Friday Reads: Living My Life by Emma Goldman

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Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.

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Living My Life

‘I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things’.

I love reading accounts of strong, courageous women who have gone against societal norms for causes they truly believe in. One such woman I admire is Emma Goldman, the anarchist political activist and writer, known in the American press as ‘Red Emma’ and described by J. Edgar Hoover as ‘the most dangerous woman in America’. Originally from Russia, Goldman emigrated to America when she was just 16 years old. A stringent anarchist, political orator, drama critic, theorist of revolution, and advocate of birth control and free love, Goldman led a very turbulent – though extremely interesting and awe-inspiring – life to the point where she was ostracised from both her home country, now present-day Lithuania, and her adopted home, America. Banned from entering either place, she finally set down to write her life story entitled, Living My Life. The original publication in 1931 was over 900 pages long but this beautiful edition pictured above has been abridged and edited by Miriam Brody, who has written biographies of Mary Wollstonecraft and the nineteenth-century American free-love advocate Victoria Woodhull.

Goldman writes with such passion, determination and honesty that it is impossible not to be drawn into her anarchist ‘ideal’. Sparked by the Haymarket Affair of 1886, in which seven men, labelled as anarchists, were sentenced to death for a bombing they did not commit, Goldman was roused to action – the first in a series of battles that would dominate her life. From assisting her one-time lover and lifelong friend, Alexander Berkman, in the assassination attempt of Henry Clay Frick – chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company – to being implicated in the assassination of then-president, William McKinley, Goldman’s life was anything but uneventful.

Emma Goldman’s autobiography is an interesting account of a very unstable political climate in American and European history. However, many of the issues she raises when alive are still just as relevant – from the fight for abortion rights in many states across the US to American military intervention in numerous countries across the world, Goldman’s adopted homeland is still suffering from many of the issues it faced during the turn of the twentieth century.

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman was born in 1869 to a Jewish family in what was once considered Russia but is now present-day Lithuania. A fierce campaigner of anarchism, women’s rights and social issues, Goldman dedicated her whole life to fighting injustices. Although infamous whilst alive, she fell into the forgotten annals of history until she was revived in the 1970s by Dover Press during the second wave of feminism. The reissue of her autobiography, Living My Life, brought Goldman’s life and writings to a wider audience and instigated another resurgence in anarchism, with many of her philosophical works finding expression in the newer movement.

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