Sunday, 7 December 2008

A riverbank

There are some women writers whose writing has been marked down in the literary stakes not (or not just) because they were women but because so much of their time and attention was devoted to work that wasn’t ‘pure’ literature. Martha Gellhorn. Arguably, Grace Paley. Leila Berg.

Probably Leila Berg’s best-known book is the one she wrote about a progressive comprehensive school in the 1960s. She wrote about children (Look at Kids, Reading and Loving) and for them; she still gets letters from people who discovered her children’s books when they were children themselves, and who now read them to their own children and grandchildren. In the late 1990s she published Flickerbook, an autobiographical book that takes her up to the late 1930s. I don’t press many books on other people, but I’ve given away half a dozen copies of this.

She’s 91, and on Saturday I went to see her. She is bright and alert and spoke of a new book she'd like to start work on. I took my camera, but in the end asking to take her photograph just seemed too crass a thing to do, so here instead is the estuary at the foot of the road where she lives. Her daughter and son were there too. Not one of Leila Berg’s books is currently in print. Something, we agreed, must be done.

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