I grew up in Washington D.C., the granddaughter of a famous grandfather nobody my age had ever heard of before. I lived in the thrall of my grandfather’s stories about his life as a Bohemian in Greenwich Village and loved that even as an old man he bridled at capitalist greed and conservative Republicanism and remained a Utopian to the end. As a child I didn’t realize how unusual it was to have a grandfather who’d been tried twice for sedition, a grandmother who’d been jailed for demonstrating for women’s suffrage, or that family dinners invariably ended with my grandfather standing to recite the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Over the years, I read Floyd’s novels, recited his poetry, visited what remained of his Greenwich Village. As an adolescent in the 1960’s, I sought Floyd’s opinions about my own generation’s worries: civil rights, devastating assassinations, riots in the streets of Washington, D.C., and an American war raging in Viet Nam. I talked with him about Gloria Steinem, Ms. Magazine and women’s liberation, and he always had something provocative to say. The year after Floyd died I went to Bard College and later the Sorbonne in Paris where I studied language and literature, and always expected that like Floyd I’d write for a living one day.
But things took a different turn and I made my career in international development instead and worked for the World Bank for thirty years. Although I worked in various jobs during those years, my favorite were the ones fighting for women’s rights and working with the poorest of the poor. At headquarters, I chaired the Staff Association’s Status of Women’s Working Group and helped to found the World Bank Children Center and coordinated Women in Development activities for the Bank’s Economic Development Institute. I also spent over a decade running grassroots management training and community development programs for illiterate women in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
During these years I also raised two sons who, I am proud to report. grew up to be free-thinking, feminist men with progressive ideas about politics.
In 2004, the year I retired from the World Bank after thirty years and moved to the mountains of Appalachia with my woodworker husband, where I ran an art gallery for three years and decided at last –forty years after Floyd Dell’s death – that I would write. Perhaps I’d write memoir. And who should appear on the page but my grandfather, my grandmother, and Edna St. Vincent Millay!