One of my heroes is Muriel Rukeyser. Muriel Rukeyser was a poet who was involved in many left wing causes from the 1930s to the 1970s. In spite of her championing of many left wing causes, Muriel was often criticized by leftists because Rukeyser was independent minded and wouldn’t follow any party line. Muriel Rukeyser was leftist, but she wasn’t doctrinaire, and her independence of thought is something I admire.
Muriel’s son William Rukeyser would write about his mother in the book How Shall We Tell Each Other of the Poet:
My mother invented her own career and she invented her life. She broke a lot of rules and she paid the price. In the thirties she didn’t fear to embrace the Communists- for what they believed, or at least what they said they believed. But she wasn’t timid about rejecting Communist dogma or thought control. For her pains she was vilified by both sides in many battles because she wouldn’t follow anybody’s party line except her own
Over the years I’ve gotten into some discussions about politics and sometimes the person I talk to gets mad at me and asks me what right do I have to talk. I usually reply “I’m an American. The Bill of Rights gives all Americans the right to express our opinions.” That’s the whole point of the Freedom of Speech, to protect the expression of diverse viewpoints. I don’t claim to know everything. We’re all fallible, even experts are frequently wrong. But our viewpoints are still valuable. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, radical or moderate, we all have a right to express our opinions without getting harassed. If we strongly believe in a particular cause, we have the freedom to lobby for that cause and to try to persuade people to support that cause. And if you disagree, you have the right to lobby for what you believe. I’ve never understood those people who think that the only ones allowed to express an opinion are those who agree with them. Muriel Rukeyser’s poetry was dedicated to insuring that the voices of all people are heard.
Here is a youtube video of Yusef Komunyakaa discussing the life and work of Muriel Rukeyser at the Bravery in Poetry event at PEN’s 2013 World Voices Festival
George Kalamaras, the Poet Laureate of Indiana, reads and discusses the work of poet Muriel Rukeyser