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Atkinson, T-Grace (and Valerie Solanas)

LETTERS: Correspondence with Valerie Solanas.

Letter(s)

Ti-Grace Atkinson - Valerie Solanas
Correspondence 1969-76
Related Material 1969-91
Archive of 11 letters (9 ALS and 2 APS) from radical feminist Valerie Solanas to second-wave feminist writer and former NOW president Ti-Grace Atkinson; 1969-1976. Atkinson initiated this series of correspondence with her first letter on June 8, 1969 - five days after Solanas shot Andy Warhol.
Together with letters to Atkinson from others regarding Solanas and the SCUM Manifesto, with Atksinon's draft letters and carbon replies (June, 1968 - November, 1991).
 Atkinson carbons and drafts
9 draft letters to Solanas (5 TLS, 3 ALS and 1 telegram).
15 draft letters to others (11 TLS and 4 ALS), including editor Maurice Girodias, lawyer Mary Eastman, Nancy Homer, Marilyn Bender, and others.
Letters from others
18 letters (15 TLS, 2 ALS and 1 APS) from others to Atkinson regarding Solanas. Correspondents include Roxanne Dunbar, Nancy Homer, Mary Eastman, and Erin Cramer, among others.
1 typed carbon memo, from Mary Eastwood to Betty Friedan, regarding Solanas; June 29, 1968.
1 typed letter carbon from attorney Florynce Kennedy to Solanas (Atkinson is the "cc"); September 29, 1968.
Other
Autograph list of names to whom Atkinson sent copies of the SCUM Manifesto; 8 pp., five leaves, plus an additional scrap leaf; n.d.
Atkinson's autograph driving directions, to visit Solanas in prison; 1p., undated.
Receipt marked, "memorandum of money received for inmate"; ca. Oct. 1968; 1 p., one half-leaf grey paper. Notes that Atkinson gave Solanas $43.00.
Envelope and receipt for train fare to Beacon, New York.  
Envelope labeled "Valeries Solanas Spending Money Fund"; initiated by Atkinson during Solanas's incarceration.
Newspaper clippings.
All of Solanas's letters are written in pencil, on a single leaf of paper, and often have the word "Censored" stamped on them (as decreed by the prison administrators). Atkinson's letters are lengthy and typed, and, as evidenced by the items included here, were often drafted first by hand.
The letters begin with Atkinson's offer to help Solanas:
I was so happy to hear you had called Florynce Kennedy. I have been trying to find out if you wanted any assistance since I had heard about your case, and just after I traced you to Elmhurst, I spoke with Florynce and she was just leaving to see you. I would like to help you and give you any support I can. Would you like me to come visit you? (June 8, 1968; draft)
Solanas's polite reply came three days later: "I'd be delighted to see you. Please come up as soon as possible."
Atkinson, apparently, wrote a press release in defense of Solanas, but had not, by this point, been able to visit her.  Solanas's next letter expresses a sense of betrayal and anger:
It was obvious from your press release, which I read in court, that you don't understand SCUM. Florynce told me that you hasn't read it (the Manifesto). That being so, you really have no business writing or publicly speaking about it. It's also obvious that, not only do you not understand SCUM, but that SCUM is not for you. SCUM is for whores, dykes, criminals, homicidal maniacs. Therefore, please refrain from commenting on SCUM & from 'defending' me. I already have an excess of 'friends' but these who are suffocating me. (June 16, 1968)
The original envelope that Solanas sent this letter in was issued by the prison and has the phrase, "Good Correction Reduces Crime," printed on the verso; Solanas has crossed out the words "Good Correction," and written above them: "Eliminating men."
Atkinson's three-page reply offers a history into her involvement with Solanas's case and an explanation of her decision to make a public statement about Solanas and SCUM. She begins by saying that she had not, in fact, actually read the Manifesto before issuing a press release, but her attempts to acquire a copy had been fruitless. She explains she had heard a lot about the Manifesto for the past six months , and that after the Warhol shooting,
The press kept calling me to make statements and I kept feeling trapped: I hadn't seen your work so what could I say? but I was furious with what I thought was an attempted smear of you - e.g. that the Manifesto was intended as a joke - that I wanted to counteract the negative - but with what? my intuition? (June 27, 1968)
Atkinson was, at that time, the President of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women. She goes on to say that when the press contacted her, she admitted that she had not read the Manifesto herself but that, "I thought you had made important contributions to the Movement." She elaborates:
Florynce told me you were unhappy about my statement which rather annoyed me after having put myself on the line professionally. I was writing on rumors and on what seemed to be the issues disturbing people. What you don't seem to understand is that, prior to [Marylin] Bender's piece [in the Times], maybe two feminists in America saw any connection between you and the Movement. I was trying to act as an interpreter for something of which I only had the vaguest outline. I called people who knew your work but I couldn't get them to stand up or even be quoted, so that left me and since I thought you were being treated unjustly I did the best I could to meet your request. I gather you didn't realize that it was almost impossible to get a copy of the Manifesto. Now that I have finally gotten a copy from [Maurice] Girodias, I agree that my statement does not reflect an understanding of it, but how could it when I hadn't read i? I think I did a damn good job considering the circumstances, and I don't particularly appreciate your laying into me.
She goes on to say that she was nearly impeached by her fellow N.O.W. officers for issuing this defense. When she had acquired a copy of the Manifesto, she described it as "brilliant," praising, "I think your style is very elegant. I like the theory construction of it." She continues:
I was never defending you. I was trying to get people to look seriously at your ideas. I am against martyrdom as a political technique and I deeply resented being forced to take a beating for standing up for the rationality of ideas when your "friends" were no place to be found - or, having read Paul Krassner's article as introduction, perhaps they were better not found. I have tried to be your friend. Frankly, I think your letter is very intolerant, lacks compassion, and is oppressive. I don't have to come to you to be oppressed: that's what I am fighting the rest of the world about. If we're to be friends, it requires trust on both sides, lacking it on either, there's no relationship. You'll have to trust me on intuition as much as I took a chance on your work on intuition. But now it's up to you.
Atkinson goes on to say that she took it upon herself to personally type up, print, collate and staple seventy sets of the Manifesto herself: "I was going to send a copy to these people around the world whom I know who have requested a copy right away. I think it would be to your advantage to have these reach them, and I am willing to send them with a personal note."
Solanas wrote another letter, dated August 5, 1968. She is more adamant about Atkinson not getting involved, alluding to her struggle with manic depression:  
I know you, along with all the other professional parasites with nothing of their own going for them, are eagerly awaiting my commitment to the bughouse, so you can then go on t.v. & write press releases for your key people "defending" me & deploring my being committed because of my visions; however, I want to make perfectly clear that I am not being committed because of my views or the "SCUM Manifesto"; there's a lot involved in my case that neither you nor your fellow parasites are aware of, & I intend to make that fact clear to everyone (not why I am being committed, but why I'm not). Nor do I want you to continue to [   ] your cultivated banalities about my motive for shooting Warhol. Your gall in presuming to be competent to discourse on such a matter is beyond belief. In short, do not ever publicly discuss me, SCUM or any aspect at all of my case. Just DON'T.
In the letter, "don't" is underlined three times. Solanas closes with a witty, sarcastic jab of the proselytizing tendencies of the Women's Movement: "(the constant use of 'brilliant' in your press release doesn't disguise the jealousy underlying the surrounding words), which hopefully, will be dissipated by the time you write your 'Analysis of All the Feminist Positions from Earliest Times to SCUM'…an analysis of your analysis could prove quite embarrassing."
Atkinson, clearly, was speechless. There are two handwritten drafts, both unfinished, in which she, again, defends herself. She says she won't promise not to talk about the Manifesto, as it is a public document and she can write whatever she wants to about it. She also insists that she still wants to see Solanas in person. However, these letters provide evidence of duplicity on Atkinson's part-she insisted to Solanas that she didn't talk about Solanas, her case, or the Manifesto, but meanwhile, according to a July 28, 1968 letter to Guy Gravenson at Ramparts magazine, Atkinson mentions that Girodias at the Olympia Press will have the Manifesto published within ten days, and that he should arrange a writer named Carol Goodman to review it.
It appears that Atkinson was able to visit Solanas on August 26. Two letters from Solanas were sent on the 27th, and they vary wildly in tone. The first is mostly benign, insisting only in one forceful sentence that "I don't want no publicity of any kind - not one line, not one sentence - ever from anyone"; her second letter, however, is full of wrath:
who the hell are you to discourse on & interpret SCUM? Doesn't that embarrass you? You're glomming onto someone else's thing - you have nothing of your own going for you - & you're so desperate for something to run you mouth about that you can't be insulted or put down. Your colossal gall is inversely proportionate to your pride. But what you're doing is understandable, as SCUM's where it's at; SCUM is IT. And you're not the only one to recognize it; Everyone wants to be part of SCUM, to make it his or her own; the world will eventually be overcome by & turn into SCUM. If you're not SCUM, you're nowhere; SCUM's not only IT, it's all there is.
The word "all" is underlined three times. There are three drafts, handwritten and typed, that Atkinson wrote in reply, but were apparently unsent. It is unclear if Atkinson visited Solanas after this letter, but Solanas sent her another letter on September 2, in which she asserts her need for zero publicity, says that Atkinson has no right to talk about her medical condition, and suggests that pressure be put on Warhol to drop the charges against her. The last letter Solanas sent Atkinson contained only one sentence: "Ti-Grace, please come see me by yourself." Though Atkinson sent one friendly letter after this, their correspondence abruptly concludes.
The additional correspondence in this archive is letters that were written to and from Atkinson regarding the Solanas case: the memos to Friedan at N.O.W. give reasons why the organization should support Solanas and her case if there was an issue about sex discrimination; Atkinson's letters are to professors, friends who were influential feminists, lawyers or journalists who might have been able to favorably publicize and distribute the Manifesto (one friend at ArtNews replied, "I do not find [the Manifesto], or your author, amusing, witty, provocative, etc. It's heartbreaking, and the worst thing is that doctors know less about what they are doing than anyone involved"; July 9).  
Atkinson continues to be contacted by people interested in learning about the Solanas case. Solanas remained in prison until 1971; she died in 1988.
Atkinson was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1939, to conservative Republican parents. After she ran away from home at age 16, her parents forced her to marry a distant cousin when she was 17; they were married until 1961.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania - where she helped to found the Institute of Contemporary Art- she moved to New York, where she began a Master's program in Philosophy at Columbia University, studying with the art critic and philosopher Arthur Danto. When the National Organization for Women formed in 1966, Atkinson phoned Betty Friedan, and was invited to join the group; she became the New York chapter President, briefly, in 1967. After a cataclysmic break with the group over voting practices, she formed her own more radical group she dubbed The Feminists.
Atkinson's early influence on radical feminism, and philosophic theory as applied to women, cannot be overstated. She was, indeed, a pioneer of both during the Women's Movement; her collection of essays and speeches, Amazon Odyssey, was published in 1974. As the 1970s progressed, further tension in the feminist community, as well as personal financial hardship, led Atkinson to sell her Upper East Side apartment in 1976; she moved to the Seattle area, where she lived for several years before returning East, where she accepted a teaching position in the Tufts University Philosophy department.
(#11897 & #11982)

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