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Bonnie Bluh

Bonnie Bluh (pronounced "Bluh") (née Helen Celia Bluh; 29 March 1926 – 2 October 2008) was an American Jewish Feminist novelist and essayist. Her fans considered her a sharp, funny, angry, highly personal writer who always a few steps ahead of her time.

Biography

Born Helen Celia Bluh in New York City to Morris Bluh and Mary Steinberg.

Bluh, as friends and family knew her, was brought up in Sunnyside, Queens, a neighborhood that has repeatedly appeared in her novels.

Bonnie Bluh made her first appearance as a singer at the age of three on the Hearns Radio Children's Hour. As she always liked to recount, she wrote her first play when she was 7 years old and set it in Africa, writing all the dialogue in a made up language. It was staged at P.S. 150, the first New York progressive school she was attending and starred her fellow students.

At the age of 14, while working in the Borscht Belt, she changed her name from Helen to Bonnie, because she had decided she needed a better name to fit her new career as a singer.

She married in 1946 and four years later she and her husband Max Lowy moved to California, where Bluh immediately became involved with the Pasadena Playhouse acting in various productions, including Streetcar Named Desire as well as trying her hand at directing.

In the 1960s, living in New Jersey, she joined The New Dramatists in New York City and assisted many of the top Broadway directors of the time including Jules Irving at what was then the brand new Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center (1965-1973).

Before their divorce, in 1969, Max and Bonnie [as she was still known at the time] raised three sons – Craig, Kenn and Brian.

In the 1960s she lived in Philadelphia where she was on the local NOW speakers bureau and formed one of the earliest Consciousness raising groups. Consciousness Raising groups consisted of women, without the interference of men, discussing and analyzing their lives, sharing their problems with each other and, more importantly, understanding these shared problems rose from society’s systematic oppression of women.

In 1971 Bluh took off for Europe to write a novel. The result was “Woman to Woman” [1974] her smart non-fiction account of the emergence of the European feminist movement. Bluh was the first American feminist to meet with the feminists of Ireland, England, Holland, France, Italy and Spain.

When her agent was unable to get the book published because it was considered too personal and too angry, Bluh founded Starogubski Press and published the book herself. “Woman to Woman” is considered a landmark account of the second wave of feminism, a book that has been used in the classrooms of over 60 colleges.

Her next book, the novel, “Banana” [1976] became part of the pitched, polarizing battles for and against feminism. The publisher, Macmillan, hyperbolically promoted the novel as “the raunchiest, funniest story ever written by a woman.” Though many reviewers [almost all male] at the time found it too angry, one reviewer [female] commented “This is a novel with a raised consciousness, a mature, intelligent novel of real talent and excitement Doubting Thomases have claimed the feminist movement has yet to produce. Bonnie Bluh, herself an actress-playwright-singer-dancer, has done it.”

“Banana” was quickly followed by another non-fiction book “The Old Speak Out” [1979], published by Horizon Press, which was an account of aging in America. As one enthusiastic reviewer wrote, “This extraordinary confrontation between one gutsy woman and a lot of other people amounts to so much more than a series of interviews. Because of Bonnie Bluh we can reach into places most of us don’t attempt in person, risking little and finding a hundred new friends.”

Through the 1970s she wrote everything from articles about feminism to movie reviews for various weeklies including The Soho News and N.Y. Women’s Weekly. She was also a guest on various radio and TV shows and conducted writing seminars in New York City, as well as Stockholm, Moscow and Tel Aviv.

In 1985, Bluh had moved to the Westbeth Artists Community in the West Village. In a building filled with interesting artists of all stripes she was known as one of the more outgoing, colorful characters.

After a string of agents had trouble finding a publisher for her next novels, Bluh picked what she considered the most popular of the lot and once again chose the self-publishing route. “The Eleanor Roosevelt Girls” [1998], a saga of female friendship and betrayal, follows six Sunnyside, Queens girls from 1942 to 92. It was perhaps less incendiary than her earlier work, or perhaps the times had just changed.

One reviewer’s description captures the tone of the novel. “Bonnie Bluh’s very readable ‘The Eleanor Roosevelt Girls’ is the perfect antidote for all those years of watching women on the screen stand helplessly by during the big fight scenes. You know, the ones where you want to shout ‘Pick up the stick and hit the guy!’ Bluh‘s women do just that, and more.”

In the first years of the new century Bluh, who never gave up her love of theater, edited, along with the New Dramatists Alumni Committee “Broadway’s Fabulous Fifties” [2002] .

Bluh had finished her untitled memoir just before her death, which was as highly personal as any of her other works. It is a book about the approach of death - her death. Far from being a morose account of decline and frailty in old age, it was an eccentric, comical late-in-life Bildungsroman including hilarious versions of her own obituary.

Published Works

Woman To Woman (Starogubski Press, 1974, ISBN-13 9780960323401) In 1971 she traveled to Europe intending to finish her novel Banana. She was invited to the Irish Parliament, which sent her in search of Irish feminists. After meeting them she continued her search in England, France, Holland, Italy, and Spain. Bluh was "the first American feminist to meet with women in Ireland, Italy, and Spain and was on the first abortion march held in Rome in 1971." She was forced to go underground with the Spanish feminists. The result of this year in Europe led to the book Woman to Woman, which has been used in over fifty woman's studies programs.

In her review in Majority Report Kit Kennedy wrote, "Rarely has the print media lent itself to such a high level of consciousness raising . . . Woman to Woman, a seemingly quiet book, may be the first book on honest politics." Karen Lindsey in the Boston Herald American wrote, "By its warm, personal and probing nature, Woman to Woman does much to reaffirm the existence of an international sisterhood of women." Dr. Regina Axelrod, political science chair at Adelphi University, said, "There isn't one page of this book that any female cannot see as part of her own life. It touches the soul."

Banana (Macmillan, 1976, ISBN-10 059514229X)

Bluh's first novel, Banana (Macmillan, 1976), was well received and was reissued in 2000 by iUniverse under the auspices of The Authors Guild. The novel relates the story of Joanna, a woman who could have done anything, but married Jay, became a homemaker, and in her mid-forties realized she wanted something more. A critic for Publishers Weekly wrote, "You bleed for Joanna, but most of all you believe in her. This is a novel with a raised consciousness, a mature, intelligent novel of real talent and excitement Doubting Thomases have claimed the feminist movement has yet to produce. Bonnie Bluh, herself an actress-playwright-singer-dancer, has done it." Lynda Schor added in Ms. Magazine that "What makes Banana exceptional and fascinating is its inventiveness, its verve, originality, its sometimes sheer madness, its rage. Preposterousness and eccentricity woven into the mundane. The result is as colorful and variegated as a Peruvian scarf . . . the most scintillating dialogue I've come across in a long time. In her review in the San Francisco Chronicle Elizabeth Pomada added that the novel's "high velocity monologue is raucous, dirty-truthful, and chortlingly funny." Budicki for the Voice News wrote, "A 'torrent of consciousness' sweeping before it all the modern jargon and confused issues of today . . . includes a cast of sixteen people. This reviewer groaned when she saw them listed on the jacket, but couldn't lay the book down after starting, having practically to prop her eyes open with fingers, to finish reading at three a.m."

The Old Speak Out

Eleanor Roosevelt Girls

References

Her Obituary

New Dramatists

Her death notice name the web site of Veteran Feminists of America

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