The Kate Chopin International Society Is Twenty Years Old
New comments about Kate Chopin from those who read and study her stories
We are celebrating our twentieth anniversary throughout 2024 by posting new comments about Kate Chopin by readers who describe what they find valuable in Chopin’s work or their experiences in first coming across it or in writing about it or teaching it.
We are also looking back at some of what has happened in Kate Chopin films, plays, discoveries, translations, scholarship, etc. since 2004.
We posted the above photo in 2016. It was sent to us by The Breadbox, a theater in residence at the Exit Theatre in San Francisco, California, USA, which was offering a world-premiere stage adaptation of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, written by Oren Stevens. The photo shows Maria Marquis who plays Edna Pontellier in the stage adaptation.
From the President of the Kate Chopin International Society
The dilemmas that women continue to face
The importance of St. Louis
From Susie Chopin, one of Kate Chopin’s great-granddaughters
Beginning with “Désirée’s Baby
Her amazing popularity
Kate Chopin’s work has changed my life. There is simply no way twenty years have gone by since Avis, John, and I established the Kate Chopin International Society — which wasn’t even called this at first, but over time evolved into a global network of scholars, students, and readers through the excellent work of Bernie Koloski and his website team and all of our committed members. The development of the society has paralleled my deepening appreciation and awareness of the impact of Chopin’s work on my life. What started as assigned reading in my freshman year of college came to predominate my scholarly work and my teaching. At some point — some five books on Chopin’s work and thirty years later — I came to realize that Kate Chopin had been the single most important writer I had read in my life. Her New Orleans stories in particular had a special resonance for me, but it has also been her candid observations and renderings of the human heart — the inner desires, disappointments, and hopes shaped into narratives — that have changed my life. The twenty years of the Kate Chopin International Society has enabled me to share that appreciation with hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of readers: I want to thank all of our dedicated scholars who work tirelessly to keep our website up to date, as well as all of our volunteer panel moderators and our conference organizer and the American Literature Association, for their efforts to keep KCIS going. I’m looking forward to the next twenty years. HEATHER OSTMAN, Valhalla, New York, USA.
Seeing one’s self in someone else’s story has to be one of reading’s most satisfying experiences. Like a lot of people back in the 1970s, I had never heard of Kate Chopin — until I began my first full-time teaching job, which included a women in literature class. When I asked around for syllabus advice, a colleague told me about The Awakening. For the next four decades, Kate Chopin was a staple of my courses — and my academic career. In those days, Chopin was the poster child for how much women’s art had been lost to us by neglect and dismissal. This amazing website, which I have been privileged to work on, is part of the effort to make sure that she will not be lost to us again.
Over the years, I’ve read everything Chopin wrote and, for a while, almost everything written about her; I read and re-read her stories and novels; I visited the places she lived and wrote about; I wrote about her; I met other Chopin scholars who became good friends — many of them on this page! I included Chopin in nearly every course I taught — she was always somehow appropriate and fun to teach. But I also loved the familiar feel of her work, so much of it set in south Louisiana, where I grew up. Seeing one’s self or environment in someone else’s story has to be one of reading’s most satisfying experiences.
Such reflection is what Chopin does best: she offers us characters and situations that, even if we’re from another century or country, give us a glimpse of ourselves and the dilemmas that women continue to face. Choosing a partner, coping with circumstances we can’t really see much less control, exploring what we really feel instead of what we are supposed to feel, trying to figure out who we are and what really matters to us. Readers who come to this website will have laid out all the resources to explore Chopin for themselves: reliable texts and information, intriguing media versions of Chopin’s work, bibliographies, images, conferences, news. Providing access to and sharing the pleasures of this remarkable writer’s work, encouraging others to examine it more fully and creatively: that’s what this website tries to do. I have been thrilled to be part of the effort! BARBARA C. EWELL, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
I wish I had known her. Kate is my great-grandmother and a wonderful writer to boot. She continues to inspire young and old, and both male and female from all walks of life.
Those who love Kate are inspired by her work and her person for different reasons. She inspires me because it appears she was never afraid to be herself and wrote what she wanted to, what inspired her, even at times above the constraints of her society. I should never say never — we’re all undoubtedly a little afraid, hesitant perhaps, to be our complete selves, especially in today’s society. I’m sure Kate was, too, but in her way and capacity she broke the mold personally and professionally. I wish I had known her. I wish I could have played at her house like my grandchildren today can play at their great grandparents’ house. I wish I could have climbed on her lap to hear her stories. I wish I could have been a part of her world as I grew up, and I wish I had known her as an adult. I will one day — and am very much looking forward to it. SUSIE CHOPIN, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
Eulalia Piñero Gil sent us this cover of her translation of The Awakening into Spanish. The book is dated 2012 and is published in Madrid by Catedra, Letras Universales. It includes a 100-page introduction to Kate Chopin and her work as well as a lengthy bibliography.
It wasn’t until I was older that I saw the bravery and brilliance of Edna Pontellier. As a few of my colleagues have noted, we became aware of Kate Chopin when her novel The Awakening was “rediscovered” in the late 1960s. Little did I suspect that when I read this work as a college student in the 1970s, Chopin was setting the stage for my later life as a feminist researcher and instructor of gender studies.
Because so many feminists before us had faced challenges that made the paths of young women of my era somewhat smoother, it wasn’t until I was older that I saw the bravery and brilliance of the character of Edna Pontellier as well as the artistry of Chopin’s novel. As her friend Charles Deyo wrote in his St. Louis Post-Dispatch review (the rare one that did not condemn it outright), “It is sad and mad and bad, but it is all consummate art.”
The spareness of her prose and the irregularity of the chapter lengths opened avenues for my engagement with what became a focus of my later research, which coincided, happily, with my relocation to St. Louis, Kate Chopin’s native city, and the place where she resided for the greater part of her life. Getting to know St. Louis deepened my appreciation of Kate Chopin’s work, and understanding that city’s history proved how the positive comment Deyo’s review must have met with disdain by many in Chopin’s social circle (while they most certainly agreed with the criticism).
Still, it spoke to many in another way, for so many checked it out of the library that it was deaccessioned (I believe the term used by the St. Louis Public Library was “condemned,” which led to a myth that it was censored). A woman was committed to the St. Louis Insane Asylum the same year The Awakening was published because she tended to “read novels.” The Spiritualist Movement, very strong in St. Louis, might be glimpsed in the question asked of Edna’s husband: “Has she . . . been associating of late with a circle of pseudo-intellectual women — super-spiritual superior beings?” And there are other instances of Chopin’s vitality, reflected, for example, in an award presented at the University of Missouri-St. Louis every year to the student who exemplified the courage in the lines, “The bird who would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.”
Isn’t it wonderful that, whether it be local, national, or international, the work of Kate Chopin continues to influence and inspire readers and scholars. I am so honored to be part of the Kate Chopin International Society and witness its vital role in preserving the work of this enlightening author. KATHLEEN BUTTERLY NIGRO, Daytona Beach, Florida, USA.
Like German women at the time, Kate Chopin lingers on the threshold of modernity. Kate Chopin found me when I was roaming restlessly through the aisles of Ball State University’s Bracken Library, looking for a topic for my class where graduate students were asked to present their dissertation topics. I knew that I wanted to write about a topic that was closely connected to the literature of the American South but had managed to put myself into a dead-end street. To make things worse, a close deadline was looming ahead of me. Suddenly, I stopped short in front of a shelf where Kate Chopin’s The Awakening stared at me. I took the book and started reading, right then and there. Since then, Kate Chopin has never left me.
I took more time at home, reading through the novel in one sitting and discovering that it had much more to offer than an interesting plot cozily nestled in a Southern setting. An ardent reader of Jean Paul Sartre since High School, I noticed right away that some passages in Chopin’s novel were clearly resounding with existential overtones. It only took me a quick and rather surprised look at the publication date of The Awakening to decide that I had found my topic. Embarking on my own search for existential authenticity in Chopin’s work, I read more of her stories, focusing at first on those which seemed to be ringing with European implications. It was then that I also kept stumbling over German words, names, expressions, pondering and wondering about this unexpected usage, while assuring myself that I would take a closer look at these surprising connections sometime later.
Since then, I have uncovered more about German history and culture than I had ever learned during school days. If it had not been for Kate Chopin, I would have never known about the women of the German 48er’s, the same women who had attracted Katherine O’Flaherty’s attention, kept her imagination and fascinated her in such a strong way to write about them in her diary, the Commonplace Book. I would have never become interested in Ottilie von Goethe or Adele Schopenhauer, let alone Ida Hahn-Hahn or Fanny Lewald and all the others whose relation to Kate Chopin’s work still needs to be discovered.
These were German women who were brimming with resilience and curiosity, fortitude, and resistance while they were at the same time mindful to uphold their authentic lives and pursue their autonomy. They were, indeed, very modern women whose thinking and mindset put them far ahead of their times, writing and thinking about issues in women’s lives that are as relevant in today’s societies than they were some one hundred and seventy-five years ago when their works got published. Their obvious influences on Kate Chopin’s work assured me that she was so much more than just a Southern writer. As member of the Kate Chopin International Society, I am proud to advance the work of a woman whose perceptions about human life which she expresses in all of her writings rank her in the most significant way as a nineteenth-century woman writer who lingers, just as the German women she wrote about, on the threshold of modernity. HEIDI PODLASLI-LABREN, Bremen, Germany.
For me it began with “Désirée’s Baby.” I first read Kate Chopin’s story “Désirée’s Baby” at the age of fourteen. It had a powerful impact on a youngster experiencing personal change in a time of social change. After many years, the memory of the story remained, though its writer’s identity had faded. However, in 1969 when I saw the name “Kate Chopin” on a list of writers for Professor Donald Pizer’s seminar on the American 1890s, the title and author connected again, this time for good. Following a seminar paper and a dissertation on Chopin at Tulane University, much of my professional life has focused on her writing.
The twentieth anniversary of the Kate Chopin International Society reminds me how I have enjoyed its members through the years as they have discussed her works, written about them, and even discovered additional writing by her. I have appreciated being a part of the team who contribute to the society’s website www.katechopin.org, which brings Chopin and her writing to students, readers, and professors world-wide. Even though the Women’s Movement has played a huge role in the revival of Chopin in the late twentieth century, it has always struck me that she is a writer for all seasons. I hope that there will continue to be youngsters drawn to her as they grapple with the electronic age and that adults amid their responsibilities will find pleasure and insight in her stories and novels. THOMAS BONNER, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
Her popularity today is amazing. A few of us who oversee this website have been writing about Kate Chopin since the 1970s. As American graduate students we had seized upon her because of the appearance in 1969 of her Complete Works and a new biography. We understood from the beginning that we were contributing to an international effort. The Complete Works and the biography had been done by a Norwegian scholar who had learned about Chopin from a French scholar who had translated The Awakening into French and who was teaching at Harvard when the Norwegian was a graduate student there.
We Americans wrote PhD dissertations, books, and articles about this woman whose fiction had been largely forgotten after her death in 1904. For us it’s been simply amazing to watch how over the years countless scholars, teachers, publishers, translators, and others in the United States — and, once again, in other countries — have helped Kate Chopin emerge from obscurity to become one of the most widely read classic American writers. Her short stories and The Awakening are everywhere these days. Chopin thrills readers with her brilliant stories about intelligent, sensitive women — and she inspires them with her all-embracing compassion. BERNARD KOLOSKI, Champaign, Illinois, USA.
Cartoonist Gabrielle Bell’s 2019 book is called Cecil and Jordan in New York (published by Drawn and Quarterly). It’s a collection of short works. This is the first page of a graphic short story called “One Afternoon,” based on Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour.”