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Susan Van Dyne

Professor of the Study of Women and Gender and Chair of the Archives Concentration

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Susan Van Dyne earned her B.A. in English and French from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and her Ph.D. in English from Harvard University.

Teaching in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender has given me access to an inspiring network of faculty and to interdisciplinary perspectives that have shaped the questions that are most important to me in both my teaching and research. I've learned an enormous amount from designing the core courses in the major with other program faculty. My literature courses in contemporary women's poetry and in the cultural work of queer memoirs combine the approaches of feminist literary theory and cultural studies.

During the 1980s, Marilyn Schuster and I collaborated in leading faculty workshops around the country to help teachers integrate the insights of women's studies and ethnic studies and feminist teaching strategies into traditional courses. Our experience led to co-editing Women's Place in the Academy: Transforming the Liberal Arts (1985).

My second book draws on the Sylvia Plath archives housed in the rare book collection here at Smith. Revising Life: Sylvia Plath's Ariel Poems (University of North Carolina, 1993) analyzes the interrelationships of gender and the creative process, especially the ways Plath reworked autobiography in composing and revising her late poems. I've also written about other contemporary American women poets: an essay on Rita Dove is included in Women Poets of the Americas: Toward a Pan-American Gathering (Notre Dame, 1999), and a piece on Cathy Song is in Re-Placing America: Conversations and Contestations (University of Hawaii, 1999).

A challenging and exciting project started in the late 1990s, Meridians is a feminist interdisciplinary journal that provides a forum for the finest scholarship and creative work by and about women of color in a U.S. and an international context. See more about the journal, the current editor, Paula Giddings, and the current issue at the Meridians Web site.

Women's Place in the Academy
by Susan Van Dyne and Marilyn Schuster

"The explosion of knowledge resulting from recent research on women and minorities has posed what has often proved to be a thorny question: How is this new knowledge to be incorporated into the existing undergraduate curriculum? Simply 'adding on' to more traditional courses falls short of the task, which is to find more effective ways of achieving genuine integration with existing curricula. Schuster and Van Dyne have compiled a unique anthology of original essays that address this pressing question not only by providing the essential theoretical framework, but also by reviewing political strategies adequate to the task of bringing the liberal arts curriculum into the 21st century.

Revising Life: Sylvia Plath's Ariel Poems
by Susan Van Dyne
Winner of "Outstanding Academic Book" (Choice)

Van Dyne's reading of the Ariel poems juxtaposes three contexts: Plath's private journal from 1957 to 1959 (especially as it reveals her expectations of what it meant to be a middle-class wife and mother and an aspiring writer in 1950s America), the interpretive strategies of feminist theory and Plath's multiple revisions of the poems.

By examining the various drafts of these poems, which Plath correctly predicted would make her name, Van Dyne reveals Plath as a resourceful creator and self-conscious critic of her own work. She illuminates Plath's craft and reveals unsuspected dimensions of the most famous poems: "Daddy," "Medusa," "Lady Lazarus," "Fever 103," "Ariel" and the bee poems.

Van Dyne argues that Plath's creative choices are both symptomatic and strategic: symptomatic in that they suggest her culture's powerful influence on her imagination and strategic in that they represent her own efforts to rewrite her lived experience in a poetics of survival. In revising her life, Plath also revised our understanding of what it means to be a woman.