Faculty Colloquium: Me (Brenda Ueland)

Please joins us on Friday, November 9th at 3 p.m. in Cone Chapel for this week’s Faculty Colloquium. Me (Brenda Ueland), a song cycle for piano and voice composed by Libby Larsen and published in 1994; performed by pianist, Marva Duerksen and soprano, Christine Elder.

Brenda Ueland (1891-1985), an American journalist, editor, freelance writer, and teacher of writing, is best known for her book If You Want To Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit. Carl Sandburg liked it so much that he claimed “it was the best book ever written on how to write.” In the unrelated field of Arctic exploration, Brenda is famous for her letter exchange with the Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen. Only his letters to her survive, but they are so explicit in their sexual details that one must be over 18 to read them at the Minnesota Historical Society!

All of this brings us to our presentation for Friday’s faculty colloquium. Here, you will encounter Brenda Ueland through the words of her autobiography, Me: A Memoir (1939), excerpts from which comprise the text for American composer Libby Larsen’s marvelous song cycle for soprano and piano. Ueland was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota into a relatively progressive family in which her father was a prominent lawyer and judge and her mother a suffragette and first president of the Minnesota League of Women Voters. After completing her baccalaureate at Barnard College, Ueland spent some years in New York and its environs working as a staff writer, composing scripts for radio broadcasts, and eventually teaching writing classes. She married three times, had one child and, by her own account, numerous lovers. Her autobiography details elements of her childhood, time in college, life in Greenwich Village, and various love affairs. In our reading of Ueland’s autobiography, we have found Ueland to be engagingly self-confident, witty, insightful, and wise, but never preachy. As Libby Larsen explains in a note to the published score of her cycle: “Ueland’s gist is to confirm in us the true art into which we are all born, the art of living.”