International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8, is a time-honored holiday in many countries in Europe. On this day, everybody is expected to be nicer to women, honoring mothers, daughters, sisters and friends with gifts and flowers.
Many women joke by saying that one day for women is necessary since there are already 364 days for men in a year. Several students expressed surprise that in a country like the United States, where there’s plenty of talk about women’s rights, the international day of women isn’t celebrated or publicized.
To compensate for this lack of recognition and to bring one more holiday into our lives, the Russian and German departments organized a Literary Rave in celebration of women’s day last Thursday. The organizers invited everyone to bring an excerpt of a literary work that describes a favorite female character or has anything to do with being a woman.
As students walked into the Goodrich living room, they were greeted by the welcoming smile of Janneke Van de Stadt, assistant professor of Russian, who gave everyone a limonium flower – the closest that was found to the traditional mimosa, which Russians traditionally give to women on March 8. At first, the few students and professors – all female – gathered around an inviting table and treated themselves to cookies, fruit and apple cider, while speculating on whether or not a male student would dare to attend the event. One male student of Russian had said that he would come if he knew he wouldn’t be the only man present.
When both students and professors had prepared for the coziness of an all-female evening, Abid Shah ’02 stormed into the room, putting an end to the estrogen-charged atmosphere and bringing the event’s attendance to thirteen.
Darra Goldstein, professor of Russian, opened the reading with a poem by Theodore Roethke, one that was once read to her by her husband. Julie Cassiday, associate professor of Russian, delivered a passionate reading from Eugene Onegin and opened the floor for student readings, which ranged from Shah’s interpretation of Maya Angelou to a sophisticated reading of Henry James by Lucy Teitler ’05. Other readings included passages taken from children’s literature, comic books and a short but evocative section of Anna Karenina, read by Leyla Rouhi, associate professor of Spanish. Each of the readers was eager to explain why she chose what she read and the impact that it has had on her.
Many in the audience were surprised that Rouhi did not choose to read what she herself described as “a description of an abstract, ideal woman” from “Don Quixote,” the Cervantes novel on which one of her courses focuses this semester. Instead, Rouhi provided a concrete and eloquent description of Anna. It was an account of a woman’s beauty being almost frightening in its force, as fatal as it is captivating.
A funny and fascinating presentation by Van de Stadt relieved the silence that filled the room after Rouhi’s reading. In contrast with Rouhi, Van de Stadt remained faithful to the literature she teaches at Williams by reading highly amusing excerpts from a short story by one of her favorite Russian authors, Isaac Babel. Babel’s prose, not as popular as the works of other Russian writers but truly extraordinary in its vivid, detailed imagery and subtle, benevolent humor, was a valuable addition to the rich gamut of the evening’s rich literary rave.
As the reading ended, everyone grabbed another cookie and rushed back to Thursday night’s work with reflections on womanhood in their minds and limonium flowers in their hands.