Announced during convention season this year, Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women is the 2017 Sigma Tau Delta Common Reader. This collection of short stories provides imaginative, brief glimpses at the lives of extraordinary, and extraordinarily different, women. Why they are categorized as “almost famous” varies: some certainly were famous while alive, and have simply faded to the back of our cultural conscious (Violet and Daisy Hilton, Butterfly McQueen), while others have always existed on the sidelines of fame as relatives to celebrities (Allegra Byron, Lucia Joyce).
Bergman’s creativity has brought them, or rather bound them, together in this must-read short story collection. I highly recommend this book for those traveling or on the go, since no section exceeds 30 pages and each presents its own independent narrative.
That said, if you have already read it, you may have noticed a unifying character, mentioned in passing much like the women at the center of this book typically have been. Her name is Natalie Barney (1876-1972), and if you would like to add one more almost famous woman to your mental encyclopedia, look no further. Natalie Barney is mentioned in “Romaine Remains,” a story about painter Romaine Brooks, and “Who Killed Dolly Wilde?” about the niece of author Oscar Wilde. A figure depicted by Bergman exclusively through letters of and to Dolly and Romaine, Natalie was evidently a lover to both.
An almost famous woman in her own right, Natalie Barney was a writer who was born in America and living in France and was known for her weekly salons. She lived at the crossroads of a multitude of famous writers and artists, welcomed them into her home to foster the exchange of ideas and enlightened conversation. A most striking fact about her, is that she openly lived and wrote as a lesbian. Additionally, she did not believe in monogamy, and was likely lover to Romaine and Dolly during overlapping intervals. Her writing, the majority of which was in French, considered the themes of feminism, homosexuality, pacifism, and Paganism. She is most well known for her epigrams, including some of the following:
There are more evil ears than bad mouths.
Those who love war lack the love of an adequate sport—the art of living.
Youth is not a question of years: one is young or old from birth.
To learn more about Natalie Barney and her connections to Bergman’s famous women, see various biographies (most recently, Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris by Suzanne Rodriguez) and translations of her writing (Women Lovers, or The Third Lovers, a novel not published in her life time).
For more on this year’s Common Reader see Samantha Miller’s Making “Almost Famous” Stories
Submit Your Common Reader Work for Convention
Feeling inspired after reading the Common Reader and discussing it with your chapter? Compose a critical or creative piece based on Almost Famous Women and submit it to the Sigma Tau Delta 2017 International Convention, which will be held in Louisville, KY, on March 29 – April 1, 2017.
Awards of up to $600 will be given at the international convention for critical essays or other genres of work that deal with the 2017 Common Reader. To be eligible, students need to indicate on the convention submission form that their work is in the common reader category (presentation type). Members can submit a total of two works for the convention as long as they are in different categories.
Submission guidelines are available on the convention website.
Submissions will be open from September 26, through October 24.
Associate Student Representative, Eastern Region, 2016-2017
Alpha Epsilon Alpha Chapter
The College of New Jersey, Ewing, NJ