The Politics & Prevalence of the Open Letter

By Harriet Staff
Audre Lorde

At Frieze, Ellen Mara de Wachter looks back at the year's fondness for the open letter, a manifestation of protest with an historical precedent. "Today’s letter writers are equally passionate and intent on change, but in many cases, the changes they are after are still a long way from being assured." Hannah Black, Zadie Smith, and of course the art world's response to the downfall of Artforum director Knight Landesman, are all mentioned here. To begin at the end:

In October, the new London-based feminist publisher, Silver Press, launched ‘Your Silence Will Not Protect You’, a volume of essays and poems by feminist writer Audre Lorde. It includes ‘An Open Letter to Mary Daly’ (1979), in which Lorde took the feminist philosopher and theologian to task for her selective appropriation of black women’s words to introduce a chapter on genital mutilation in her book ‘Gyn/Ecology’ (1978). Lorde’s letter gets to the heart of the type of grievance afflicting most of these letter writers: that the addressee has not been paying full attention to the reality of the writer’s situation, which the writer feels should be publicly exposed. She also makes clear that simply reading the letter is not enough; that it requires action. Lorde wrote: ‘Mary, do you ever really read the work of Black women? Did you ever read my words, or did you merely finger through them for quotations which you thought might valuably support an already conceived idea concerning some old and distorted connection between us? This is not a rhetorical question.’

Read on at Frieze.


Originally Published: December 6th, 2017