The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s
The timely, never-before-told story of five brilliant, passionate women who, in the early 1960s, converged at the newly founded Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study and became friends as well as artistic collaborators, and who went on to shape the course of feminism in ways that are still felt today.
In 1960, Harvard’s sister college, Radcliffe, announced the founding of the Institute for Independent Study, a “messy experiment” in women’s education that offered paid fellowships to those with a PhD or “the equivalent” in artistic achievement. Coming during an era when women were expected to focus on raising families, the opportunity was unprecedented and life-changing. It was Virginia Woolf’s call for “money and a room of her own” brought to life. Thousands of women applied from across the country. Five of the women who received fellowships—poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, painter Barbara Swan, sculptor Marianna Pineda, and writer Tillie Olsen—quickly formed deep bonds with one another, exchanging ideas and art, forging friendships that would inspire and sustain their most ambitious work for the rest of their lives. They called themselves the Equivalents.
Drawing from notebooks, letters, lecture recordings, journals, poetry, and prose, Maggie Doherty weaves from these women’s own voices a moving narrative of friendship and ambition, art and activism, love and heartbreak. These five women, vividly brought to life, dramatize artistic ambition, the tension between art and life, and the need for creative community. Revelatory, beautifully written, and urgently told, Doherty’s The Equivalents shows how the Institute spoke to the condition of women on the cusp of liberation, and it signals the arrival of an important new voice in narrative nonfiction.
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