantz says:

    Sedgwick and Foucault were revelations to me. (Butler too, but she’s so difficult to read as to almost be impossible to understand.) My proseminar my first year graduate school was on cultural studies, and we read Sedgwick and then Foucault, and in Foucault’s theory of confession, I found the reason I read romance.  So I wrote a paper about romance novels and the hero’s education. And lo, it got an A- (dammit) but it became my first published article. And I think the only article published out of that proseminar class, so pbbtth on the A-.

    Thank you for writing about these two amazing women.

  5. 5

    Thanks so much for this post. Eve Sedgwick has been an important thinker for me. And bless Judith Krug.

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