Goodbye, Emma Lou
The summer after my freshman year of college, I somehow landed a job working at A Woman’s Place, Salt Lake City’s only (and long since former) feminist bookstore. I’m not quite sure who recommended me for the job in the first place, though I suspect my neighbor Marilyn, who’d supplied me with a steady diet of girl-power literature since I was ten, may have been my benefactor. The shop was an oasis, a safe place, a wonderful experience for an angsty feminist eighteen-year-old girl who’d had Sonia Johnson’s From Housewife to Heretic and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own roiling in her head for the past four years. Regulars described the bookstore as “the only place where you’ll find Emma Lou Thayne on the shelf next to lesbian fiction.”
I’d never read either; that summer I binged on both.
I never met Emma Lou, but she’s part of my life experience, part of my Mormon feminist brain. How Much for the Earth? echoed my Cold War childhood fears. Her poems spoke to me from the pages of Sunstone and, remarkably, from the LDS hymnbook; I realized that summer that she was the author of the hymn I sang to myself when I was most overwhelmed and upset. My copy of All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir is missing from my bookshelf as I write this, doubtless lent to someone who needed to read it as badly as I once did; her essays there are among the reasons I’m still at church on Sundays.
Early this morning, to use some Mormon vernacular, Emma Lou Warner Thayne went home to her Heavenly Parents. I cling fiercely to my hope for that joyous Mormon vision of the afterlife–the one where “that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there”–so that I can one day tell her how much she meant to me.