Notes from the Library and Archives

The Lee Grue Collection
by Susan Tucker

The turquoise house of Lee Grue is tucked into a shady garden, complete with the grave of an unknown poet. Here, for the past two decades, Lee Grue has nurtured her art and the souls of other artists and wanderers. Some of her writing, much of her nurturi ng, and all the good karma of this house and Lee herself are reflected in her papers, recently donated to the Newcomb Archives.

This new collection of more than six boxes of correspondence highlights, above all, conversations of three decades between writers and artists. Well-known authors such as Pinkie Gordon Lane, Maxine Kumin, Gordon Lish, William Stafford, as well as hundred s of other poets and artists from far and wide tell of their lives in letters, notes, and drawings. Experiences at Bread Loaf in the 1970s and at Warren Wilson College in the 1980s are sprinkled between letters from school children who worked with Lee in the New Orleans Public Schools; families she met during travels in Turkey, New Zealand, Mexico, and other places; and artists who sent drawings in exchange for housing. Here too are reminiscences of Lee's work to support her writing - as a tarot card read er, a restaurant "spy", a teacher, and an editor. One such memory is described in a letter dated March 24, 1993: "...through New Mexico and Colorado with other Plain View authors. We were four women, one husband, one eleven year old boy, one nineteen year old daughter, one two year old and a baby. All we lacked was a demented parakeet flying back and forth in the van. We did eight performances in ten days in small colleges, bookstores, and in an ex-bordello in Telluride."

If Lee Grue did not exist, a reviewer once said, the New Orleans poetry community would have had to invent her. Without her dedication there would most likely be no New Orleans Poetry Forum, a weekly workshop devoted to helping local writers develop and publish their works; no continuing New Laurel Review first founded by Alice Claudel and now a literary magazine with a national reputation; no New Orleans celebration of National Poetry Week; and no general feeling that art and writing can help with the m ost grave problems of our city. In this latter respect, Lee's collection shows many efforts to bring the black and white communities of New Orleans together in dialogues, in public readings, and in print. Her time spent in coffee houses such as The Ryder, The Quorum, and the Sphinx are particularly well-documented in the correspondence. Her letters also detail the establishment of special poetry collections at New Orleans Public Library and Xavier University.

Lee Grue is the author of French Quarter Poems; In the Sweet Balance of the Flesh; and Goodbye, Silver, Silver Cloud. Her stories and poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies. Now, through her papers, her good work can be seen from another perspective - and Lee can teach more students about the writing life.

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